You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Terumah.
From Rav Kook
Teruma: Rising Above Ten Handbreadths
What is so important about the Tabernacle, that the Torah describes in such loving detail its measurements and furnishings? Was it not just an interim precursor to the Temple? What eternal message does this temporary structure have to impart?
Through the Tabernacle, the Jewish people could express their devotion and love of God. But the Tabernacle was more than just a hallowed place to serve God. If we examine its structure and parts, we may reveal the paths by which the human soul draws close to its Maker.
The Mishkan, the Altar, and the Ark
The Talmud states (Shabbat 92a) that the mishkan structure and the altar that stood in the courtyard shared the same height — ten cubits. These two parts of the Tabernacle correspond to the path of contemplation and reflection. The design of the mishkan reflects the overall structure of the universe. Careful examination of its dimensions and details, like contemplation of the universe in which we live, leads us to recognize the world’s spiritual foundations. Through His creative acts, we gain awareness of the Creator.
The altar is a continuation of this path of reflection. The soul’s meditation on the inner nature of the universe awakens within us love and awe for God, and the desire to serve Him. This is the function of the altar, the focal point for serving God in the realms of emotion and deed.
Together, the mishkan and the altar formed a complete framework of Divine service. Thus, Talmudic tradition connects them with a “hekesh”, teaching that both reached a full stature: “Just as the mishkan was ten cubits tall, so too the altar was ten cubits tall.”
The third major furnishing of the Tabernacle was the aron, the gold-plated ark encasing the Torah and the Tablets. The ark represents the path of Torah. This is the approach of enlightenment through God’s word, beyond the limitations of the human intellect.
Carrying with Poles
The Levites carried the altar with poles. The altar could not be lifted directly, but via intermediary tools. So too, reflection on the inner nature of the universe does not come naturally, without effort. The service of God as represented by the altar is performed by using the analytic and contemplative faculties of the soul.
Also the ark was handled via poles. We approach the Torah with our physical senses and intellect. Yet these paths go beyond the overt abilities of the soul. The Sages taught that “anything carried by poles, one third is above (the porter’s height) and two thirds are below.” Two thirds are within the realm of our natural faculties — the senses and the intellect. One third, however, rises above the human mind. It comes from the hidden recesses of the soul; we connect to it only through God’s blessing.
Above Ten Handbreadths
The Sages taught that the furnishings of the Tabernacle were carried ten handbreadths (about 90 cm.) above the ground. What is the significance of this height? Ten handbreadths designate an individual’s place and legal domain (reshut). This measure signifies our binds to the physical realm. Our ties to the material world are so powerful that even Moses and Elijah were unable to escape the constraints of ten handbreadths (Sukkah 5a).
Rabbi Elazar taught that people carry their loads above ten handbreadths, like the Levites who were charged with transporting the Tabernacle furnishings (Shabbat 92a). By extension, we may say that the calling of every individual is like the mission of the Levites. Our purpose in life is to carry our load above ten handbreadths. We must aspire to transcend the physical forces that bind us to the earth, going beyond our material needs. Just as the Levites carried the altar and the ark above ten handbreadths, we too should utilize these two paths — contemplation of the universe, with its resultant emotional and practical service, and the study of Torah, God’s elevated word — to ascend above the material binds of our physical nature.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 232-233)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Wendy’s comment: I very much appreciate this teaching since I have a hard time visualizing this part of the Torah. Click on the link at the top of the page for more good teachings on this parsha.
From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman
The Torah portion of Terumah begins the description of the Tabernacle that God commands the Jewish people to build in the desert. Not only is the rest of the book of Exodus, except for the incident of the golden calf, dedicated exclusively to this subject, but nearly the entire book of Leviticus and the first few portions of Numbers deal with the service conducted in the Tabernacle.
For most non-observant Jews these portions are not only hard to relate to, but to many they are a total turn-off, due to the many details, the animal sacrifices and the service of the priests and levites, all of which do not exist anymore and seem outdated or worse. Even for many observant Jews, the Tabernacle and the service described are parts of the Torah most likely to be skipped over or read in a very superficial manner.
Yet, this is a real shame. Most Jews do not understand to what an extensive degree the synagogue is based on the physical model of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Even more so, much of the conceptual basis and composition of our daily, Shabbat and holiday services are taken from the order and content of the Temple service.
For example, the bimah where the prayer leader stands represents the outer alter where the sacrifices were offered. We are taught that our prayers today are a direct replacement of those offerings. The ark, containing Torah scrolls, represents the Torah scroll resting in the ark, placed in the Holy of Holies, which had a curtain in front of it, as does the ark today. The ner tamid, the everlasting light, in the synagogue represents the menorah, the seven branched candleabram of the holy Temple. Our synagogues facing Jerusalem is in memory of the Temple itself. The mechitza, the prayer partition between men and women of today is modeled on the separation made by the Sages in certain areas of the Temple between men and women.
As for the prayers replacing the Temple service, the examples are too many to bring in such a short venue, but to name just a few. The fact that we pray the morning prayers of shacharit and the afternoon prayers of mincha is to replace the morning and afternoon daily offerings. Maariv, the evening service is to replace the offerings that burnt on the alter all night. The Musaf prayer on Shabbat and holidays replaces the additional offerings brought on these days. Each morning we recite karbanot, the readings about the offerings, at the very beginning of prayer. Pesukei d’Zimra, the beginning verses of praise in the morning prayers corresponds to the songs of the Levites in the Temple. In Israelthe priestly blessing is done every day, as it was done in the Temple. Each day we read the particular song the Levites sang. Tachanun, verses of repentance, replaces the guilt offering, while mizmor l’toda, a song of thanksgiving, symbolizes the thanksgiving offering. These are just some of the many examples.
As for the construction of the Tabernacle we are taught that each measurement, material, direction, and color contain a multitude of lessons from the moral to the ethical, from the practical to the mystical. The Talmud (Berachot 55a) teaches that Bezalel was able to construct the Tabernacle through understanding the secrets of the Hebrew letters, the same letters which with God created heaven and earth.
Our Sages were able to translate and transform the Temple model into the synagogue experience of today. That was their genius and contribution to Jewish continuity. We need to renew our commitment to understanding the profound meaning of the Tabernacle and its service, in order to richen our Jewish experience today, making it relevant and meaningful to one and all
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys
Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
The people are given instruction concerning the building of the Mishkan, the movable sanctuary that they are to carry throughout the wilderness journey.
OUR JOURNEY TAKES US AT LAST TO THE THRESHOLD of a great mystery. God has brought us out of Egypt, the place of narrow perception, for one reason: “to be Your God,” to exist in holy relationship. For this is the key to freedom: a conscious connection to the reality that lies beneath the surface of things frees us from the bonds of the material world and allows us to expand beyond the arbitrary limits of our particular conditioned perspective.
Yet freedom is elusive. When we left Egypt in search of it, we were blocked by the great impossible sea. When we crossed the sea and fled to the wilderness, we encountered within us the enslaving attitudes and habits of rebellion and complaint. And even after we stood at Sinai and received that moment of clarity, we still fell back into the habits of busy mind and cluttered heart.
And so God says to us, “Make for Me a holy place so that I can dwell inside you. Yes, it is possible to stay connected with me at all times in all places, even as you engage in the life of the world.” When we make a place for God to dwell in our lives, then we will never again be trapped in the illusion of separateness. God will be available and accessible to us in the innermost chamber of the heart and in the inner dimension of all Creation.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE is about making our lives into a Mishkan, a dwelling place for Divine Presence. About one third of the Book of Exodus consists of the detailed instructions for building the Mishkan. As we build our spiritual practice, the details are important. The purpose of the Mishkan is to send us to the space within where we can receive the Mystery of Presence. Just as a great poem points us towards a truth that is beyond mere words, so the beauty that shines from the Mishkan of our lives illuminates the beyond that is within us.
The portion of Terumah begins with the invitation to explore and discern the true generosity of our hearts. For the Mishkan cannot be built solely out of a sense of duty, obligation or debt. Only the willing and generous heart can participate in this endeavor. The willing and generous heart is fueled by love and carries the motivation needed for spiritual practice.
What makes the artist choose one color over another? What inspires the composer to create a song that can open the heart? Where does the sculptor get her vision of the form that lies buried inside the block of marble? What moves the writer to express the inexpressible? Here is the blessing of Terumah: When the heart is willing and there is a commitment to the work, then the Divine Spirit will show us the pattern, the blueprint, the plan, the inspiration that births beauty into the world. And that beauty is designed to send us back to the Source of its inspiration.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
AS ARTISTS OF THE HOLY we are given the spiritual challenge of opening to the creative flow and becoming a clear channel for Divine Will. To prepare for this purpose, we must heal our hearts that have contracted in stinginess born of fear. Terumah means “gift,” and ultimately the only gift we can give is ourselves, our full and available presence in each and every moment of our lives.
I remember a moment, years ago, when I was so vehemently disappointed in the circumstances of my life that I ran outside into the desert at three in the morning and screamed at God through the thick darkness, “What do you want from me?!!!!”
I was absolutely shocked to hear an answer within me whispering, “Everything! How else can you become a servant of The One?”
GIVING EVERYTHING MEANS ACCEPTING this moment, making myself completely available for the experience of being human – all of it, the torturous grief and jubilant triumph. It means not hiding or shrinking away from the experience of this “Now.” It is, after all, a two-way invitation that is being offered. I am making a home for God to dwell within me, and I am listening for God’s invitation to come home, which is to know this world as God’s house and to enter into it completely. With this gift of my presence, my wholeheartedness, I build the Mishkan. How else can I become a servant of the One?
