Shift and Consolidation: Thoughts on the Torah Portions Mishpatim and Terumah

Prior to returning to congregational life, I spent 5  years working for the Union for Reform Judaism. When I would go out and speak to congregations we had a common catch phrase that we would use often. A phrase with my Australian accent, but in fact, with any accent, you would have to say very carefully.

That phrase was: SHIFT HAPPENS. One thing we know about congregations, schools, institutions and events in our own lives, is that SHIFT HAPPENS. Shift is one of the few constants in our lives along with… well… death. And while shift is necessary for invigoration, renewal, innovation, it can also be incredibly disconcerting. SHIFT HAPPENS.

Over the last two weeks in the ever-moving stories of our Torah, the Israelites journey from Mitzrayim, narrow places – through the birth canal of the split Red Sea – into the openness of the Midbar, wilderness. Their lives shift immensely. All at once they crave boundaries, vision and stability. Quite a tall order! In Mishpatim, the boundaries begin as 53 laws are outlined. But these laws only inspire the need or want for even greater shift.

So…  At the end of Mishpatim, comes a WOW moment. A visionary moment.  Bring on the shifting sands of the wilderness! The final 9 verses outline a fabulous, fantastical mystical description.

In chapter 24  Moses, accompanied by Aaron and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu and 70 of the Elders, journey up a mountain and there Yiru et Elohei Yisrael behold the God of Israel –  seeing under God’s feet pavement of sapphire like sky for purity.

They eat and drink.

The elders, Aaron and his sons, stay behind on the mountain, as Moses is beckoned by God to journey further.

At God’s behest, Moses enters into a cloud for 6 days and then continues up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, residing on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.

Amidst all this, the Israelites stay at the mountain foot, perceiving God as a consuming fire atop the peak.

Here is a mystical vision which teaches us so much about how SHIFT HAPPENS.

Change happens in increments:

  • We have the introduction of Mishpatim, ideas, rules, as inspiration.
  • Then the journey of the leadership up the mountain.
  • An aha moment! When they see God.
  • A celebration of that moment.

Not everyone is in the same place  on this continuum of change:

  • Moses is in the cloud.
  • The future priesthood and Joshua outside the cloud.
  • The people are at the base of the mountain.

The process of change is awe inspiring but also very disconcerting.

Our Torah Portion Mishpatim, leaves us with this very cliff hanger. Spirituality. Awe. Intangibility. Uncertainty. Shift. We wonder where will the journey of change lead? Can we keep up this momentum of spiritual growth as a people? What will the next steps be?

And for that we have to wait for our Torah portion Terumah….

Terumah and the Torah narrative bring us back down to earth.

God tells the Israelite people: Asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’tocham Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.  We are told what items to bring to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

God’s presence will no longer be “up there” in a vision, but felt concretely in the Mishkan in the middle of the camp. The vision will be given earthly roots and we will be involved in its creation and implementation as we stabilize the vision amidst us.

And so we learn: In the process of SHIFT HAPPENING, it is important that there is a time of consolidation, a time where every one of us gets involved and invested in the vision, when it becomes actualized and present, part of our every day midst, before we can continue through the desert/Midbar into further shifting sands of life.

SHIFT HAPPENS.

Take a moment for reflection and think about change. Change in your work, or your family, your congregation or your life…   How do these lessons and your experiences of SHIFT past relate to your life experience?

  • What was the impetus?
  • How was the vision articulated and realized?
  • What were the increments in establishing that vision?
  • Where were you in the change continuum? Where were others?
  • How was the vision, grounded and consolidated?
  • When was it time for shift to happen again?
  • How might these lessons be applied in your lives next time… SHIFT HAPPENS?

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