Some folks can’t make up their mind when it comes time what or where they want to eat for dinner, what they want to watch on Netflix, where they want to go on vacation, or how they want to spend their weekend. For me, these are relatively easy questions, but what will paralyze me with indecision is determining the best gift to buy for someone. Gift buying is just not my love language. When I learned that economist Tim Harford had measured which gift achieves the greatest amount of happiness, I was relieved. Finally, with mathematical precision, my problem was solved; unfortunately, the perfect gift is cold, hard cash. Economically, cash is the perfect gift, but I don’t know of many people who have rosy-eyed memories about the time they received an $36 check for their birthday.
In 1992, Gary Chapman came out with a book called “The Five Love Languages.” It’s been out for 30 years, so I’m not spoiling the punchline when I tell you that the five languages are: acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. I won’t rank all five but to say, gift-giving is certainly not how I prefer to express my love.
In our Torah portion this week, Terumah, God and Moses make a very clear wish-list of what they would like for building a prayer space. Not only that, but God tells Moses that the Israelites can give whatever gift so moves them, “וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.” This is gift-giving at its finest: the receiver knows what they want, and the giver can choose anything from the list that moves their heart.
I can’t argue against those who love the element of surprise, but to all I would say that the feeling of receiving exactly what you requested is very fulfilling; such giving means that both parties communicated well. In Torah, good communication is not a hallmark of any of the characters; however, in instances like these, we can be pleasantly surprised.
There is no time like the present to improve how we listen and how we speak to one another. Even the gift of being heard can be significant and heartfelt. When the Israelites and God communicated well with one another, they created The Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting: places fit for God and for a holy community to gather. May we, in physical and metaphorical ways, use our capabilities to listen and speak to create beauty in the world and give the gift of holy space in our homes, our relationships, and in our community.