We are called upon to sanctify the vessel of our lives, to become empty. Yet at the same time the spiritual challenge is to make those vessels so incredibly beautiful and compelling that Spirit will be drawn in to them.
For Guidelines for Practice please click link to the website
From Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Five Cities of Refuge
For a religious culture obsessed with prohibiting (and obliterating) any graven image, how curious that winged golden statues be set above the Ark. Even more fascinating is the statement that not from inside the Ark nor even from above it, but instead from between
the statues will God speak. This “in between” the two cherubim, two graven images is the locus of the voice. As Martin Buber taught us, God is uniquely present in the space in btween. And, as the Kabbalists imagined, the Shekhinah, the feminine, indwelling presence of God, resides between the cherubim.
Neither from one cherub nor the other, but from the space created between them–
when they confront each other– issues the revelation. Only relationship can initiate life and growth and revelation. And relationship can be created only when one ego realizes that there is another ego of equal importance. It can only be discovered in the presence of another. You simply cannot get there alone, there must always be someone else; it takes two to tango.
Perhaps that is why the prohibition against idolatry does not apply here. Truth be told, we are all only lifeless graven images until we face another and, in so doing, bring ourselves and the other to life. And from between that meeting the divine voice issues.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
The place we build for God (Radical Torah repost)2007
We’re entering a section of Torah which I used to find repetitive and kind of dull, and which I now look forward to ardently: the details of the construction of the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle in which the tablets of the covenant where carried, which the Israelites built (according to detailed instructions) as a home for the presence of God.
Parashat Terumah begins with God’s instruction to Moses to tell the Israelites to bring gifts to God, as their hearts move them, and to put those gifts to work in the construction of the mishkan. These are freewill offerings: not tithes, each according to how much a given household can afford, but extravagant gifts of the heart. Give, God seems to be saying, what you most long to see placed in My service. Give your creativity and craftsmanship and compassion. Make a worthy home for My presence in the world.
This portion is woven through with an array of beautiful images: polished acacia wood (in my imagination it resembles mesquite or pecan), precious metals, fine fabrics, supple leather. Spices and precious stones. And, of course, gold: enough gold to make a cover for the ark of the tabernacle, hammered fine, with a gold molding, and gold rings to hold the carrying-poles, and gold cherubim facing one another — and also facing the cover itself, looking inward at what this precious gold-covered box contains.
Those cherubim model relationship for us: relationship with each other, and relationship with the precious text on the tablets. God will speak to Moses from above the cover, between the two cherubs. God’s voice will ring forth from the spaces where we face both each other, and our texts, with integrity. Even now, in a present-day this text could hardly have imagined, this vision rings true. We find God’s presence in loving and respectful engagement with the words that shape our lives — and with the other people, faces of God, with whom we share our world.
Much is made of the carrying-poles, which are to remain in the rings of the ark. As Marc-Alain Ouaknin has written,
The Law carried in the Ark is ever-ready for movement. It is not attached to a point in space or time…in our opinion, it is not only an ever-readiness for traveling, but in fact, of continuous, perpetual, incessant movement. The Ark must travel because the Law, the Torah, is in becoming.
Keep the carrying-poles in the rings, in other words, because holiness is always a gerund, a process of becoming. In some sense, the Torah which can be fixed is not the eternal Torah. If we hold it still, try to pin it to a particular meaning or point in time, we lose something ineffable — and critically important. Torah’s portability isn’t an accident; it’s what we carry with us in our wanderings. For Ouaknin (and for me), that’s an essential quality of revelation: if we allow ourselves to be transformed by it, that transformation goes with us, wherever we go.
Build a table, the text tells us — again, acacia wood overlaid with gold — and on it, place the bread of display, to be before God always. What can this mean today, when we’ve had neither mishkan nor bread of display in millennia? When we invest ourselves in the holy work of creating a place among us where God’s presence can dwell — whether through learning to daven deeply and with passion, or working to alleviate need, or teaching others to access what enlightens our lives — we are building that table in our own hearts.
As we read parashat Terumah this year, may we find ourselves able to construct an appropriate altar on which to lay the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts — and may our every action be a terumah, an offering in the service of the One
From Melissa Carpenter http://www.mtorah.com
Cherubs: Not for Valentine’s Day
And you will make two keruvim of gold; you will make them hammered out of the two ends of the atonement-cover. You will make one keruv at one end, and one keruv at the other end; from the atonement-cover you will make the keruvim, on both of its ends. And the keruvim will be spreading their wings upward, sheltering the atonement-cover with their wings; and their faces will be turned one another; the faces of the keruvim will be turned toward the atonement-cover. (Exodus 25:18-20 in Terumah)
keruv, plural keruvim = (cherub in English) = a winged hybrid beast, usually with a human head and an animal body.
Two stone lions, or lion-like beasts, crouch on either side of the main entrance to a library, a civic building, a mansion; they face the person who approaches, looking stern and regal. We’ve all seen them; architects used them for centuries, the world over, to make entrances more impressive.
In ancient Assyria, the colossal statues on either side of an entrance were hybrid winged beasts called kuribu in Akkadian. Scholars say the word was related to the word karabu, “to pronounce formulas of blessing”, and to the Hebrew word keruv.
Now imagine two winged beasts facing one another, guarding neither a city gate nor a door into a building, but a portal into another world, another reality. Science fiction? No, Torah.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God tells Moshe how to construct the mikdash, the portable sanctuary. Inside the inner curtained-off chamber, the Holy of Holies, will be the ark holding the covenant. The lid of the ark will be a pure gold atonement-cover. (The word used for the cover, kapporet, comes from the same root as the word for “atonement” in Yom Kippur.) The two ends of this golden lid will be hammered into gold sculptures of keruvim. When the sanctuary is finished, God will speak to Moshe from the empty space above the cover, between the two keruvim.
This is neither the first nor the last place where the Torah mentions winged guardian figures called keruvim. When the first two human beings are banished from the Garden of Eden, God “made the keruvim dwell in front of (or east of) the garden of Eden, and the flame of the sword of the mit-hapechet (revolving/quivering/flashing/continually transforming), to watch over the way to the Tree of Life.” (Genesis 3:24)
When the ark is carried into battle against the Philistines, it is referred to as “the ark of the covenant of the God of Armies sitting on the keruvim.” (I Samuel 4:4) When King Solomon builds a permanent temple, he places two colossal gilded keruvim in the innermost chamber. Their anatomy is not described, but their wings touch in the center of the room. (I Kings 6:23-27) Keruvim are also used as a decorative motif in the temple walls, as they are in the woven curtains around the inner chamber of the portable sanctuary.
The four mysterious hybrid creatures in vision of the prophet Ezekiel (Yechezkeil) are also called keruvim. Their appearance may differ from the keruvim over the ark, but they are also hybrid creatures, with four wings each, human hands, calves’ hoofs, and four faces each (human, lion, ox, and eagle). The throne where God’s glory appears is above them. (Ezekiel 1:4-12 and 10:1-21)
Psalm 18 paints a metaphorical picture of God descending from the heavens to rescue King David from his enemies, and includes the line: “He rode on a keruv and He flew; And He soared on wings of ruach (wind or spirit).” This couplet borrows an image from a Canaanite religion in which the sky god’s steed was a winged beast.
What do all these references to keruvim mean? If we look behind the descriptive details, keruvim seem to define a location for the appearance of God’s glory, or presence, or Shechinah—whether the location is between them, as in this week’s Torah portion, or above them, as in Ezekiel and Psalm 18, or behind them, as in Genesis.
Keruvim combine the traits of many animals, including humans, and thus represent the more sentient part of the world God creates. Yet they are supernatural, existing somewhere between our reality and the transcendence of God. Therefore they mark the dividing line between our world and the divine world we can neither enter nor understand.
Yet in Torah this dividing line is not a wall, but a gateway. As long as we live in this world we cannot pass through the gate. But we can imagine the entrance to the Garden of Eden. And we can imagine God speaking to Moshe through the empty space between the keruvim above the ark, even if we can never enter the Holy of Holies ourselves.
One effect of this invisible portal to another reality, this gap in our universe, is that human beings feel a yearning that can never be satisfied by the things of this world. The yearning keeps us searching—for love, for beauty, for the good, for the divine. That is what it means to be human.
Maybe Adam and his counterpart Eve (Chava), are not really human until they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. Only then can they feel yearning.
Today we human beings still yearn for the ineffable. And we are still responsible for using the passion of our yearning to make tikkun olam, to help make the world we live in more like the world we yearn for.
Speak to the Children of Israel, that they should take to Me a terumah (“uplifting”) (Exodus 25:2)
Every created entity has a spark of G-dliness within it, a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its “soul”, its spiritual function and design. When we utilize something to serve the Creator, we penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence. Thus we elevate these “sparks”, reuniting them with their Source.
(The Chassidic Masters)
Gold, silver, and copper… (25:3-7)
The materials donated for the Mishkan correspond to the components of the human being. “Gold” is the soul; “silver,” the body; “copper,” the voice; “blue,” the veins; “purple,” the flesh; “red,” the blood; “flax,” the intestines; “goat hair,” the hair; “ram skins dyed red,” the skin of the face; “tachash skins,” the scalp; “shittim wood,” the bones; “oil for lighting,” the eyes; “spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense,” the nose, mouth and palate; “shoham stones and gemstones for setting,” the kidneys and the heart.
