Did you know there are five species of dolphins that are found in the Mediterranean Sea? There are bottle-nose dolphins, short beaked dolphins, striped and fiascos dolphins. I learned this while studying with Yaara to work on my dvar Torah. You see, in my Torah portion, Terumah, it says that the Israelites had to use dolphin skins to make the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert. God said to Moses, tell the Israelites this: “You shall accept gifts for me, from every person whose heart is so moved, ad these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood.”
When I read this, I wondered how they would get dolphin skins. Maybe they would have confused dolphin skins with giraffe skins. I also wondered: where would they have gotten so much gold that they would have been able to make an ark, let alone big enough to hold the Torah, and poles to hold the ark, and a table also made out of gold, to hold bread and offerings. I also wondered where they might have gotten so many precious stones, when they lived centuries ago? And finally, why did God have the Israelites make the ark and the Mishkan to such precise details with all of these materials that were pretty hard to find?
I learned a lot while doing this research for my dvar Torah. I found out, for example that there were dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea. I also found out that the Israelites traveled through cities and towns and so they would have been able to find, trade, or even buy some of these items along the way. For the acacia wood, they might have been able to find it from many of the acacia trees that were along the route they took.
This portion might seem like we’re just getting directions in building a big box, but it’s so much more than that. God asked the Israelites to do this, not to keep them busy, but because God wanted to be with them and build community. This community is what helped them get through hard times.
Basically, by asking us to find so many objects, so many supplies to create the Mishkan, God was asking us to work together to build community with God.
Our community keeps us Jewish because it binds us together with a common belief and a common history. When we care about each other, we create a Jewish family, an identity that has lived on for centuries, despite not having our own country, and being persecuted throughout all of history. Really, Judaism is a group activity. Without our community, our religion would not exist anymore.
We are unified when we worship together. You don’t even have to believe in God to be Jewish- but you can still benefit from a sense of togetherness, and a focus on the things that make life beautiful.
One of those things is the idea that God dwells within us. By asking us to make the Mishkan, God is asking to be physically present in our lives. But God can dwell inside us, too – by being our inner voice, encouraging us, and comforting us. When God dwells in us, we are never alone. We have support when there’s no one else.
This made me ask myself, what is the point of building a place for God to dwell if God is always with us? I realized that just the act of doing it, the act of gathering everything, is an act of community. And the process of inviting God to our service is a way to bring us all together.
It’s in the practice that our religion is able to live on.
This portion made me grateful for the things I have in my life, for my community, for my family and friends. So just take a few minutes today, with me, and reflect on all the things you are grateful for.
In that spirit, I would like to take this moment to say thank you to everyone who helped me be up here today. I would like to thank Rabbi Zari for helping me with my reading, my Hebrew, and for her patience. I would like to thank my parents, who spent so much time, money, and energy educating me. I would like to thank Ruby, my sister, who managed to quit bothering me long enough so I could learn to read my Hebrew. I would like to thank Yaara for helping me with my dvar Torah. I would also like to thank Esther and Mia for helping me with prayers. And of course, I would like to thank my friends and this congregation for keeping me sane and supporting me through this experience.