In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God tells Moses to request donations from the people in order for the Tabernacle to be built. “[Y]ou shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him … let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:1-2, 8)
Note that the Israelites were not asked for monetary donations – they were asked to give cherished items they possessed, items that may have represented who they were at a deep level. They brought gifts from the heart, they gave of themselves, and in turn God dwelt among them.
Terumah was my youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah Torah portion, and for his mitzvah project he gave multiple donations to many organizations. He donated money, he donated gifts, he donated his time, and he even donated his then shoulder-length hair to an organization that makes mats to pick up oil from oil spills. That was my favorite donation, as he quite literally gave of himself.
In this modern world, there are a great many people who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’, who reject religion per se because they ‘don’t believe in God’. I believe that by looking outward or upward, we may be looking for God in the wrong places.
Giving to others is not wholly an altruistic exercise. Volunteerism is often prescribed to depressed patients in order to help treat their depression. Giving feels great. Many of us know that giving of ourselves to others makes us feel good emotionally. But giving of ourselves to others improves both emotional and physical health.
A 2014 AARP magazine article states: “It’s well-known that ‘making a difference’ makes us happier and healthier: people who volunteer live longer. Now a new study finds that your body might know this on a molecular level. The specific type of happiness you derive from pursuing a greater purpose positively influences the genes in your immune system. People whose happiness comes primarily from doing good for others … show … less inflammation and better antibody and antiviral activity.”
Not only do we feel better emotionally when we do good things for others, but we are also changed physically on a molecular level! Perhaps inward is where we should be looking for God. Perhaps these changes are evidence of God’s presence inside us. Consider the possibility that God is the force that changes us for the better – makes us feel good; makes us physically healthier – when we do for others.
We may not be able to see evidence of God, but God may be at work within us. We can feel it.
The Israelites brought gifts from the heart to build the Tabernacle, and in turn God dwelt among them. Give of your precious time, and God may dwell within you.