Rabbi Shmuel said: The materials donated for the Mishkan correspond to the heavens. “Gold” is the sun; “silver,” the moon; “copper,” the western horizon at sunset; “blue,” the sky; “purple,” the clouds; “red,” the rainbow; “flax,” the seraphim; “goat,” the constellation of capricorn; “ram skins dyed red,” thunder; “tachash skins,” lightening; “shittim wood,” shooting stars; “oil for lighting,” the seven planets; “spices for the anointing oil and for the incense,” dew and rain; “shoham stones and gemstones for setting”–hail and snow. Said G-d: “My dwelling is in the heavens; if you make Me a Sanctuary on earth, I shall dwell in it.”
And you shall make a covering… of tachash skins above (26:14)
The tachash was a multi-colored animal, which was created specifically for the Tabernacle and existed only at that time.
Rabbi Hoshaya taught that it was a one-horned animal.
In truth, “Everything that G-d created, He created solely for His glory” (Ethics of the Fathers 6:11). It is only that, in our material world, a thing’s exterior face often belies its intrinsic purpose.
But there was one creature, the tachash, which existed only in the time and place it was needed for the making of a “dwelling for G-d.” Thus the tachash expressed the true nature of every creation: that it exists to the sole end of serving and revealing the divine essence implicit within it.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Reb Sholom Brodt
Messirut Nefesh – To Give Your Life – Your Essence
In living with the times we need to understand the connection between this week’s parsha, Trumah, and Purim. Parshas Trumah teaches us Hashem’s instructions for building a ‘Mikdash’ for Him, here in this world, the lowest of all worlds. The Creator doesn’t need or desire our gold or silver, our money and possessions. He desires to be with us. He needs us to elevate and transform this mundane world into His dwelling space. The highest and most difficult contribution that we can offer Hashem is our very selves. To truly give our selves over to Hashem with love and joy- that is the greatest gift of all. Amalek, Haman’s ancestor, the embodiment of evil, claims that the good cannot last forever. He claims that even when we do something good, we don’t do it with all our heart. Even more sinister is his claim that we cannot do good with all our heart.
The great miracle and celebration of Purim is that we did reach our innermost essence, we discovered the essence of our being and when we did that we achieved our highest and holiest connection with Hashem. Even after Moshiach’s arrival when we will no longer celebrate most of our holidays, the holy day of Purim will be celebrated forever. When we manage to do something with our whole heart, it lasts forever.
Our holy Kabbalah teaches that in giving us the mitzvah to build the Mishkan, Hashem afforded us the opportunity to bring our lower world into perfect alignment with the supernal worlds. The holy Shela teaches that the Mishkan is replete with the secret of Creation. Hashem’s act of Creation is an act of Chessed- kind generosity. That is why it is not enough for us to merely contribute objects of value; we must contribute them with a generous heart. Every holy deed must be done with generosity of the heart. In doing so, we enter into unity and partnership with Hashem in the Creation of the world. When we contribute with a generous heart Hashem partners with us. That is our truest essence.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:1) teaches that the world was created with 10 utterances. The secret of the 10 utterances is represented throughout the Mishkan: The Mishkan was covered with 10 coverings; the upright boards were 10 ‘amot’ high; the Aron Hakodesh together with its covering was 10 ‘tefachim’; the Table reached a total height of 10 ‘tefachim’; the Menorah had seven branches and together with ‘knob, cup and flower’ totaled 10; the Golden Altar was 12 ‘tefachim’ in height, corresponding to the 12 permutation of the Divine Name; the Altar for the daily sacrifices was 5 ‘amot’ by 5 ‘amot’ and was 10 ‘amot’ high; the ‘vessels’ of the Miskan were 10; there were 10 kinds of sacrifices. The Torah was given in 10 utterances and there are 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. All this indicates the relationship between the building of the Mishkan, the Creation of the world and the giving of the Torah. With sincere generosity we enter into the mystery of the Unity- the mystery of our contributing to and completing the unity of Creation.
May we be blessed to know this and to live this mystery, with great joy! May we be blessed to merit our ultimate redemption this Purim! Amen!!!
Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
ABOVE SHALL BE BELOW, BELOW ABOVE
From this week’s parshah of TERUMAH onwards until the end of the book of Exodus — five parshahs — the central theme is the Sanctuary built by the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. The Sanctuary is the prototype of the Holy Temple destined to stand eternally in Yerushalayim.
This week’s parshah explains the design of the Sanctuary and its vessels, while next week’s parshah of TETZAVEH explains the garments that were to be worn by those who were to minister in that Sanctuary — Aaron and his sons. TETZAVEH also explains the sacrificial rituals that were to inaugurate the Sanctuary and its priests.
After TETZAVEH comes KI TISA, which continues the explanation of the form of the Sanctuary vessels and the sacrifices. When this explanation is complete, KI TISA goes on to narrate the sin of the Golden Calf and how Moses secured atonement for the people through the 13 Attributes of Mercy.
Then come the last two parshahs of Exodus, VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY, which explain how Bezalel and the other craftsmen actually constructed the Sanctuary and made the priestly clothes. VAYAKHEL and PEKUDAY repeat practically word for word some of the corresponding passages in TERUMAH and TETZAVEH. PEKUDEY then concludes the book of Exodus with the account of the inauguration of the Sanctuary and the priests on the New Moon of the first Nissan after the Exodus. This was exactly one year to the day since Moses received the first commandments while still in Egypt: the law of the New Moon and the Pesach sacrifice, prototype of Temple sacrifice.
At the close of TETZAVEH and Exodus, we read how G-d’s Cloud of Glory dwelled constantly over the Sanctuary. Leviticus opens immediately with the Voice of G-d emanating to Moses from between the mouths of the Cherubs in the Holy of Holies, giving him the detailed laws of the Temple sacrifices.
From this overview of the remaining five parshahs of Exodus, we see that the subject of the Sanctuary — central to the Torah and to the whole world — is introduced in “sandwich” form. TERUMAH and TETZAVEH explain the intended form of the Sanctuary and priestly garments BEFORE they were executed, when they were in the “mind” and will of G-d. In the middle of the “sandwich” is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf and it’s atonement through the 13 Attributes of Mercy. Then on the other side of the “sandwich” come VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY, which tell how the Sanctuary IDEA was brought from POTENTIAL TO ACTUAL through the thirty-nine labors of the craftsmen who made it.
At the very center of this “sandwich” structure is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf — which changed everything for the Children of Israel. In the heady days of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel were elevated to the greatest heights. Then suddenly, forty days after hearing the Voice of G-d at Sinai, in one single orgy they sank to the lowest depths of degradation. From then on they had to learn the terrible pain of retribution, suffering and contrition. This was a loss of innocence parallel to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
But God had already prepared the remedy before the illness. Indeed, we might even say that the illness was sent with the very purpose of revealing the great power of the remedy. The remedy for sin is repentance, which saves man from himself and brings him back to the One G-d, bringing him atonement — AT-ONE-MENT. The penitential “system” of the Torah is contained within the Sanctuary and its sacrificial rituals, which are a teaching to mankind about how man draws close (KaRoV) to G-d through his KORBAN (“sacrifice”) — literally, his “coming close”. As the way of repentance for having elevated wealth to the status of a god, man is commanded to take gold, silver, copper and the richest fabrics in order to glorify and magnify the One True G-d. Man is taught how to configure the materials of this world so that instead of separating him from G-d through idolatrous uses and configurations, they will serve to draw him ever closer, until G-d Himself “dwells” with man.
TERUMAH and TETZAVEH present us the Sanctuary and sacrificial IDEA before we have even learned about sin. The lesson of the Golden Calf in KI TISA is harsh. But it is sweetened, because immediately after Moses secured atonement for Israel through the 13 Attributes of Mercy, the very next day he assembled the people and told them to bring gifts of materials and to get busy making the ACTUAL sanctuary, as told in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. Thus the bitterness of sin in KI TISA is “sandwiched” between the sweetness of TERUMAH & TETZAVEH (the Teshuvah IDEA in all its innocent purity) and VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY (the ACTUALIZATION of Teshuvah in the Sanctuary in this world.) [This “sandwich” is reminiscent of how in Temple times, Hillel would eat his Pesach sacrifice with the bitter herbs in a “sandwich” with his Matza.]
The Torah never wastes a word or a single letter. It is therefore a great wonder that many of the passages about the Sanctuary, its vessels and the priestly garments that we read this week and next in TERUMAH and TEZTAVEH are, as mentioned, repeated almost word for word in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. The “mirroring” of the explanation of the IDEA in the account of its ACTUALIZATION comes to communicate something that is at the very core of the Temple-Sanctuary idea. The Temple or Sanctuary are a “replica” and “mirror” of the Heavenly Sanctuary, which is in the “mind” or will of G-d. They are a “replica” in which the materials of this world — metals, wood, fabrics, etc. — are used to bring a “reflection” of heaven into the minds and consciousness of ordinary people.
In this way, what is “above” — “in heaven” — actually dwells and exists in material form in this world “below”. And through this, “below” becomes “above”. “And they will take for Me an offering. And they will make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell WITHIN THEM” (Ex. 25 vv. 2, 8).
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Week’s Energy for Parshas Terumah
Rav DovBer Pinson
Rooting the Transient in a Vessel
Following the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt and their receiving of the Torah at Sinai, they are instructed to build a Mishkan/Sanctuary which will be a dwelling place for Hashem.
