On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah - T'rumah: Building a Just World

In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat T'rumah from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!


Welcome to On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah, a podcast presented by reformjudaism.org. Each week, we come to you with a shot of insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just ten minutes of modern day commentary. Of course, we think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah. And we want to hear what you think. You can weigh in on this week's Torah portion and what you hear today by talking to us on Twitter, our handle is @URJ, and by liking us at facebook.com/reformjudaism. Each week, we will hear from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. In this episode, he delves deeper into Parashat T’rumah from the Book of Exodus. And you can subscribe to the podcast at reformjudaism.org or on iTunes. Thanks for listening. And enjoy the show.

This week we study Parashat T’rumah. T’rumah means a gift. What is it that we're giving? What is it that we're taking? What is that we're doing? What is it that we are building? In the opening paragraph, we're told that when you bring your gift for the project, the project in the Torah is building the first praying place, which they do in the middle of nowhere with no stores and no materials and no craftspeople to find. They do it not only with their own hands, we're told they do it with their hearts.  Idvenu libo.

The great Chasidic master, Nachman of Bratzlav, says that what they did, what they gave, what they offered, n’hidat hatov b’libo, everyone brought the best that they had. The best that came from them. And that's how they built their community.

We're always talking and, certainly in the Jewish community, about what things cost. And what's the high cost of belonging and participating. T’rumah says it's much more essential. And it's not what you have, it's what you can offer. And in this work, we're building not just things and structures, but also we build a sense of community, a sense of being interconnected, having our faiths and our very lives in existence tied up with other people.

It's not about what we take in those relationships, in those communities. It's about what we offer and what we bring, the goodness of our hearts, the purity of what it is that we can be and give. And what do they create in the Torah? They create spectacularly beautiful, really rich and colorful, modest but profound place for them to harness their sacred yearnings.

For us, we're building very often a sense of community. If you asked most of our people what is it that they most long for, it is community. And a community isn't just the place where we live, where we have a home, or where even there is a congregation, a community is where we have a sense of common purpose, that we're building something together. And what we're building is a world of compassion, a world of deep responsibility, a world of justice, a world of wholeness, a world of goodness, a world of kindness, a world where people aren't just worried about what they're going to get, but they spend their time agonizing over what they can give.

When we've been in those communities-- and we have, I know, we've all been in those communities-- they are precious. And they mean the world to us. And that's we want our families to be, not just educated but shown what it could be. We don't have to only feel the sense of building walls and security and building a sense of being separate from. How is it that we construct that better community, that better world?

It starts on the spiritual path. And it's not only about building grand cathedrals or phenomenally gorgeous congregation or synagogues, it's about starting from within. What could I bring to this community? And maybe this community hasn't had a gift like mine. And maybe my gift is just different than everyone else's.

But if we can bring our best selves, as Nachman of Bratzlav said, n’hidat hatov b’libo, if we can bring that gold that is in each one of us. And it's different in each one of us. Something different happens. Something different is experienced.

And there's a beautiful teaching that the fool gives, the wise person takes. Well, how is that possible that the fool gives? Well, the fool thinks he or she is giving. The wise person knows that in that act, they are taking. They're receiving a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfillment.

I'm doing something really sacred in my life. Now, I may not have a giant something to point to and say that's what I built. But I can, with others-- motivated, inspired by Parashat T’rumah— figure out how are we going to construct a better world. Because the one that's outside, you and I know it's not the best of all possible worlds. It's not the best we can do.

And it's not about other people having the responsibility. It starts in really simple, very, very pure gestures and gifts that we give. So as we think about all the incredible work that we have to do as citizens, as people of faith, as people of responsibility, let's dig deep inside, find that gold and not keep it for ourselves or just for a few, let's give it away. Because in that giving, we are taking. We are receiving. And what will be created will be something of not just beauty but something of moral grandeur, a world for us to live in and to bequeath to future generations.

Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah. If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at reformjudaism.org. And between podcasts, you can visit us to learn more, not just about Torah but about all aspects of Judaism, including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah, is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. L’hitraot. We'll see you next week.