With parshat Teruma, we begin to read about the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary, its furnishings, and the priests who will serve within it. With the exception of the episode of the Golden Calf, the rest of Shemot deals with the Mishkan — first the instructions for making it and then the implementation of those instructions.
It’s not the most gripping section of the Torah, particularly because both the Mishkan and the Holy Temple that replaced it have been gone for almost 2000 years, so commentators both ancient and modern have searched for moral and ethical lessons that can be learned from its approximately 400 verses.
I came upon a hasidic commentary in the collection Itturei Torah that notes that toward the conclusion of parshat Mishpatim, which we read last week, the Torah says, “Moses took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people.” They responded, “Na’aseh v’nishma” — “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will listen.” And God responded to the people’s promise by instructing them to make the Mishkan:
“The Baal Shem Tov said: If a person feels an urge to perform a commandment, he should take this urge and convert it to action, or else the urge will soon disappear without a trace. This we see in Aicha 3:41: Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in heaven — a person must transform the feeling in his heart into action with his hands, so that the feeling should not go to waste. Therefore, following all the enthusiasm that resulted from the receiving of the Torah, God said to Moses, ‘Take this enthusiasm and transform it into action — by building the Sanctuary.’”
This brings to mind a commercial I once heard on the radio. (I heard only the end, so I have no idea what it was intended to sell.) A woman was talking about New Year’s resolutions, and she said that this year she was determined to make a resolution that she would definitely keep — and so this year she had resolved not to train to run a marathon.
Good intentions are easy, but they are meaningful only when they are translated into action. Of course you really meant to visit a sick friend, call a distant relative, volunteer at a soup kitchen, make a donation in memory of a loved one, but you had to finish a project for work, go grocery shopping, drive your kids to Hebrew school, and a thousand other things that short-circuited your good intentions. We all add new items to our “To do” lists every day, and the older items slip lower and lower until they disappear.
The Baal Shem Tov taught, “A person must transform the feeling in his heart into action with his hands.” And the best way to make that happen is to pick up your phone or checkbook or car keys now, before your enthusiasm fades. And even if you don’t plan to train to run a marathon, take inspiration from the Nike slogan — “Just do it!”