The Torah reading begins with the words “Hashem spoke to Moshe/Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering… And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” (25:1:8)
The Zohar understands this to be a logical sequel to the events at Sinai.
The Children of Israel experienced a tremendous spiritual high when they received the Torah and its laws, and they now required a vessel to contain that which they had received. Through this receptacle, the inspiration would be retained and kept alive.
The Sanctuary served as a place in which all that they had received could be contained, and in that way the initial emotions and thoughts of Sinai would stay with them.
An emotion that is felt, however strongly in the moment, can easily be lost and forgotten with time.
If something tangible is produced or acquired, as a “vessel” to preserve the memory, then even when the initial excitement has passed, that feeling can always be accessed through the tangible object. For example, when someone feels an intense stirring of love and then purchases a piece of jewelry for their loved one to provide a tangible expression – that piece of jewelry, or photo, or keepsake etc… will always have the power to recreate and re-establish that feeling.
The Sanctuary, being the object borne of our affection, became a vessel for our love and commitment.
The Energy of the Week:
Making a vessel to contain the elusive
This week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy to root a transient emotion, thought, or idea, in a concrete vessel.
This week we are able to harness the particular energy of creating a vessel to contain and maintain that which is intangible or possibly fleeting.
Practically this could translate into the writing of a proposal to contain a brilliant idea or perhaps a purchase of something tangible that can contain an emotion or event that may fade from memory in time, planting roots and creating a vessel that will perpetuate something that might otherwise be transient.
In the coming week, we are given the ability to ground emotions, memories, ideas and successes in a permanent object, which will transfer an otherwise transient and fleeting moment into something lasting and real.
From Rav Kook
Terumah: “Take for Me an Offering”
In preparation for constructing the Tabernacle, God commanded Moses to collect the necessary materials from the people:
“Speak to the Israelites and have them take for Me an offering. From every person whose heart inspires him to donate, you shall take My offering.” (Ex. 25:2)
Why did God command Moses to take the donations? The verse should read that they should give an offering!
This language of ‘taking’ might lead one to conclude that the materials were taken forcibly from the people. But this cannot be, for the Torah stresses that the offerings were donated freely – ‘from every person whose heart inspires him to donate.’
Why, in fact, did this collection need to be voluntary? The Talmud in Baba Batra 8b teaches that the community may force members to support the needy. Using our money to help others is a trait that needs to be trained and developed. Why did God command that these gifts for the Tabernacle, the first act of tzedakah (charity) on a national level, be donated solely out of sincere generosity?
Two Purposes to Tzedakah
The mitzvah of tzedakah is meant to accomplish two objectives. The first concerns the one receiving. Through this mitzvah, we assist the poor and help provide what they are lacking. The second aim concerns the one giving. By donating our time and money, we express in the world of action our inner qualities of chesed and kindness. The act of tzedakah actualizes our feelings of generosity, and contributes towards our own spiritual growth.
We can distinguish between these two objectives within the act itself. The first goal stresses the aspect of giving to the needy. The important factor here is that the poor person receives the assistance needed. The second goal, on the other hand, stresses the aspect of taking from the benefactor. This is a special benefit of the mitzvah of tzedakah. By relinquishing our material possessions for the sake of others, we refine and elevate the soul.
Which of these two goals is the principle objective of tzedakah?
The Chase of the Gimmel
The Sages in Shabbat 104a noted that the letter gimmel appears to have a ‘leg’ stretched out in the direction of the following letter, the dalet. Why is that? The gimmel is the benefactor (from the word gommeil, meaning one who gives or supports). Inherently, the gimmel chases after the impoverished dalet (from the word dal, meaning ‘poor’ or ‘needy’) in order to help him.
Why is the benefactor running after the poor? Should it not be the other way around? The Sages wanted to teach us that the principle aim of tzedakah is based on the very foundations of the universe. The true goal of tzedakah is to elevate the soul of the giver. After all, if the purpose was to help the poor, God could have provided other means for their support without having to rely on the generosity of people. The shape and order of the letters – letters by which God created the universe – hint at this fundamental truth. The gimmels, the benefactors, need to pursue the dalets, the poor, in order to attain their spiritual completion.
Therefore the first charitable act of the Jewish people emphasized that the central aspect of tzedakah is not giving to the needy, but taking from the donor. “Have them take for Me an offering.” God commanded that the contributions to the Tabernacle be given freely – ‘every person whose heart inspires him to donate’ – since the soul is only properly perfected when one donates willingly.
(Adapted from Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 189-190)
From Melissa Carpenter
Terumah: Waking Up
You will make a lamp-stand (menorah) of pure gold; they will be made from hammered-work: the lamp-stand, its trunk, its stalk, its cups, its drupes, and its flowers. And six stems emerging from its side, three lamp-stems from one side and three lamp-stems from the second side. Three cups like (bud cases of) almonds; on each almond-like stem a drupe and a flower; thus for the six stems emerging from the lamp-stand. And on the lamp-stand, four cup ornaments like those of almond trees, its drupes, and its flowers. (Exodus/Shemot 25:31-34)
And you will make its lamps seven, and it will elevate its lamps and shine over the space in front of it. (Exodus/Shemot 25:37)
meshukadim = like almonds; those who have become awake, alert, attentive
The almond trees are blooming now in Israel. They’re the first trees to “wake up”, and their white flowers appear before their leaves.
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah (“donations”), describes a lamp-stand or menorah in terms of an almond tree. God is speaking to Moses on top of Mount Sinai, describing the items to be made for the inner precinct of the sanctuary: to the east, the ark in its own curtained enclosure (the Holy of Holies); to the north, a gold-covered table to hold twelve loaves of bread; and to the south, the lamp-stand.
Ancient commentary says that the Moses could not visualize the lamp-stand from the description, so God had to show him a fiery model of it. We can imagine it as a flat or espaliered tree. The term used for the tree trunk is ambiguous:
yerechah = thigh, bottom; a euphemism for genitals; “base” only in traditional English translations of Exodus 25:31. The word implies a generative source, but given the shape of a human thigh and the insistence in the Torah passage that the lamp-stand is like an almond tree, I translate the word as “trunk”.
Three branches come out of the left side of the tree trunk, and three out of the right side. The six branches and the central trunk (which tapers to the size of a stalk) are ornamented with flowers, cups like opened bud-cases, and knobs like almond drupes. The Hebrew word I translate as “drupe” is also ambiguous:
kaftor = ornament in the style of Kaftor (home island of the Philistines); knob, bulb, small fruit. Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th-century rabbi and etymologist, argued that the kaftor represents the swelling inside a flower where seeds grow, the part that becomes a pod, nut, or fruit. The “fruit” of an almond tree is a drupe, like a peach or plum (though an almond drupe has no flesh between the outer skin and the woody pit surrounding its single seed). Since the knobs on the lamp-stand are modeled after almond trees, I translate the word kaftor as drupe.
The branches and the central stalk of the lamp-stand all terminate in oil lamps. There are seven lamps across the top, three lamps on either side of a central lamp. (Why seven? I’ll take up that question in five weeks, when the Torah portion Vayhakheil (“and he assembled”) describes the actual manufacture of the sacred objects.)
Since the lamp-stand is hammered out of pure, solid gold, a fairly soft metal, it cannot be any taller than about six feet, which is the height mentioned in the Talmud. That makes it the size of a human being. (The Arch of Titus in Rome bears a relief sculpture of the sacking of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, including two soldiers carrying a menorah somewhat shorter than they are. We don’t know if the menorah taken out of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. was the same height as the original menorah.)
Lamps are symbols of enlightenment, divine inspiration that casts light so we can see something more clearly. But a lamp does not just float in the air; it must be supported by something. The lamp-stand prescribed by the Torah is a ritual object full of symbolism. Perhaps it is hammered out of pure gold to indicate that we can only receive divine light when we have purified our hearts, our minds. Gold, the most holy metal in the sanctuary, is the color of fire, and fire is associated with God throughout the Torah.
The lamp-stand is human-sized because it is our job to receive and spread enlightenment. Being constructed like a tree, it reflects the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden, and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. After all, enlightenment is a taste of deep knowledge.
But why does the lamp-stand take its design from an almond tree? I think this is a double symbol, from the double meaning of meshukadim: “like/from almonds” and “those who have become awake and attentive”. Almond trees flower early, before winter is over, before anything else blooms. Even in the coldest, most dead time of year, life awakens and blooms. The human desire for knowledge and for God keeps rising like sap, and blooming before you expect it.
On a less physical level, being meshukadim makes the lamp-stand a symbol of wakefulness, alertness, and diligent attention. We human beings are all too liable to sink into a semi-conscious state in which we operate automatically, making routine assumptions instead of asking ourselves questions. Yet when we do pay close attention to the shadowy depths of our own minds, we discover more and more meanings beneath the surface. By studying and paying attention to wise teachings, and by being alert to our intuitions and our own inner connections that generate meaning, we create an inner lamp-stand. Then we are ready to receive divine light—inspiration—enlightenment.
