Parashat Terumah is one of those portions that can be the bane of every Bar or Bat Mizvah kid: a seemingly endless litany of picayune details regarding the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). What on earth can we possibly learn from this parade of dolphin skins, acacia wood, crimson yarns, loops and clasps?
If we understand the construction of the Mishkan as a metaphor for creating sacred community, the lesson should be obvious: details matter.
I’ve been acutely aware of this lesson as JRC constructs its new synagogue building. In addition to the many details that come with a construction project of this magnitude (e.g., fund raising, location, budget, design, zoning, etc.) our board made one important decision early in the building process: that we would build our building in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible. Guided by the sacred Jewish value of Bal Tashchit , we have now begun construction on what we intend to be the first certified “Green Synagogue” in the world.
Specifically, this means our congregation is participating in a process known as LEED certification – a system designed by the US Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.
LEED certification is based on a grading system, with points awarded for commitment to five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, and energy efficiency. Buildings that garner 52 to 69 points achieve the highest level, or Platinum status. The next level, Gold, is awarded to buildings that achieve 39 to 51 points. (I am proud to report that JRC is currently well on track to achieve Gold status).
Much like the “checklist“ for the ancient Mishkan, the list of LEED items in our new synagogue building is substantial and exhaustive:
As JRC now knows all too well, details do matter. During the planning for our new building, we have fought hard for every item on the list above, and many, many more besides. In so doing, we have come to understand that sacred space is not defined by the physical building per se, but the process by which it is built. As Terumah teaches, a sacred community is ultimately defined not just by what it does, but how it does it.
After all, even though the ancient tabernacle does not exist any more, the process of building the Mishkan remains very much alive in our collective Jewish imagination. The rabbis teach that the description of building the Mishkan, in fact, is symbolic of the Ma’aseh Bereshit—the sacred work of Creation. In constructing the Tabernacle, the Israelites were invited to reenact the creative process by which God created the Universe itself.
In the end, the imperative of Terumah echoes the classical Zionist slogan Livnot U’lehibanot—To Build and be Built. Through the process of creating our new building, we are discovering the true meaning of sacred community.
See the announcement of the LEEDS Platinum award for JRC in January 2008 at http://www.jrf.org/JRC-greenest-shul
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Brant Rosen is the rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. A Los Angeles native and graduate of UCLA,he received his rabbinical training and ordination at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where he received the Berger Memorial Prize for Practical Rabbinics upon his graduation in 1992. He previously served at Reconstructionist congregations B'nai Havurah (Denver, CO) and Kehillath Israel (Pacific Palisades, CA) before coming to JRC in 1998. He lives in Evanston with his wife Hallie and their sons Gabriel and Jonah. Rabbi Rosen blogs at Shalom Rav.