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You Shouldn’t Have, Really! – Terumah 5773

What got me thinking in this week’s Torah portion is: What God was thinking? … but I’ll get there in a moment.

As the calendar winds around towards Valentine’s Day and and even though it is not a big day on the Jewish calendar, there is a spiritual aspect of relationship that this ‘Hallmark’ created day brings to light. In preparation for Valentine’s Day Couples are considering what to give or not to give to one another. In the actual exchange of gifts between the millions of people who do so on Valentine’s Day, the odds are that a fair percentage of these millions will deal with unmet expectations. After all of the proper and polite responses and expression of gratitude for what the gift in question may be – the receiver of said gift will turn inward and internally ask the age old questions: What was she/he thinking?! If she/he knows me at all, if she/he loves, then how or why would they choose this gift for me?  You shouldn’t have! No really, you shouldn’t have.

Shallow, you say? To be so ungrateful for such gifts from another? I believe this happens to us all of the time in the course of relationship … and in deeper ways than the exchange of elegantly wrapped doodads. We look to others to meet our expectations and our needs … and often decide only within the narrow confines of our expectations and needs the proper measuring stick of our loved ones response. We keep a scorecard – not necessarily with malice – but a tally of how they respond. The metric may be time, words, gestures, decisions or even actual wrapped gifts. And often as we review this ongoing scorecard, we find ourselves far behind in this game we play.

Now onto: What was God was thinking? This week’s Torah portion is called: Terumah – from the book of Exodus. Following their direct encounter with God at Sinai, the Israelites accept the terms of the commandments that Moses offers them on God’s behalf. God now wants the people to ‘Make Me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.’ Through Moses, God instructs each person to bring a Terumah – a gift – for the construction of this place where God will dwell among them. So, they are building a pretty important place. A place for the deity/entity/being who just kicked some serious Egyptian butt and saved them from generations of slavery. A place that will serve as a conduit for them to maintain a connection to this deity/entity/being who at their Sinai rendezvous revealed to the people an opportunity to glimpse at the mystery and reality of the universe. Speaking of expecting some pretty serious gifts …

And yet, the expectation for the gift is not so high at all (or maybe it is). The Torah describes that the gifts shall be accepted from those ‘who hearts so move them’. It is not simply that God does not expect incredible gifts from everyone, it is that God does not expect gifts from everyone? (Not even a thank you note!) God only expects what each person would genuinely give. Even if that gift is way less than what they should give. Even if that gift is no gift. It is only an acceptable gift – no matter its quantity or quality – when it comes from one whose heart so moves him or her.

Perhaps it is something worthwhile (and challenging) to consider, as we look to those we love and through our needs and expectations determine what ‘gifts’ we expect from them. In the process of building a place where divinity dwells, the only expectation – was in essence – the willingness to receive whatever was wholeheartedly offered. In building the Sanctuary, it was more than enough … in our lives with those we love, can it be the same for us?

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