This week’s Torah portion indicates that before God’s presence will dwell among the people, they must prepare themselves by making the ark to hold the covenant (probably the ten commandments), the table for the bread, and the lamp-stand for light. In other words, if we want to connect with the divine, we must first make a commitment to following ethical and spiritual rules, set up our lives so that our bodies will be nourished, and hammer out a psychological structure that will support enlightenment.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
the first objectification of the spirit
build the place out of Me
Make [of] Me a Mikdash/holy place
and I will dwell [Shakhanti/Shekhinah]
within them. [Ex. 25:8]
The holy place
the union of two worlds
build it out of terumah
from the Aramaic root for two, [Zohar]
All the terrible twos of existence
integrated in the holy place—
the beit k’nesset
house of meeting.
The Holy One is always delighted
when we storm the upper worlds
and take the Shekhinah to dwell among us. [Zohar]
new souls all around.
Build your palaces
raise all the money you can
but I will set my spirit
in the inner chambers of the heart.
I want your heart, G*d says,
that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Terumah
Maqam Hoseini D E-flat F G
Every Shabbat is associated with a particular maqam,
Arabic cognate to the Hebrew maqom
Torah Reading for Week of January 30 – February 5, 2011
“Abodes Upon Abodes; Lights Beyond Lights”
by Chava Lion, AJRCA First Year Rabbinic Student
Let’s look at Parshat Terumah in context. Clearly, it’s post-slavery/ liberation. According to Rashi, we come to it after the movement of Moses up-down the mountain, revelation, the breaking of the tablets, the golden calf, and movement up-down the mountain again. At the end of Mishpatim Moses is behar, literally in the mountain. In any case, why is this important? Because this is where we get the game-plan for the tabernacle, the blue-print…we get it from the space within the earth-core of a sacred mountain. The transmission (in other words) is from a solid place. It’s almost as if G-d is saying….from this earth, from your being, construct My sanctuary and I will dwell among you (25:8).
This is not an easy undertaking. In 1 Kings 5:27, the building of Solomon’s Temple (also an abode for Hashem) necessitates the toil of 30,000 men. Here, in Terumah, it seems a lot less taxing. We just need to do some raising up if the incentive is in our hearts.
Whatever the picture, it’s hard work. It’s hands-on. We need gold, silver, copper, ram’s skins, wool, red and blue dyes, the sewing of tapestry, stones, oil, rings, poles, beams, more gold, bowls, frames, plenty of measuring rods (please), acacia wood, loops, fasteners, discernment, sharp attention to detail, focus, persistence, organization, order; all these things that we must pull-up from within our beings. As Rabbi Arthur Green says in his translation of the Sfas Emes: In our soul we light a lamp for G-d, set a table, raise up an altar. And in a world that revolves around external influences… lightning-fast news flashes, billboards raised oh so high above the long slice of highway… we have that inner work cut out for us.
It’s exquisite work though. It begins at the inner chamber, the Ark. We then make the cover and the two cherubim. We allow a space between them from which G-d’s voice will be heard. We continue inside out until we get to the courtyard. This, according to Rabbi Yosi, though it contains only 100 by 50 cubits, can miraculously hold the entire Israelite people (Lev Rabbah 10:9). No doubt, this is a group project.
And it’s a worthwhile one. We yearn for this; for a place with boundaries that can contain the radiance of G-d, that can consolidate that fine un-earthly light, that can act as a sounding board for the tight vibrations of the holy so they can be heard and echoed in our midst, for a G-d abode that is protected, grounded yet transitory. Perhaps, given this world with golden calves everywhere, we yearn for ourselves.
This brings us to a quote from the Zohar: (There are) abodes upon abodes, lights beyond lights, diverging… (1:130a). In my opinion, here we have reflections among reflections like two mirrors facing each other, one above, one below. We have the tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple…and more. Sages like the Ramchal have compared the tabernacle to the future Temple, G-d’s creation in Genesis. And to us. So we also are a reflection of the tabernacle. We are the very tabernacle that we build. As individuals and as a community.
So, may we labor to raise up the elements from our blood, the sparks from our souls, the teachings from our sages, the exquisite order of our bone structure, the silent space from our human core, the song from our hearts. And may we merge these gifts and create ourselves anew. This way, despite the blur of past events and beyond our wildest mistakes, we can be tabernacle and temple. May we keep our eyes open to the phenomenal design of G-d’s creation, each pattern, each weave, each moment of melding gold, each word of Torah…so that G-d will dwell within us. With compassion, purpose and patience may we follow the blueprint and construct ourselves into one being… and rest in the light of Divine Love.
Torah Reading for Week of February 19 – 25, 2012
By Rabbi Andrew Feig, ‘07
Growing up in the Midwest, I was not very different from other middle-class children; I had an insatiable appetite for stuff. I wanted the newest toys, burgeoning new video games (post-Pong), Dingo cowboy boots, and an Adidas sweat suit. Material possessions seemed to satisfy short-term cravings, but in the end, I kept wanting more. Today, children suffer from material dis-ease; look at gadget envy and upgrade fever. They are constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest tech toys, laptops, and clothing. As adults, we can understand how kids can get hooked, but children are not the only ones afflicted with stuff sickness. Many adults fall prey to the allure of smartphones, smart cars, LED TVs, and, hip clothes.
The point is we never seem satisfied with what we have. Material possessions don’t seem to fulfill or even temper some deeper craving. Why not?
The answer may come in this week’s parasha. In Parashat Terumah, we are immediately introduced to the building of the Mishkan, the wilderness Tabernacle through which the Israelites worship G-d. Through varied and generous gifts (terumot) from the Israelites, the Mishkan is constructed as an abode for G-d: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) The Mishkan’s construction follows on the heals of the Mt. Sinai narrative, which recounts G-d’s revelation to Moses and the Israelites.
The juxtaposition between the fiery, mystical experience of Sinai and an almost mundane description of a construction site is jarring. Why does the description of the building of the Mishkan immediately follow the giving of the laws? There are two traditional, but opposing answers, to this question. One is given by Ramban, the Spanish medieval commentator, who says that the Children of Israel are now ready to build a house to G-d following this intense revelatory experience. The Mishkan is a constant reminder of the Sinai experience that they can carry with them in their travels. The other answer is given by Rashi, the French medieval commentator, who says that although the Torah describes the building of the Mishkan here, it was actually constructed after the sin of the Golden Calf (which the Torah describes much later in Exodus 32). He, and other sources, note that the Mishkan serves as a tool for atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelites give their precious metals and gifts as part of their repentance and atonement for the wrong they committed against G-d.
Whether our parasha precedes the apostasy of the Golden Calf or follows it, the Children of Israel, this nascent, newly-born nation, has a craving for the physical, the tangible. In either view, a material focal point is required. The question is, does that material product represent an end in itself or provide a vehicle for spiritual growth? The Mishkan’s construction, described in Rashi’s view, seemed to provide a process for which the Israelites could grow from their dependence on the material culture of Egypt and into a relationship with G-d, a non-corporeal, spiritual being. Even more, the Israelites turned in their material possessions for a spiritual pursuit. Their gold, silver and other precious possessions were the stuff that helped create the actual Tabernacle. Thus, the Mishkan becomes a true vehicle of spiritual transformation, not only in its construction, but in its raison d’être, providing an axis point for divine-human connection.
Material goods are often misunderstood as replacements for spiritual needs. When we take the time to examine our deep-seated desires, we may realize that the solution cannot always be found in the short term or in material items. It may be that we need something that satisfies us deeply and spiritually – a process that may take a lifetime.
From Chaya Lester
Poetic Commentary on Teruma- Mishkan
I very much appreciate the spoken poetry as well as the visual arts.
Terumah: Rising Above Ten Handbreadths
What is so important about the construction of the Tabernacle that the Torah describes in such loving detail its measurements and furnishings? Was it not just an interim precursor to the Temple? What eternal message does this temporary structure have to impart?
The Tabernacle enabled the Jewish people to express their devotion and love of God. But the Tabernacle was more than just a hallowed place to serve God. By examining its structure and parts, we may reveal the paths by which the human soul draws close to its Maker.
The Mishkan, the Altar, and the Ark
The two largest objects of the Tabernacle were the mishkan structure, composed of upright wooden beams, and the copper altar that stood in the courtyard. These parts of the Tabernacle symbolize the path of contemplation and reflection. The design of the mishkan reflects the overall structure of the universe. Careful examination of its dimensions and details, like contemplation of the universe in which we live, leads us to recognize the world’s spiritual foundations. Through His creative acts, we gain awareness of the Creator.
The altar is a continuation of this path of reflection. The soul’s meditation on the inner nature of the universe awakens within us love and awe for God and the desire to serve Him. This was the function of the altar, the focal point for serving God in the realms of emotion and deed.
Together, the mishkan and the altar formed a complete framework of Divine service. Thus, Talmudic tradition (Shabbat 92a) connects them with a hekesh, teaching that both reached full stature: ‘Just as the mishkan was ten cubits tall, so too the altar was ten cubits tall.’
The third major furnishing of the Tabernacle was the aron, the gold-plated ark encasing the stone tablets from Sinai. The ark represents the path of Torah, enlightenment through God’s word that transcends the limitations of the human mind.
Carrying with Poles
The copper altar was not lifted directly, but via wooden poles. So too, our reflection on the inner nature of the universe does not come naturally, without effort. The service of God as represented by the altar is performed by using the analytic and contemplative faculties of the soul.
The ark containing the tablets was also carried with poles, indicating that we approach the Torah with our physical senses and intellect. However, these paths go beyond the overt abilities of the soul. The Sages taught that ‘anything carried by poles, one third is above [the porter’s height] and two thirds are below.’ Two thirds are within the realm of our revealed faculties, the senses and the intellect. One third, however, rises above the human mind. It comes from the hidden recesses of the soul; we are able to connect to the Torah only through spiritual gifts.
