The Voyager I spacecraft sent a photo back to earth in 1990 from more than 4 billion miles away. In it, the earth appears as a point of light, a crescent 0.12 pixels in size. It is barely noticeable.
The noted astronomer and host of the old “Cosmos” television series, Carl Sagan, wrote the following about that “pale blue dot” in the photo:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
From such a perspective, it is easy to feel insignificant, meaningless. Our Torah portion this week, Teruma, serves as a kind of protest against despairing of the transiency and minuteness of life.
We are all asked to make our teruma, our “contribution”, to use whatever individual and unique “gift” of talent or skill, material support, insight, or acts of kindness and caring we have to help build God’s dwelling amongst us. Such a teruma requires training our hearts to be willing to serve both God and the greater goals of our human society: All of us are irreplaceably essential in being God’s partner to complete and perfect this world.
In other words, we stretch across and impact that enormity of the macrocosm by engaging fully in the microcosm of here and now.
Therefore…consider yourself already asked to do the something that only you can do at this time which is essential in this microcosm – in your world, for you and for the Jewish People, perhaps quite literally for making a dwelling place for God here on earth:
What is it that you can do? What is your gift at this time?
Hopefully, many possibilities and opportunities for such “gift-giving” immediately come to mind for you to consider.
But consider less obvious gifts you could share, too. I challenge you think, for example, where you stand on the hugely significant and highly divisive changes taking place at this moment of crisis in our collective enterprise of the Jewish People that we know as the State of Israel:
Do you side with the newly elected government’s efforts to fundamentally alter the balance between the legislative, executive, and judiciary, weakening the courts’ authority and placing it under the power of the Knesset? Or do you count yourself among the hundreds of thousands of people who have marched in protest and to preserve the authority and independence of Israel’s courts – a percentage of the population whose equivalent in the US would be the same as about 7 million people taking to the streets in Washington D.C.? At stake are fundamentally different interpretations of what democracy is, of what Zionism is, of the vision and possibility and purpose of Israel, and of who we are as the Jewish People.
No matter whether you have ever lived or visited Israel, what your personal politics are, or where you stand on the issues at stake in Israel right now, a “gift” you can give is to cherish and work for the unity of the Jewish People. Indeed, the message of teruma is that our unity and collective sense of purpose is what allows for, or induces, God’s presence among us. When we are divided – the historical record shows – the consequences are tragic and costly in the extreme. At this time of fissure when a deep divisiveness threatens to overtake us, what can we do now to preserve unity? What can you do?
Rabbi Michael Schwartz