I remember a story of O. Henry that I heard in my youth. A love story, about a young and poor couple. Approaching Valentine’s Day, or maybe it was their wedding day, they wanted so much to make each other happy. But they did not have the means to purchase expensive gifts.
The wife really wanted to buy for her beloved husband a gold chain on which he could hang the gold watch he inherited from his grandfather — the only property he owned — so that he could finally enjoy it.
The husband on the other hand wanted to purchase for his beloved wife a gold brooch so that she could gather in her long and beautiful hair.
As the time approached, each of them chose to give up the thing that was most precious to him, to pay for a gift for the other: The young man decided to sell the gold watch and with the money he received purchased the golden brooch for his beloved wife — while she, at the same time, went and cut off her long and beautiful hair and sold it for money so she could purchase the golden chain for her beloved husband.
Each of them was willing to give up the thing most valuable to him, in order to make his or her loved one happy.
And so, they meet on the street, he without the watch and she without the beautiful hair with the gifts they bought for each other, but alas — they cannot enjoy them …
One can choose to stay in a place of disappointment and frustration — but hey, how exciting and touching it is to realize the magnitude of the love they are experiencing at that moment mutually, when they realize the magnitude of the gesture that each did for the other.
And why did I suddenly remember this story? Because it echoes for me the narrative of our portion of the week, T’ruma.
God undoubtedly loves His people very much. He brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of a place where the material world was the only world they knew, and now that they have become free, he expects that they cling to the deep notion of God, a spiritual being, which has no limits, no shape or form, and in Him they will believe.
He so wants this union that he does not at first see the limitations of the “bride”, just like a man in love.
Some commentators claim that the story of the sin of the Golden Calf actually preceded the affair of T’ruma, which gives the affair a very interesting perspective:
If we agree for a moment to accept this assumption (that there is no “before and after” in the Torah), then there is in G-d’s instruction to build him a tabernacle, whose vessels are plated with gold (22 times the word gold is repeated in the chapter), a tribute of great love for the people who sinned against him and betrayed him with the Golden Calf.
It is as if the beloved (G-d) says to his beloved (the people) — I now see you as you are, understand your weaknesses, understand that you are actually welded to materiality.
I understand your human limitation and I will work with it. I will change my original plan. (Thanks to Dr. Aviva Zornberg for this reading)
I will adapt myself to your limitation, I will transform your disadvantage, the experience of human limitation, into a benefit, into a positive emotional experience:
I will ask you to build for me a tabernacle, with a lot of gold. As you like.
In this way the beloved God satisfies the need of the “beloved people” for materiality, as well as his divine need to remain on the spiritual level:
As it is written: “And they built me a tabernacle and I dwelt in them”) Not in it! I will dwell in them!
The “beloved bride” (the people) will allow G-d to dwell within her on the spiritual level.
It seems to me that there is a deep metaphorical image here that G-d wants the people to fulfill and embody through their hands and physical labor:
When the whole body will be involved in the action, when each person will make a personal contribution and will also deal with the small details of the project, the metaphor of the Tabernacle will be embodied and will be like a tattoo burned into the flesh, like a fingerprint of G-d printed forever in their soul.
While building the external Mishkan (Tabernacle), the donation will produce a transformation, the tabernacle will be built not only outside but also inside them. When they internalize the tabernacle in their hearts, when they make room for holiness inside themselves, then he will be able to dwell within them.
May all of us be blessed with the privilege of receiving and giving such love, which sees the other in full, in his strengths and its weaknesses. Love that is willing to make concessions for the sake of the beloved (without giving up on us).