Above Ten Handbreadths
The Sages taught that the furnishings of the Tabernacle were carried ten handbreadths (about 90 cm.) above the ground. What is the significance of this height? Ten handbreadths designate an individual’s place and legal domain (reshut). This measurement signifies our binds to the physical realm. Our ties to the material world are so powerful that even Moses and Elijah were unable to escape the constraints of ten handbreadths (Sukkah 5a).
Rabbi Elazar taught that, in general, people carry their loads above ten handbreadths, like the Levites who were charged with transporting the Tabernacle furnishings (Shabbat 92a). By extension, we may say that the calling of every individual is like the mission of the Levites; our purpose in life is to carry our load above ten handbreadths. We must aspire to transcend the physical forces that bind us to the earth, going beyond our material needs. Just as the Levites carried the altar and the ark above ten handbreadths, we too should utilize these two paths — contemplation of the universe, with its resultant emotional and practical service, and the study of Torah, God’s elevated word — to transcend the material binds of our physical nature.
(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 149-151. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 232-233.)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
From Andrea Hodos
Holy Sanctuaries or Golden Calves
Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)
BY ANDREA HODOS
As human beings, can we know precisely what God wants from us? It might seem, from the beginning of this week’s parasha, that we can: “Bring Me gifts. You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is willing. And these are the gifts you shall accept from them” (Exodus 25:2). God then offers a specific list of valuable things: precious metals and stones, rich textiles, animal skins, wood, oils and spices. At the end of the list of contributions, God says, “They will make me a sanctuary, so that I will dwell among them. Exactly how I show you … so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). What follows is a template — in unparalleled detail — for building this tabernacle. God tells Moses precisely what is expected from the Israelites: why such specificity and detail?
One specific design in the parasha describes curtains that will envelop the ark inside this Sanctuary. The cover of the ark will have two cherubs facing one another, made from one piece of gold, with wings “spread above, shielding the cover [of the ark]” (Exodus 25:20). It is between these cherubs that God’s presence will come to rest. There is to be a tent above the entire Mishkan made from layers of cloth and skins. One might think that one curtain on each side of the ark would be enough. God specifies, however, that there should be five curtains on one side, and five on the other. Another question emerges: Why so much covering?
My film, “Mishkan,” engages each of these questions in a different way. The question of details is addressed through the choreography. All the movement for the piece came from details in the text itself. In other commentaries I have created, I have to imagine details in the text to generate movement. For this parasha, the movements seemed to almost form themselves – similar to Rashi’s commentary on the formation of the cherubim: “Hit (the mass of gold) with a hammer and a mallet at the middle, so that its ends will protrude upwards and come to form the cherubim” (Rashi on 25:18 “Make them by hammering”). The lampstand with its cups and calyxes; the table made of acacia wood, covered completely with gold; wood poles covered with gold and threaded through golden rings. All these details made a physical embodiment of the parasha almost obvious.
The words speak to the question of covering: Construct an Ark. So carefully. Covering after covering, to protect yourself from face-to-face contact. Layer after layer, curtain after curtain, gold upon wood. Gold pole through gold ring, shimmering so brightly that you couldn’t possibly see through it. To the Face.
Which brings us to ask, “Why so much gold?” and, furthermore, what should we make of the juxtaposition of the gold in this parasha, at the very beginning of Moses’ time on the mountain, with the gold used at the end of Moses’ 40 days days on the mountain, when the Israelites form the golden calf?
Even in the Mishkan, God can dwell with us — and we with God — only through veils and covers. The Israelites, at the foot of the mountain, are even farther away. While Moses is on the mountain, the Israelites can’t hear or experience God. In fact, the Israelites are so far away that they can’t even hear it. So far away that all they catch is a glimpse of gold, and they get not the essence, just the form. So they try to embody it in the face of a calf. Perhaps they get just enough reverberation of what’s happening on the mountain to sense that they are supposed to be doing something with all of that gold. In this case, their distance itself (and the anxiety that accompanies it) leads to their misdirection.
Human constructs — by their nature, distanced from God — will never get it precisely right. Some endeavors fall further from the target than do others. Others, of course, do not start with the premise of creating something holy (or, in more secular language, a common good). But for those of us in a post-Tabernacle world who are striving toward creating a life of purpose, how do we discern between the gold of the Mishkan, and the gold of the calf? Between the need for a building fund to house holy service, and the desire to create an edifice for its own sake? Between a halachic (ritual legal) system that prescribes modesty of my own personhood, or one that prescribes a policing of others’ bodies and paths?
The parasha does give us a hint as to how we might try to determine what God wants from us, even now. In our parasha, each Israelite is commanded to bring these gifts “asher yidvenu libo” (as his/her heart is willing). The Israelites, at the bottom of the mountain, act from fear, not from a place of willing hearts. From the parasha, we can see that it takes both a willing heart and great attention to detail as we strive toward building with holy purpose. We need to discern from our hearts, very carefully and with great humility. We can only hope that as we strive with care, we move in the direction of creating a home, a city, a world in which God will come to dwell.
Wendy: This week, we are rich in creative Torah Commentaries. At the end of the written commentary, there is a short video of a dance interpretation of building the Mishkan
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Colorful Wisdom (5773/2013)
Techelet, v’argaman, v’tola’at shani – sky blue and purple with a crimson thread — are the colors of the mishkan, the spiritual pavilion tent at the center of the Israelite camp. Here the cohanim, priests, would help people navigate their inner lives, leading rituals for celebrations, mysteries, healings and transitions. Color played a role in these rituals.
R. Meir used to say: “Why is techelet different from all the other dyes? Techelet is like the sea. The sea is like the sky. The sky is like the Throne of Glory.” He means: Techelet dye is made from a small marine animal. This animal’s home, the sea, takes on the color of each day’s sky. The sky inspires ecstatic visions of God’s home.
Literally, argaman means “woven.” Torah usually mentions argaman in the same sentence as two other colors: “sky-blue, purple, and a crimson thread.” Perhaps argaman is a weave of blue and red that looks purple at a distance, a reminder to see life from multiple perspectives.
Tola’at shani looks like a bright, healthy earthworm, the kind that quietly maintains the earth. Sometimes the earth beneath our feet is shaken by death or sudden illness, as if the reliable earthworm has secretly failed. When this happens, Torah teaches, take some time off, and then reset your inner system with a ritual burning of a tola’at shani.
Mishlei (Proverbs) ends by describing a woman who lives everyday wisdom. She dresses in argaman, weaving awe of the holy with concern for the human inner life. Like the mishkan, she welcomes multiple perspectives while providing stability. Are you a person of colorful wisdom? How can you deepen its presence in your life?
Our Inner Dugong (5771/2011)
Torah teaches that the Israelite community donates many gifts of the heart towards the building of the first Mishkan (communal sanctuary), including orot techashim – literally “dugong skins.” Some commentators recognize tachash as the name for a marine mammal native to Egypt. Others turn to linguistic evidence in the Tanakh, where tachash names a kind of fine leather.
Several beautiful midrashim weave all the findings together. One midrash suggests that the Israelites have never been as highly motivated a community as they were in the early years. According to this midrash, God created a creature called tachash, showed it briefly to Moshe, and then hid it away. This midrash calls us to find the inner tachash, the impulse to join in a community project that can unite the entire world camp of Jews.
Another midrash draws on a love-poem from the prophet Yechezkel, in which God says to Israel, “I found you lost and alone in the desert. I dressed you in fine garments, and in sandals made of tachash.“ According to this midrash, the Israelites gave God a spiritual wedding gift of tachash skins, which God fashioned into sandals and gave as gift in return.
Here the tachash is a metaphor for our spiritual motivation. When we become seekers, we offer energy in the direction of the Divine. When our questions are answered in the fullness of experience, it is as if our energy has been reshaped into something fine and useful that gives stability. The raw energy that we offer becomes the tool for walking a spiritual path – both alone in an intimate one-to-one relationship with God, and in community as we create the institutions that anchor us.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Terumah / Rosh Hodesh 2
February 1, 2014 / 1 AdarI 5774
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,
Masphiah Ruchanit and
Lecturer of Rabbinic Studies
I want to be Your Eternal Loved-and-Loving One
Torah Reading: Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 66:1-24, 23
I know that I am supposed to address this week’s torah portion, T’rumah, and I know that this week’s torah portion is the home of generations of mystics (mishkan/tabernacle – sacred space; materials from the different realms of life – mineral, plant, animal; colors that can be aligned with the divine emanations/sefirot, to mention but a few of the dwelling spaces of these mystics) but I also know that I can’t do this without holding on to last week’s reading for one more moment. So please flip back for a moment so I can wed the opening verses of both weeks’ Torah readings together.
