Parashat Terumah: Teen Dvar Torah

We are pleased to share Ellie Shiovitz’s Dvar Torah from her recent bat mitzvah. 

I ride dressage, which is a type of English horseback riding. In dressage, there are different levels of tests that you complete. These tests, as well as the sport, are very specific. There are letters in a particular order all around the arena and the tests dictate what to do at which letter. If you are doing a circle at the letter B in the arena, then you wait until the horse’s shoulder is lined up next to B before making the turn to make the circle exact. The dressage pattern is a clear set of instructions on how to ride your horse, even telling you at what gait; walk, trot, canter, you should be riding. In dressage, space and details are very important.

The Torah portion I read, Terumah, is all about space and the details of building the mishkan, which was basically a portable temple. God has a very particular structure he wants the Israelites to follow and the descriptions of what is supposed to be in the mishkan are very elaborate. The mishkan is supposed to have: gold on the outside and inside, purple cloths, be made of acacia wood, have cherubim to decorate the outer walls as well as many other intricate details.

When I was reading my parsha, I wondered: Why do we need a material place for God to dwell? My answer was, we use our senses to experience things; we love smelling the delicious challah on Friday night, seeing the Shabbat candles burning, tasting the Kiddush wine, and hearing the beautiful melody of L’cha Dodi being sung during Kabbalat Shabbat. Using our senses can help us connect to God, therefore, we do need a place in which we use our senses for God to dwell. Not necessarily a house with a big blinking sign that says “God Dwells Here” but maybe a shul and a community in which god can dwell.

Part of where god dwells is within us. : וֹכָםבְּ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי מִקְדָּשׁ לִי וְעָשׂו And they shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them. The fact that the Torah says that God will dwell within the people, not inside the tabernacle, means to me that God dwelt in the Israelites hearts and was with them in spirit all the time. When we have a loving, supportive community, God dwells within all of us. I feel that we have that here at Bonai Shalom, our small family shul.

When we were making the list of who to invite to my bat mitzvah, space was an issue. We ended up having more people on our list than could fit in the sanctuary. My dad suggested that we move the service elsewhere. I was insistent on having the service here, at Bonai. The fact that I was so intent on wanting my bat mitzvah to be here, lead me to wonder: what is so important about space? I believe that we all want to do things where we are the most comfortable. I have a few places in which I am comfortable. One is the barn where I ride. The sound of horses neighing to each other, and the feeling of cantering around the arena as fast as I can go, is calming to me. Another is this shul. I grew up here. My parents met here, I was named here, and now I’m having my bat mitzvah here. In fact, my dad was head of the building committee when they added the sanctuary. Dad, you built this place with so much room to be comfortable, so there’s plenty of room for everybody, right? I think that a space helps shape the way you feel about something.

The way people connect to God in a sanctuary is different depending on the space of the sanctuary. If the building is ornate, with stained glass, and the bimah, or podium, is more closed off, people tend to feel as if they should be in awe of something, or that they would be disturbing something if they spoke too loudly. If the building is modest, with a very open bimah, people tend to feel more comfortable and feel less like they are disturbing the peace of the sanctuary if they speak. If a person is used to praying in one space, and they visit another shul, they may feel less at ease and it might be harder to connect to God. Back when the Israelites were building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, they had many ways in their every day life to connect with God. They offered sacrifices daily, and spent time building a special place just for God. How do we get in touch with God now, with our every day distractions, such as cell phones, iPod’s, computers etc..? In his book The Bedside Torah, Rabbi Brad Artson says, “ Pick up a Jewish book, The Torah, with commentary is a good place to start. Involve yourself in a synagogue, where people of the covenant can help to activate the spark inside you. Visit Israel, where our ancient, holy commentary lives in the mouths of our own people.” I think he is saying that in our crazy lives, we should find some time, a book, or some place that is special to you that helps you most get in touch with God.

Where does god dwell? Sa’adia Gaon , a rabbi and commentator from the 10th century, said, “There is no place without god” If so, then why build sanctuaries? Pinchas Peli said “The mikdash was not a dwelling place for god but a place set aside for people to come experience more intensely the in-dwelling presence of god in the world at large. It represented a way of re-creating the universe in the center of which is god.” I agree. I think that since humans tend to want something tangible to hold on to and value, we want a physical reminder of god.

In my parsha, god gives the Israelites specific instructions on how to build the mishkan. I think this precision god wants the Israelites to have when building the mishkan, is his wanting them to do their best work. God was counting on the Israelites. The Israelites wanted to please god so much that they would do the best they could to follow his exact directions. I know that when someone is counting on me, I try and do my best work

I am not the type of person who pays a ton of attention to details. There have been several times when I could have done better on an assignment, or riding a dressage pattern, but I didn’t pay attention to the fine details. I always try to do my best at whatever I’m doing but I am going to try harder to pay more attention to the little details. As I’ve learned from my parsha and from riding dressage, it’s when you pay the most attention to small details that everything falls into place and works well.

For my mitzvah project, my mom and I are co-raising a puppy to become a guide dog for the blind. There are many details that we have to pay attention to when we are training the puppy. We have a huge manual that tells us specific instructions on how to teach her different commands and proper behavior. Kaelyn will have to go through very detailed training on guiding a blind person. Blind people also have to go through specific training on how to work with their guide dog. In order for this to be successful, both the dog and the blind person need to pay attention to detail, work together, and do their best to take care of each other. It is when these pieces come together, that a bond is formed and a meaningful connection is made, for their lives depend on one another. I am so happy Kaelyn could be here to celebrate my bat mitzvah.

As a bat mitzvah, I am supposed to have more responsibility. Part of what that means to me, is paying more attention to the details of my relationships with my family, my four legged companions, my friends, my community and ultimately god. I would like to thank some of the people with whom I’ve formed relationships who have helped me on this journey to becoming a bat mitzvah.

Yasher koach, Ellie! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email

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