Magic and Art, T’rumah and Truth

T’rumah became dear to me more than a decade ago. It is a parsha so rich in imagery, so filled with color that reading it feels like being bathed in a rainbow. It is tactile, too, filled with scent and substance, magical figures (the cherubim) and magical objects (menorah).

Cloth and design, wood and metal, hues, light, and fragrance — the story of the building of the Tabernacle is exuberant, creative, holy indulgence. Inside and out, filled with every kind of material, it seems the very essence of a human project of beauty and truth. The Tabernacle is art, made of every kind of art. And though I have often heard that reading this parsha is difficult, for me it has always seemed like an incantation of making, a spell and a chant that must call up beauty and delight.

T’rumah means “to elevate, raise up.” It is often translated as “offering.” In the first verses of this parsha, the use of T’rumah suggests “gift.” Indeed, the Tabernacle is a gift made of many. The hands of multiple, uncounted artists would have been required to create it.

The Tabernacle is, of course, as the sages noticed long ago, humanity’s answer to God’s own creation. Just as we learn of color and light in the divine fashioning of the world in Genesis, so we learn of the human making of color and light in the world in Exodus.

Philo writes that the materials of the Tabernacle were made of things grown from the earth. The purple color, he said, was like that of water. Blue was to resemble the sky. Scarlet would recall fire. All four elements were stitched, molded, formed into the Tabernacle and all its implements, devices, and decorations.

There may be something holy about making art. Is not the artist a truth-teller?

If truth makes us free — or at least able to understand what freedom would look like, then it must be holy. If an artist reveals truth, her art must therefore be a vehicle for freedom. Her work must be, on some level, a sacred task, for she seeks truth in her work.

Crooked Street, Serafina Ha

The week my daughter-in-law, Serafina Ha, was born, T’rumah was read aloud all over the world.  Serafina — social worker and activist — is an artist, a creator of beauty and truth.

It has been less than two years since she began recognizing her own gift. In those first months she would draw strangers and give them her portraits. She empowered disadvantaged youth with sketches she made of them, giving them the opportunity to see their strength through her yes.

Her talent was obvious, striking, powerful. We have been lucky to be able to watch the unfolding and the unleashing of both truth and beauty under her hands.

It takes work and time and great love and one leap after another into the unknown. No one gave any dimensions for the menorah, either. Art is not predictable.

Still, it is a gift, a t’rumah. As such, it is magical and it is truthful. And it can make us free.

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