The opening verses last week – in Mishpatim (Shmot/Exodus chapters 21-24) – deal with the lot in life of the Hebrew Servant and what happens to a servant that chooses to stay with their master. While this notion seems so foreign to many of us, I found myself praying that this be my lot in my life! This is how I read these verses (Shmot/Exodus 21:1-6):
“Dear God, a moment ago we stood at Mt. Sinai [I know that many of the commentaries will question when this Torah portion came into existence in regard to the actual revelation, but for this moment I’m going to be a literalist in the way this sacred moment is offered to us]. I know a moment ago you offered us a list of commandments, the same way a Master would command their Servants; setting down rules of right and wrong. But Master-of-the-World, I want a different relationship with You. One built also on love and service, not only a relationship of dominion. Yes, I want to be guided in the ways that bring You joy, a way that my service will be desirable in Your eyes, but I also want to hear that You love me, and that there is a space for me to show You that I love You! So while You, at Mt. Sinai, gave me a list of ten do’s and don’ts, I am standing here in the beginning of Mishpatim and telling you that I want to serve You as a servant that says: “I love my Master, I love my Wife, I love my Children, I will not go out free… I shall serve for ever / v’avdo l’olam” (Shmot / Exodus 21:5-6). I am grateful to serve You, I am grateful for the relationships and people in my life, I am grateful for the fruits of my love that I am able to actualize – whether these are actual children or other actualizations of a labor-of-love that I manifest in my actions. I want to be Your ‘Eved Olam’ / I want to be Your Eternal Service-Person-Child / I want to be Your Eternal Loved-and-Loving one.
This is my love letter that I bring into this week’s Torah portion, T’rumah. Our reading begins with: “And God spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the children of Yisrael that they bring me an offering of every man whose heart prompts him to give you shall take my offering.” (Shmot / Exodus 25:1-2). I confess, my theology has a space reserved for an element of the revealed God that is lacking and is in need of ‘an offering.’ With this, I will tell you, most commentators of the Torah have a deep need to interpret this verse as saying “for My Name / for My Sake,” God forbid not for God, for Godself… Rashi, the medieval commentator, (1040-1105) goes down this path of “for My Name” and adds that the offering-of-the-heart is meant to come from a place of goodwill / ‘ratzone tov’, of generosity of spirit. I would like to suggest that the offering is a mean, a representation, a manifestation or a symbol of one’s love.
It is here that I would like to point out that the path to “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokei’nu Hashem Echad / Hear O’ Yisrael, God is God, God is One” (D’varim / Deuteronomy 6:4) that we say every morning is paved with love! In the paragraph leading up to our proclamation of our commitment to God, of our devotion to God and God’s Oneness, we ascend through eight arches of love:
ahavatolam / with eternal love (yes, as a chassidah I pray in accordance with the S’fard / Ha’Ari rendition)
ahavtanu / You loved us
…et kol divrei talmud tora’tech b’ahava / … all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love
v’yached l’vaveinu l’ahava / and unify our hearts to love
v’karav’tanu… l’shimcha …b’ahava / and You… have brought us close… to your Great Name… in love
u’l’yached’cha b’ahava / to proclaim Your Oneness in love
u’l’ahava et sh’mecha / and to love Your Name
ha’bocher b’amo Yisrael b’ahava / Who chooses His People Yisrael with love
It is here, in the mingling of our love and God’s love that the proclamation of Oneness can be birthed into the world. But it is not only the Oneness of the Divine, it is also the Oneness of our existence within the Divine and in service of the Divine.
If you are to ask me how can we bring such offerings to God in our day, I would suggest that it manifests in the love that we hold ourselves in, the love we perpetuate in the world and share with others, the love of God that we embody and proclaim. I would suggest to actively embrace specific acts of love on any and all of these realms.
For today, for me, this takes the form of a letter that I will send myself, I send right now to you as an intention of love, and I’ll offer my Maker:
Sending you my love,
Sending you my eyes that witness and cry with you,
Sending you my arms that will hold you forever,
Sending you my faith in your ability to heal and be healed,
Sending you my commitment to never walk away and always walk with…
And tomorrow, I’ll be here to send them to you again…”
Please, in the name of / for the sake of loving and being loved, take a moment before this Shabbat descends in Her Glory, and share this love with yourself, with someone who needs to hear this from you. And yes, God too needs to hear the voice of your heart offering your love to God!
From the Maqam Project
From American Jewish World Service
In Parashat Terumah, the Israelites receive the blueprints for a majestic tent—the mishkan—that will eventually house the magnificent Ark of the Covenant. As we read the vivid description, we can picture its grandeur. During the Israelites’ journeys through the desert, the mishkan serves as a portable temple, with the home of God’s indwelling, the Ark, at its center.1 The Israelite tribes camp around it, placing it at the heart of the nation.
While the detailed beauty of the Ark sounds stunning, the medieval commentator Abravanel wonders about its design. The first of the Divine Laws prohibits graven images of any kind, replications of any being, heavenly or earthly.2 But upon the cover of the ark perch two cherubim, winged human forms.3 It would seem that by including these forms, God is breaking God’s own Law.
There is a possible resolution to this seeming contradiction in the very details of space and shape that make this parashah and its focus on design so fascinating. “From above the cover,” says God, “from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant,”4 God will meet with humanity. The voice of God emerges not from the mouth of any graven image, but from the empty space between two faces.
From the place of human encounter emerges the Divine Voice. Certainly, in every act of true listening, of honest speaking, and thus in every act of compassion, in every heartfelt encounter, in every ethical interaction we can hear God’s voice. In other words, if idolatry is to hear the voice of God emerging from a block of gold, then the opposite of idolatry is to see God’s face in every human being, to hear God’s voice emerging from the relationship of any two beings, face to face, eye to eye, ish el achiv—from one person to another.5
Yet the presence of the sacred in human interactions does not occur automatically in the encounter. There is a crucial foundation upon which this relationship takes place, a vital basis where our relationships must be rooted.
Taking a closer look at who or what resides in the mishkan, we find that God is not, in fact, the tent’s primary resident. Rather, at the center of this sacred structure is the Law—the two stone tablets chiseled during Revelation at Sinai, when the human and heavenly worlds met. Though the tablets contain only ten laws, they are the symbol of the covenantal relationship that guides Israel’s every behavior. The five laws on the right-hand tablet guide us in the realm of ben adam l’Makom—between humans and the Omnipresent—and the five laws on the left-hand tablet guide us in the realm of ben adam l’chavero—between humans and their brethren. In that sense, the core of the mishkan is a monument to Divine ethical vigilance. The Ark, then, is not a platform for God crowned by two idols, but a complex model for Divine relationship. God dwells among us when we build relationships that are founded on morality and focused on the encounter.
The mishkan, likewise, is a model. The Ark sits at its core, representing righteous relationship, and the mishkan places this relationship in the context of a building, an institution. For the nascent nation of Israel, the mishkan was not only the site of religious service, but also the seat of legislation,6 of conflict resolution7 and even of the military.8 It is not enough to strive for correct relationships one-on-one or even within our own homes—the mishkan challenges us to build our most important institutions in this same model.
To actualize its lesson, we must demand of our own governments an equivalent commitment to both the human encounter and the ethical foundations upon which it must rest. The parashah’s attention to detail speaks to the kind of vigilance our own society must have, ensuring that this ethical-relational commitment is present in our governing structures at all levels, in every aspect. We must use this as our model for the way elections are carried out, the way checks and balances are calculated, the commitment to truthful reports in all public communications and the way domestic and international policies are developed and implemented. All systems should exemplify this commitment, ensuring the safety, freedom and dignity of all people.
We invoke the mishkan by studying it, by building our world in its image. By choosing to adopt its particular architectural style and the values that it embodies, we make ourselves in the image of the Master Architect.
1 Shmot 25:8.
2 Shmot 20:4.
3 Shmot 25:20.
4 Shmot 25:22.
5 Shmot 25:20; literally, “A man to his brother.”
6 Dvarim 17:9.
7 Shmot 22:10.
8 Bamidbar 10:35.
From Rabbi Miles Krassen
Torah Reading for Week of January 26 – February 1, 2014
By Rabbi Miriyam Glazer
About ten years ago, as part of our research for our Jewish Festival cookbook, my sister and I visited an Arab village in the Galilee where a local multi-generational family made goat cheese. As we walked into their small home, an old, old woman, the grandmother, whispered frantically to her grandson, who then turned, a bit embarrassed, to me and said, “Please, if you don’t mind, my grandmother says that someone has put the evil eye on you, and she would like to remove it.” Ever one for an intriguing multiethnic adventure, I agreed.
His grandmother then took a bunch of sage that grew wild on the rocky Galilean hills, lit it and, murmuring in Arabic, moving the sage from my head to my toes, “smudged” me.
A few minutes later, she announced the evil had been lifted. I was safe again.
The ceremony touched me to the quick. Here I was thousands of miles from the States, where the use of sage-smudging is well known in Native American rituals, not to mention as part of “New Age” practice, yet here, too, in the hills of the Galilee, sage was known for its healing properties. As I discovered, the very name Salvia officinalis is a Latin translation of the Arabic, for 11 centuries ago Arab physicians already knew of its healing properties.
What could possibly be the relevance to our parasha?
T’rumah, offering an intricately detailed description of what is to be contained with the desert mikdash, specifies exactly how the menorah, “a lampstand of pure gold,” is to be constructed. As the great Israeli scholar Nogah HaReuveni points out, the description perfectly matches that of the Palestinian or moriah sage plant that grows “from the Sinai desert to the mountains of Lebanon.” “…an extraordinarily fragrant plant,” he tells us, which, when pressed on a plane,” matches the description in Exodus perfectly: “The menorah reflects the shape of the moriah plant that, in nature, releases its fragrance [re’akh ha-mor] in the heat of the day, when the sun is at its zenith.” In the words of Rabbi Yehoshua ben-Levi (BT Shabbat 88b) “As each commandment was spoken by the Holy One, Blessed Be He, the world filled with fragrance” (Nature in our Biblical Heritage, 126 ff).
