A Water from the Well blog post, Parashat Terumah
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
This past week I lost a dear cousin of mine, Paula Shtrum, a year after the death of her beloved husband, Haim. In composing her eulogy, I found great comfort in this week’s Torah portion. I offer the following remembrance with gratitude for Paula’s precious life and in celebration of all those who likewise knit us together in community.
Paula was a keeper of our family stories, of the past and of the present. So many of our conversations would turn to our extended family members, our oh so many cousins. She was endlessly curious and interested in all the details of my life and the details of my children’s lives. When she gave her attention, it was one thousand percent. She supported me with a love that felt maternal. Paula was a connector. She cared deeply about all of her personal relationships and truly suffered whenever there was a disconnect.
As a lover of stories, myself, I went to this week’s Torah portion to discover the connection between my beloved Paula and this particular week in Jewish life. This coming Shabbat we will read about the creation of the Tabernacle, a makom or sacred space in the wilderness, a space for connection and sacred communication. It is not common or easy to create such a space, especially in a wilderness, but this was indeed, one of Paula’s many gifts. She created an open space for sharing and brought her profound support to every interaction.
Now, within the biblical Tabernacle, the first and most important piece of furniture was the Aron Kodesh– the Holy Ark, that is, a container for the holy. In this vessel were housed several things: the broken pieces of the 10 commandments shattered by Moses in the Golden Calf incident, a second set of unbroken and whole tablets, a Torah scroll written by Moses, and a sample of manna, the heavenly food that sustained the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness.
In other words, the Holy Ark carried the stories of the people, their broken pieces and their wholeness, their weaknesses and their aspirations, and the grace of heavenly support.
The ark is described as being crowned with two golden cherubs who face each other, but who leave a space between them. Of this space God tells Moses, “ …it is there that I will meet you… from between the two cherubs.” This space between the two is the place for communication – the holy space created for an encounter- a space created with room enough to truly see and to be seen, to truly hear and be heard.
For me, Paula was that Holy Ark. She lovingly carried all of our stories, no matter the color of their content. And she provided the manna, the sustaining support and love that we all crave, and of which she clearly communicated: that we all deserve. Like the two cherubs atop the Ark, Paula and her husband, Haim, faced each other in loving embrace while creating a space into which they welcomed the world as a sacred encounter. Their friends and family have been so blessed to know them both.
I’d like to close with an idea, that we think about how to build within our own lives the kind of sacred space Paula nurtured, that kind of Holy Ark, in which to protect and honor the stories of those around us. Considering our relationships as holy vessels, may we, too, provide sustaining manna for one another as we journey together through this wild wilderness.