Our parasha this week, Terumah, contains instructions to Moses, Bezalel the holy handyman, and the Jewish people on how to build the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle in which God’s presence dwells in this world aka God’s mobile-home. The hundreds of instructions are detailed and precise, and in our tradition they are packed with meaning. Precisely what that meaning is is up for debate: Some commentators point to parallels between the building of the mishkan and creation; others draw philosophical, mystical, and cosmological ideas from the instructions. There are thousands of things to say here, but here are two neat, short ideas from the midrash on the importance of sustainable development and crowdsourcing in the building of the mishkan. I can’t help myself – I love finding very 21st Century ideas in 1,500 year old texts.

Sustainability: The midrash (Midrash Rabba, Chapter 35, 36:2) wonders why God chose trunks from עצי שיטים – shittim trees, to be the mishkan‘s structural frame. The midrash‘s answer? God wanted to teach future generations a lesson – shittim trees are not fruit bearing. If God, owner of everything and in need of nothing, chose to avoid using materials that don’t deprive future generations of fruit (aka he used sustainable materials in building his house), then so should we.
Crowdsourcing: The building of the different pieces of the mishkan (Chapter 35, 35:2) – the table, the walls, the menorah, etc. – is commanded in the singular v’asita (you shall build). However, one item is commanded in the plural v’asu (y’all are going to build this one). And which is it? It’s the ark – the most important piece of the whole project. It’s at the center of the mishkan, it’s from where God speaks, and it contains the Torah. When we create any institution, there are always negotiations in who gets to design, who gets to contribute, who gets to build. However, the message from the midrash is that when it comes to the central thing, the raison d’être of the whole thing, what really matters is that everyone gets to be involved.
Do these midrashic ideas resonate with you? How would you build a house for God?