This transmutation of one of the most fragrant and potentially healing plants of the land of Israel into the golden menorah of the ancient desert sanctuary can have a powerful resonance for us. It suggests that from the earliest moments of our tradition, the holy, the kadosh, is not conceived of as wholly Other: it is, indeed, rather, just that, a transmutation. The healing sage which is most fragrant when the sun burns most hotly becomes the model for the Holy Light. The world of nature –which includes all of us, mortal animals of flesh and blood – and the world of the holy are not in opposition; we ourselves can become holy as well. For Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye, human beings reflect the pattern of the Mikdash; by hallowing the limbs of our body, we can purify our heart and mind so that the Divine Presence can dwell within our very self. In the words of 16th century Safed poet Eleazor Azikri, it is “within my heart I shall build a mishkan to the brightness of God.”
We Jews are too diverse a people to follow a single path for the building of that mishkan in our heart. For many, the path is a strict adherence to the minutiae of every mitzah as interpreted by the sage they follow. For others, the weekday morning prayer might offer a different way: Ha may’eer la’aretz v’ledahrim ahleyhah b’rahamim,” say the words, “You illumine the earth and those who dwell there with compassion…” Many of us have interpreted this line to mean that God sheds a compassionate light on all those of us who dwell on earth. Yet, as cantor Danny Maseng has suggested, the words should be interpreted, “God sheds light on those who dwell with compassion on earth.” Perhaps, though, it is both: to feel the holy compassion of God shining upon us, we are called to act with compassion in the world. In the words of the hymn, may we all be prepared to be a sanctuary, “pure and simple, tried and true,” agents of light and healing, illuminating our troubled, often too dark world.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Gratitude of Labour
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
I always imagine inner and outer rather than upper and lower, or masculine and feminine. God said, build it, and I will dwell within them, not within it, but within them. In the inner space, in the heart, that’s where I will come to rest.
If you saw a blueprint of this architecture, it would look like the diagrams of the human heart that I gaze at in medical books.
BUILD YOUR OUTER WALL, MAKE IT NICE, BUT I WILL SETTLE IN THE INNER CHAMBERS. THE GAME OF SOUL, GOD SAYS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE EXERCISE, IS THE GAME OF HEART. I WANT YOUR HEART, GOD SAID.
THE GAME OF THE SPIRIT IS INNER AND OUTER . MAKE ROOM FOR ME, IN YOUR HEARTS.
GIVE ME SPACE, NOT TO BUILD ANOTHER WING, BUT TO GROW ANOTHER HEART.
The Gift of Giving
By: Rabbi Gary Ezra Oren
Vice President, American Jewish University
Dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education
Torah Reading: Exodus 25:1-27:19
Haftarah Reading: 1Kings 5:26-6:13
As a people, we pride ourselves on education and place great value in continuing to grow and learn throughout all the stages of our lives. We take delight in the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners and there are endless jokes about our children becoming doctors, lawyers, and accountants.
With this in mind, one might expect that our sages would have had no trouble with basic arithmetic. Yet, while every Jewish child can tell you that there are 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations), there doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to which mitzvot make the list or how they got that total. Rabbis and teachers throughout the years have provided many thoughts on this matter without reaching consensus. In fact, if we count all of the mitzvot enumerated on all of the lists we will quickly surpass the number 613. In the Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a, our rabbis seem less interested in figuring out which mitzvot count and more concerned with teaching us an existential lesson. Our sages report that the prohibitive commandments total 365, which coincide with the number of days in the solar year, and the imperative commandments number 248, a sum ascribed to the number of bones and main organs in the human body. Meaning to say, that we should be mindful of our obligations all of the time and with all of our being.
Take another example from daily prayer. When we stand and recite the Amidah (the silent Standing Prayer), we are sometimes invited to rise for the “Shemoneh Esrei” (another name for the Amidah which means 18 and refers to the number of blessings in the weekday Amidah). However, if you count carefully, you will notice that there are actually 19 blessings.
When we are in synagogue and are making sure we have reached the appropriate number for a minyan (10) we are taught not to count the people in the room. Some of our sages learn this from the prophet Hosea (2:1) when he said “the number of the people of Israel shall be like that of the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted.” From these words our tradition extrapolated a warning about the danger of counting people since we might be tempted, consciously or unconsciously, to place a different value on them when we anoint someone number 1 and someone else number 2.
As we take a closer look into this week’s Parasha, Terumah, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all of the instructions that go into building the Mishkan. A laundry list of precious materials and what seems to be something like the multi-page building manual that comes with almost everything purchased at Ikea. So many pieces, so many steps, so many details, and so much can go wrong. It is advised to be precise and make sure we are counting properly and following each and every instruction.
One of the items to be constructed in the Parasha is the menorah. We are told, “You shall make me a lampstand of pure gold…six branches shall come from its sides; three branches from one side of the menorah and three branches from the other side of the menorah (25:31-32).” This doesn’t seem too difficult. The Israelites were to create a seven-branched menorah. Maybe, if we can’t seem to always be able to count to 613, 19, or 10; we can count to 7.
One of my favorite commentators, the Ben Ish Hai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim from Baghdad- 1 September 1835 – 30 August 1909), teaches that each of the seven branches of the menorah is connected to a particular one of Judaism’s holidays. He suggests that the middle branch, the branch that all others rely and need to exist, is connected with Shabbat. He goes on to teach that the three branches on each side are a symbol of the other days of the week. While it is true that the basic unit of time is the seven-day week, Shabbat stands at the center of the week. Shabbat is like the central stem of the menorah, with the days Wednesday-Thursday-Friday on its right, and the days Sunday-Monday-Tuesday on its left [following the Hebrew order right-to-left], all drawing their sustenance from the center of the week, from Shabbat. For the Ben Ish Hai, and many other Hasidic masters, the liturgy on Shabbat evening provides an additional hint when we sing the words “yamin u’smol tif’rotzi – you shall spread out to the right and to the left” in the L’cha Dodi prayer. Using this logic, rather than Shabbat being the 7th day of the week it is actually the 4th. So instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Shabbat; we are gifted with the image of counting 4, 5, 6, Shabbat, 1, 2, 3. (Notice that in the second model Shabbat is never more than 3 days away!)
As we enter this Shabbat, reflecting on the teaching of the Ben Ish Hai, we can ask ourselves what is at our core. What do we place in the center? Does what we hold spread out and lift each of our days just a little bit? We can know that it is from a place of slowing down, of contemplation, of joy, and of renewal that others are elevated. Shabbat is so much more than the weekend. It is a sacred center – the center of the week, of the entire Jewish calendar, and of our lives and it has power to illuminate everything.
The Architecture of Holiness
“Staying at our tables can lengthen our years…”
By Rabbi Toba August, AJRCA Professor of Rabbinics
Terumah is a dream Parsha for architects and designers with its detailed specifications for creating the furnishings of the Mishkan: the desert sanctuary.
“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them…..Exactly as I show you- the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it.” (Ex 25:8-9)
With this command, Moses and the Israelites began both a capital campaign and a construction project – collecting gold, silver and precious gifts for the building of the portable temple. Nachmanides, a 13th century Torah commentator believed that we kept the experience of Mt. Sinai alive by building the Tabernacle and that the “mystery of this structure is that G-d’s Presence – the Shechinah, which ‘abode’ (shakhan) publicly on Mt Sinai, would discreetly do the same in the Tabernacle (mishkan).”
This evocative concept quickly seems to dissipate for us, the readers, with the ensuing excruciating minutia for creating the ark, the menorah, the table for the showbread, curtains, enclosures and other accessories. Where do we find G-d in all these details?
I do not know, but there are inspiring teachings about the ark and the menorah, and our tradition believes each fixture is filled with G-d. In fact, I learned a spiritual teaching about the “shulchan”, the table made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold which accommodated the 12 loaves of bread that were displayed for an entire week until Shabbat. What can be inspirational about a table?
First, let us envision our own dining room tables. Think about your family, friends and guests with whom you have shared Shabbat and holiday meals. Remember the holy moments of relationships, laughter, meaningful conversations, and kindness that were experienced. We have all performed the mitzvah of “Hachnasat Orchim” – inviting people to our homes in times of need, and included them into our compassionate community.
Bahya ben Asher, a 13th century rabbi, wrote in his Torah commentary that the table was as important as the mizbayach (the altar for sacrifices), because you feed the hungry there.
He described a custom in France where people used the wood of their dining room tables to make the coffin they would be buried in! Macabre and morbid? Perhaps. But think about the lesson.
Rabbeinu Bahya noted that a person takes nothing with them from this world except the Tzedakah that we gave and the goodness that he or she demonstrated around their own tables. “Long after the food has been cleared away, it is the symbolism of the table and its kindnesses that sustain our people.”
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book A Code of Jewish Ethics Volume 2, states that in part this custom, of using our tables for our coffins, is to “remind” G-d of our charitable deeds, such as serving food to the poor at our table.
In the Talmud (Ber 54b) one of three things that will prolong your days is “Ha’ma’arich al Shulchanu..” – One who stays long at the table…because perhaps a poor man will come and he will provide for him. And also, because we will pray, study, and discuss religious matters at our tables.
The table in the Mishkan is likened to our own tables and, as such, we should always remember that the only things we own are our deeds, the way we act towards one another, and behave in the world.
From The Hebrew College
Rabbi Adam Lavitt
The Sacred Space Between Us
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