Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 5: Terumah

(Exodus 25:1-27:19)

Last week I wrote about a quite amazing letter of support I’d received from one Nelson Mandela. This has prompted outrage from certain quarters, by which I mean a rival synagogue where the Rabbi, Rabbi F, has nothing better to do with his time because his congregation has dwindled to two elderly ladies and that meshuggener with one tooth who walks along Golders Green High Street with the sign saying “The End of the World Is Nigh. Clearance Sale: Everything Must Go!”

Rabbi F insists there is no way the Nelson Mandela would write me such a letter. Well, Rabbi F, I’m sorry to have to tell you that Nelson (as he now wishes me to call him) has written me another letter which I would send you a copy of only I think I left it on a bus, and in it he says, and I quote: “If any man or Rabbi calls Rabbi Schneider a liar I’ll take him outside and punch him in the face over and over again till he begs me to stop but I still won’t, no way, I’ll just punch him some more.” Now if those don’t sound like the words of Nelson Mandela, then nothing does.

But what of this week’s parsha? It deals with the building of the sanctuary and the ark which is to accompany the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Like a cosmic Norman Foster (who’s an architect), G-d the divine architect sets out in detail the plans and dimensions of the sanctuary which we human beings, his builders, are to follow.

And that’s where it all starts to go wrong. Yes, we all know builders and their lame excuses: “Sorry, mate. I know you wanted to set upon the wall the cherubim that shall spread forth their wings and that shall be made from beaten gold but I couldn’t find any so I’ve put up three flying ducks instead.”  Or “Sorry, mate. Couldn’t find a tabernacle of brass with sixteen rings and firepans of silver but I have managed to move in with your wife even though I am a woman and by the way we’ve given all your clothes to charity so you’ve had to wear the same things for nearly two weeks now and so what if you’re now sleeping in the synagogue storage cupboard miles from any toilets or running water (let alone a shower) thanks to the “generosity” (in inverted commas) of the honorary officers – the sort of generosity that Cain showed to Abel”.

Who hasn’t had their builder say something like that?

If only we could stick to G-d’s blueprint, the awesome splendour of the Torah. Though we mustn’t be too awed by its awesomeness. Lately, I’ve noticed my congregation becoming so full of awe when I make the circuit of the shul with the Torah scrolls in my arms that instead of pressing forward to kiss the holy scrolls they back away desperately as I pass. Many of them even refuse to come up and join me on the bimah when their names have been called to read from the Torah, their awe is so big.

If your awe is too big you become confused and confusion leads to arrogance and downright cockiness and a situation where a Rabbi, when asking in a sermon which word in the English language is the most important, doesn’t get the answer “Charity” or “Marital Fidelity” or “Rabbi”, but “Lynx” and then “Right Guard”.

I know who these yobbos are who shouted out random names of deodorants at this Rabbi for no reason at all. I also know that there’s a whispering campaign against him – ridiculous claims that he’s become paranoid orchestrated mainly by his wife, her lover the builder who’s a woman, his lawyer, Rabbi F, the honorary officers, the caretaker, the FBI, the police and the government, all of them funded by the Jewish Chronicle. At times like these we must stick to the Torah’s gentle, compassionate, forgiving blueprint, build ourselves a tabernacle of brass with sixteen rings and firepans of silver and use it to bury those people six foot under.

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle

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