Speak to the Israelites, so that they will bring for me an offering. . . This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold and silver and brass, blue and purple and scarlet and fine linen. . . and cedar wood. (Exodus 25:2-5)
The seeds that we plant through our actions today largely determine the landscape that we will leave for future generations.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God asks the Israelites for free-will gifts of materials to be used in the building of the portable sanctuary they will carry through the wilderness. Many of the items on the list are surprising; they are not things we’d expect to find in the possession of newly-freed Egyptian slaves.
Perhaps the most unexpected of all is cedar wood. Cedar (or by some translations, acacia) trees do not grow in the middle of the very barren Sinai desert. Thus in his commentary, Rashi asks: “From where did they obtain this in the wilderness?” He then provides an answer drawn from the fifth-century collection Midrash Tanchuma: “Our father Jacob foresaw by means of the Holy Spirit that Israel was destined to build a tabernacle in the desert, so he brought cedars to Egypt and planted them and commanded his children to take them along when they would leave.”
In other words, for the Israelites to accomplish their religious duties, they needed foresight.
This message is timely for us, in both ecological and Jewish contexts. By way of the former, let there be no doubt: we are living in critical days. Even as we are enjoying the warmest February on record here in Idaho, new NASA data shows that by 2050, most of the western United States will enter a mega-drought, lasting up to forty years. If we do not begin to deal with the forthcoming affects of climate change, the results will be disastrous for our children and grandchildren.
And in the Jewish world, we are witnessing enormous demographic shifts. Our ability to sustain vibrant progressive Jewish life depends upon our capacity to act with foresight and creativity. I heard much talk of this last week as I attended a conference of the Covenant Foundation, a leading source of innovation in the Jewish world and the source of our grant to hire a music educator this year. Here at CABI, we are striving to act in this spirit, charting our course in a manner that we hope will lay a strong foundation for future generations. Our music educator will be a big part of this. And I believe that our ongoing initiative toward a partnership with the Cooperative Pre-school is also a very significant step in this direction, and therefore core to our organizational mission of building enduring Jewish community.
In his commentary on Mishpatim, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson concludes: “As with our ancestor Jacob, we too must rely. . . on insight, then translate that insight into action. Tomorrow begins the moment today is finished. And the work we do today will shape our children’s tomorrows.”
Our CABI community has a lot of sacred work to do. It starts today—please join us.