Don Not Forget! A D’var Torah for Parashat Terumah and Shabbat Zachor

The Torah portion for this week, Terumah literally means a portion.  It begins the divine instruction for the building and operation of the Mishkan as well as the appeal for the donations to do so.  The unique tabernacle in which Hashem promises to dwell with Israel during our travels through the Sinai wilderness.  It represents much more than a temporary vocation to occupy, amuse and/or instruct Israel along the arduous journey.  Rather the Mishkan will become the temporary theatre for a sacred drama that will exemplify Israel’s Holy vocation.

The precision with which the Holy One commands Israel through Moses suggests that the building and operation of the Mishkan represents the completion of the creative order under the watchful care of the G-d of Israel.  In this week’s portion every detail is taken to ensure that all of the sets, furnishings and props were constructed properly to the last half cubit. Next week we receive instruction concerning the incense, the incense altar, the menorah and the vestments of the kohanim, Israel’s priestly legacy.  In essence, the mood, the lighting and the costumes are being set to perform the longest running play in recorded history. For fourteen thousand and six hundred consecutive days our ancestors performed a travelling show that might have been entitled “The Dawning of a New Age” before a captive audience. With Hashem as producer, Moses as director and occasional cameo appearance, Aaron, his sons, and a cast of thousands put on a blockbuster that demonstrates with sacrifice and kavanah (intentionality), the Glory of Hashem can be brought into our world and the light of the Olam Habah (the age to come) can illumine our lives (see chapter 40).

This would be a happy place to end this accounting but it would not be completely accurate.  Like all theatre the drama of the Mishkan was complicated by the drama of human frailty.  So for forty years our ancestors repeatedly lost their focus.  The performers forgot their lines, brought the wrong incense, got involved in petty competitions, and overall regarded themselves as more important than the big show.  In short, they forgot why they were there, in the wilderness. They forgot that they were to be a kingdom of kohanim, and a holy nation. Their part, their role, their performance was meant to serve G-d, creation and humanity.  That brings us to the second part of this week’s readings.

Parashat Terumah this year falls on Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. This is the Sabbath that occurs directly before Purim.  The same maftir is read each year,

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt,  how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God.  Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

At surface level the inclusion is understandable. Haman the antagonist of the Purim story is a direct descendant of Amelek. Both proved to be enemies of the people Israel and both used treachery to attempt to destroy them. Our sages expounded in the Gemara that “Amalek’s treachery must be remembered with the mouth, and not be forgotten in the heart, for it is forbidden to forget their hatred and enmity.” The reasoning is that while a person normally remembers or forgets with their mind, the mitzvah demands that a person feel an aversion to evil in their heart. With this awareness deeply imbedded in the heart, a person would be naturally moved to distance him or herself from evil doers and remember to do all of the mitzvot continually.

Amalek is a symbol of Israel’s doubt and weariness. The attack that he led on Israel’s rear flanks accentuates our vulnerability when we cease to stay alert and focus on the task and calling that the Holy One has given us. Amalek’s descendent Haman likewise is also an exemplar of the evil that lays in wait when we become complacent and comfortable and lose sight of Hashem’s higher purposes for our life as a community and as individuals.

So Parasha Terumah sets forth a sacred purpose for Israel and Maftir Zachor is a tacit reminder of that purpose. May we never lose sight of our greater calling. Remember…do not forget!

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