Rabbi James Greene,
Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center
of Silicon Valley in Los Gatos, CA
In this week’s portion, Terumah, God instructs the Israelite community on how to build the tabernacle, the sanctuary used in the wilderness. Like all good faith communities, if you want to build the building you have to raise the dough. So Moses is told to accept gifts from the Israelites – “Tell the Israelite people to take up an offering for Me; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart moves them .”
Rabbi Simhah Bunim, writing in his classic work Kol Simhah, argues that this is a model for how we should engage in our own spiritual practice. “This is precisely how it should be: in your Torah study and prayer you must take yourselves, your bodies and souls, ‘to Me.’ At the very least set yourselves aside for Me, so that your devotions will be ‘for My sake.’…Thus, your heart and mind and all your limbs and senses will truly be an ‘offering .’” By removing ourselves from the material desires of the world, preparing our hearts and minds for this sacred work, and then “taking an offering” of our souls, we are truly able to serve God. Only when we devote our whole being to God – physical and spiritual together – can we truly be a terumah – an offering to God.
A core part of my own spiritual practice involves being outdoors. In the wilderness, I feel most able to release my material desires and, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, open my heart to moments of radical amazement. The spiritual practice of being outdoors is how I dedicate my full self to God. It encourages me to go deeper – to places I never knew existed – in my “offering” to God. Each prayerful moment in the woods, whether looking at a redwood tree, joining with the other living things of the forest in the natural cycles of the day, or sitting alone in hitbodedut, is an opportunity to challenge myself to be in service of the command to make my spiritual work an offering. More and more, Jews are reconnecting to our roots as a wilderness people.
TorahTrek, an organization rooted in Jewish wilderness spiritual practice, is one such example of liberal Jewish expression of this Hasidic concept. Rabbi Mike Comins, the founder of TorahTrek, shares Rabbi Simhah Bunim’s question of how we can utilize our full selves in spiritual practice. As a member of Rabbi Comins’ Guides Track, my cohort explores spiritual practices using our full selves; chanting, qigong (an eastern meditative movement practice), meditation, prayer, soul-o time, study, and more. The wilderness, because of its remoteness and unique challenges, demands that we give our full attention to the practice. It nourishes the inner desire to “take an offering” as we seek to serve God.
This week, the Israelites seek to build a tabernacle. They too, seek to cleave to God through the wilderness. Numbers Rabbah notes that the Torah was given in the wilderness because only when the Israelites opened themselves and became wild as the wilderness were they ready to receive Torah. The same is true here. The Israelites took an offering in the wilderness because it was in that place where they had the clarity of purpose to offer with a fullness of heart. So too, when we enter the wilderness, when we step back from the world and let go of our material concerns, we are able to find the space to see the nature of our offering clearly. There, among the other sensuous beings, are we able to turn our attention to the more-than-human world, enter receptive mode, see ourselves as part of the larger whole, and choose a path of meaning through the spiritual practice of terumah.
My prayer for us this week, is that we should be blessed to go outdoors and to find the offering to God that is truly from the fullness of our hearts.
1. Exodus 25:2
2. As translated by Jonathan Slater, Institute for Jewish Spirituality
Rabbi James Greene is a 2008 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and works at the
Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center
of Silicon Valley in Los Gatos, CA. He is a member of the TorahTrek Guides Track. TorahTrek’s next Guides Track cohort is currently forming, beginning in August, 2013. For more information,
please click here