We are Equal and Unique
This week’s parashah is called Terumah, meaning “contribution” or “offering.”
In it, the Israelites are called upon to contribute thirteen materials, out of which G‑d says to Moses: “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amidst them.” (Exodus 25:8)
At Mount Sinai, Moses is given specific instructions on how to create this structure for G‑d so that it could be easily transported as the people journeyed in the desert.
In the first half of the book of Exodus, G-d brought the Ten Plagues, liberated the Jews from Egypt, split the sea, spoke the Ten Commandments and provided Jewish law – Hashem was the active member in the relationship with the Jewish people.
However, at this point in the second half of the book of Exodus, there is a turning point -- the Jewish people are called upon to take the initiative and build a home for G-d.
Rabbi Menachem Feldman writes on Chabad.org, “The sages teach that the commandment to construct a home for G‑d includes the directive to construct a figurative home for G‑d within every person. From this perspective, the detailed descriptions of the Temple and its furniture, which comprise almost five portions in the Torah, have a spiritual equivalence within ourselves.”
It’s as if the Temple is a symbol for the human soul, which explains the commandment that the Jewish people donate the necessary materials to build it.
The Torah tells us that each individual donated in the amount they chose, according to their heart’s desire, as when Hashem spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.” (Exodus 25:1–2)
But there was another type of donation, where everyone was required to donate an equal amount: “This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel... The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel.” (Exodus 30:13–15)
As you can see, there was an equal amount for each person to donate, but another form of donation that was discretionary, for each person to give according to their heart’s desire.
There are situations where we are all equal, and other circumstances where each individual is unique and has distinct contributions to make.
When it comes to the specific faculties of the soul—intelligence, emotion, wisdom, kindness, and willpower – everyone is unique. Therefore, the contributions made to create the structure were individualized.
However, the foundation of both the structure and relationship with G-d, as well as the power of commitment and devotion, is the same for all of us.
Everyone is equal in their ability to dedicate themselves to G-d, but the circumstances of the relationship is a result of our own personality, and therefore, unique to each of us.
This week’s parashah reminds me of the saying: A community is only as strong as the people in it.