Parshat Terumah

Color pencil, ink and thread on parchment, 2015

Artist: Beth Grossman,  USA

Terumah means offering. While interpreting this parasha, I asked the following questions: “Why did G-d command the Israelites to build a temporary structure of the finest metals, skins and cloths so that “He” may dwell among them? Why was it necessary to have a designated sacred Tabernacle when Judaism is a time-based religion?” To quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from his book, The Sabbath,

“There is no mention of a sacred place in the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, following the event at Sinai, Moses is told: “In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come to You and bless You.” (Exodus 20:24) This quote is from a parsha that precedes Terumah, so I question why Moses is presented these detailed instructions to build a specific sacred space for G-d?

Heschel goes on to say, “To be sacred, a thing had to be consecrated by a conscious act of man.” I believe that the Tabernacle is everywhere. An actual structure may have existed in time, but the Tabernacle like all of nature, humanity and community are temporary. The spirit of the Tabernacle is eternal and when we consecrate something that spirit can be found in everything from the grandeur of the Universe to the small, found twigs used to build a nest. The bird gathers gifts from nature and innately knows how to build its nest.

“Note well and follow the patterns for themthat are being shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 27:40) The nest is a temporary structure where the sacred acts of birthing, nurturing and fledging occurs. “So shall you make it.” (Exodus 25:9) Gathering twigs and threads, the bird builds its nest as an offering to its chicks. My nest has colors and threads of blue, purple, crimson, gold and silver –offerings as designated in the instructions for building the Tabernacle. (Exodus 25:3)

I envisioned a large flock of birds, hovering over the nest in community. The phenomena of coordinated high-speed movements of flocks of birds are called murmurations. The murmuration continually fluctuates like the cloud over the Tabernacle, which represented the presence of the divine and signaled when the Israelites should move. A murmuration appears to turn and move as a single unit, changing direction in an instant. This natural spectacle of large-scale pattern changes is an emergent behavior of the group. There is no leader or directed configuration. Individual birds make sudden decisions and determine the flock’s movements. They are following simple rules and responding to interactions with their fellow birds. Each bird is connected to every other bird. This collaborative community effort is central to their survival.

About Beth

Beth Grossman is a social practice artist, whose art and participatory performances are comfortable points of entry into the ongoing dialogue about interpretation of history and religion, our place in nature and the power of social beliefs. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has collaborated internationally with individuals, communities, corporations, non-profits and museums.

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