It is always helpful when the Torah portion of the week and the theme of Jewish history match up. This week is a perfect example. Parashat Terumah, which we read tomorrow morning, begins the second half of the Book of Exodus. Having left Egypt, been saved at the Sea, having witnessed God’s revelation and Mt. Sinai and received the initial laws of our people, the focus turns to the creation of sacred space, specifically space where the people and God will interact, known as the Mishkan or Portable Tabernacle. Part two of Exodus deals with the design of the Mishkan, down to the last cubit; the ritual objects used in the daily workings of the Mishkan; and the design of the priestly garb. The Mishkan will be the centerpiece of national ritual life until our ancestors enter Israel, conquer Jerusalem and build the Bet HaMikdash, The Temple in Jerusalem.
This week, Heller High students focused on the Biblical Era, specifically on the period of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem. They learned about the construction of Solomon’s Temple and its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BCE. They also learned about the return from exile, the Second Temple, Herodian construction, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. Our students visited the Israel Museum, to see a 3D model of Jerusalem prior to the fall of the city. For those of you who came on a teen trip to Israel in the 1970’s – 1980’s, you would have seen this model at the Holy Land Hotel. Yesterday, we returned to the Old City of Jerusalem to learn in greater detail about the glory of the Temple, the culture of the city that surrounded it and the destruction that came for a second and final time in 70 CE.
In the evening, students departed Jerusalem to spend the evening at the field school in Ein Gedi. This morning, they got up very early to climb Masada, enjoying a magnificent sunrise at the top of the palace. There, they learned about the rebellion against the Romans and the last stand held at Masada. They will spend Shabbat at Ein Gedi and, weather permitting will enjoy a beautiful hike in the streams of the Negev, Nahal Arugot or Nahal David. They will return to Tzuba tomorrow night.
With the fall of the Second Temple, Judaism undergoes a radical transformation. We shift from a focus on sacred space to what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel refers to as sacred time. Animal sacrifice comes to an end and is replaced by Prayer and Tzedakah. Jewish sovereignty over the Promised Land comes to an end, not to be regained for over two thousand years when the State of Israel is established. In the interim, we wander, establishing diaspora communities and cultures, as well as centers of learning and worship. Next week, we will begin to focus on these transformations as we transition from the Biblical to the Rabbinic period.
From my experience, this Shabbat, in most US synagogues, you will hear b’nai and b’not mitzvah refer to Parashat Terumah, which means donation or gift, as Parashat Trauma because of the highly detailed focus on the construction of the Mishkan. The other standard d’var Torah uses the opening verses that focus on all of the Israelites bringing gifts for the construction of the Mishkan as a way to talk about supporting the synagogue or some tzedakah which is a very appropriate theme. URJ Heller High students will be reflecting on what they learned in Jewish history and how the Torah and the Bible came alive for them this week.
Rabbi Loren Sykes is the Principal of the URJ Heller High (formerly NFTY-EIE) In these weekly postings, he gives a description and rundown of what the group is doing day to day, which he hopes sheds some light on what the experience is like.