This year, President Obama concluded his State of the Union Address with a story - equal parts heartbreaking and inspirational. President Obama introduced Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was nearly killed by a roadside bomb while on duty in Afghanistan. Having endured a coma, countless surgeries and ongoing rehab, President Obama quoted Remsburg saying, "My recovery has not been easy. Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy." President Obama then concluded his remarks by saying, "...[M]en and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy....But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow -- I know it's within our reach."
Political views and opinions aside, President Obama's concluding remarks correlate directly with the underlying message of this week's Torah reading, Parashat Terumah. God instructs Moses to tell the people to bring forward gifts to be used in the construction of the mishkan, a portable place of worship that would accompany the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness.
In all fairness, nothing could quite compare to the Israelites' experience of standing at Mount Sinai and witnessing the revelation of the Torah. However, the construction of the mishkan would ensure that the Israelites would continually have means by which to connect with God as they traversed the desert.
Given this very special purpose, the Israelites didn't just offer something small or insignificant. Their voluntary offerings included gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns; fine linen; oils and other precious stones. The Israelites gave of the best in their possession, knowing that their gifts were being used for the creation of sacred space, a perceived dwelling place for God in their midst. The significance of the Israelites' gifts is referenced in the name of our Torah reading - t'rumah. As the Etz Hayim Torah Commentary teaches, t'rumah, a gift or offering, comes from the Hebrew meaning, "to elevate." By dedicating their gifts to the construction of the mishkan, the Israelites were elevating their offerings to a higher purpose.
The Israelites brought forward not only their very best gifts, but also gifts that varied in range and in scope. This practice reminds us that in our approach to our community - we should give our very best, but that our very best will come in different shapes, sizes, and forms. What are the gifts that we might be able to offer our community? How might we devote our hearts, our minds, and our spirits to continue elevating our place of worship, our holy congregation?
President Obama and Moses link forces this week encouraging each of us to put our best foot forward, and "to summon what is best in us." Are we up to the challenge?