Parshat Termah begins a sequence of four Torah portions dedicated to the design and construction of the Mishkan, the movable temple used by the Israelites in the desert. In the middle of these four Torah portions we read an additional portion, Ki Tissa, which relates the story of the Golden Calf and Moses’s successful intervention with God to save the Jewish people. In the first two portions, Terumah and Tetzaveh, God tells Moses about the design for the objects of the Mishkan and the clothing and actions of the priests, respectively. The two portions that follow the Golden Calf incident, Vayakhel and Pikudei, parallel Terumah and Tetzaveh thematically, but focus on the Israelites’ completion of God’s design.
Terumah, like its counterpart Vayakhel, focuses on the items inside the Mishkan–the Ark, Menorah, Table, the tent itself. A key element of all these accoutrements is gold, which is mentioned again and again in this parashah as an important element of all these items. (The same gold will, of course, be used to construct the Golden Calf.) My friend Will Friedman asks a good question about this: Why all this gold for items that will be seen only by a very select few–the priests who tend to them, and, in the case of the Ark, the High Priest who will go in to see it only on Yom Kippur?
Will’s question brings to mind a talk that the late writer Kurt Vonnegut gave while I was an undergraduate in college. The most memorable thing that Vonnegut said was that every writer should, once a day, write something and then throw it away. Why? Because as a writer, by definition, you are writing something that is waiting to be read. You are writing with a reader in mind. And yet the act of writing itself can and must be an intimate affair. So, Vonnegut prescribes, write something once a day that no one else will ever see. Create a private act of writing.
The design of the Mishkan–God’s home in the world–reminds us that not everything needs to be for public consumption. Not everything can or should be something we express to others. Just as we speak and behave differently with those with whom we are most emotionally intimate, reserving for them a beauty we don’t show the rest of the world, the Mishkan itself is built to be a place of intimate connection between God and the Jewish people, and not everything about that connection can or should be a loud public display.
To conclude, I would refer you to this article by an NU student who in the last few weeks has stopped using Facebook. Why?
Ultimately, my own self-prescribed hiatus from Facebook was fueled by three factors. One was to rid my life of unnecessary distraction, mostly in an attempt to finish my homework. The second was the hope of re-learning how to socialize in ways that don’t involve typing public messages to profile avatars that serve as pixeled representations of real people. Thirdly, it was the desire to regain the sense of personal privacy that I surrendered three years ago when I first created my account –- a move that I am retrospectively thankful for, given the controversy surrounding the site’s privacy policies (or lack thereof).
That sense of privacy, of intimacy and centeredness, is the sense that the Mishkan symbolizes, and one that we would do well to remember and enact in our own lives.