You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Terumah.
From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb AJR/CA
This week’s Torah portion focuses on the construction of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, a sanctuary filled with unusual miracles. The Talmud in Yoma 21A says that the ark had no measurements, that it did not occupy physical space. The Talmud in B.Batra 14A says that the Tablets filled the ark to capacity. Some view it as a model of the world; it was indeed a place of meditative intensity and ecstatic desire for connection with G-d.
Our Torah portion begins with the words. “And they shall ‘take’ for me a portion” connoting the active role that we play in the cosmos. In 25:8 the verse reads, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I shall dwell among THEM.” It does not say, and I will dwell in IT, but within you! Our Rabbis teach that each person is a walking Tabernacle, and that is where G-d dwells if we make a space for G-d’s Presence. We do this by acting ethically, by connecting to G-d through prayer, through studying the Holy Scriptures, and by observing the magnificence of the natural world created for us. We feel G-d’s Presence and are uplifted in gratitude by the splendor of all that surrounds us. We weep as well, when we witness destructive and insensitive behavior toward others, and toward G-d’s creation.
A major part of the book of Exodus discusses the Tabernacle, for the redemption from Egypt was not sufficient to remove the residue of slave mentality. The Revelation at Sinai was a great elevated moment for the Jewish people; however, spectacular events do not always have staying power unless they are reinforced by everyday rituals that secure the memory. Thus, the Mishkan was intended to be the central rallying point, the place that every member would go with its offerings and elevate his or her spiritual fervor. The function of the Mishkan in the desert was continued by worship in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temples, the continuity of connection to G-d and G-d’s commandments is found in the miniature temples, synagogues, and study halls (megllah 29A), for it is in them that Jews hear the sounds of Sinai and the radiance of the Mishkan and Holy Temple.
And where specifically is G-d to be met in the Sanctuary; the verses 25:21-22 say specifically, “It is there on the top of the Ark that I will set my meeting with you, and I shall speak with you from between the two Cherubim that are on the Ark of the Testimonial Tablets.’ This space between the cherubim is the space of desire, where two beings face each other in love, longing, and that is where G-d dwells, that is where G-d meets us. Not in the fixed space inside the Ark, for fixity creates complacency, but in longing and desire and passion. The Cherubim never consummate their desire; they remain two separate entities. G-d is elusive, which conjures up desire. The space between the wings, the shy oblique gaze from a distance at opposite ends of the kaporet (cover) is where G-d dwells; in desire for each other. (See, Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn). When we have a passionate desire to connect to Hashem, G-d’s Presence becomes manifest. We must have desire for Hashem for G-d to dwell with us. The vulnerable space in the human heart must be opened for
G-d to dwell with us. The space of desire, of longing for our beloved!
The Cherubim also represent unity. In the Talmud Shabbat 89A , our Rabbis teach that during the Pilgrimage Festivals when the Jewish people marched to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they observed the Cherubim facing each other. But when the Holy Temple was destroyed due to disharmony in the community, when the Romans entered and destroyed the Temple, they observed the Cherubim looking away from each other! G-d appears when we face each other in love, not when we dwell in hatred. (The ‘Lechem Panim-Bread of Faces’ in the Mishkan also faced each other (25:30) connoting unity).
The question remains why we need a sanctuary, a specific Holy site today. Is G-d not omnipresent throughout our amazing universe, both in nature, in other human beings and indeed in our own souls. Though this may be true a special place of focus where people come together in unison, creates a special holy ambiance, an association and connection to the Holy. Indeed, due to Covid there is something very deeply missing in our inability to gather in synagogues, despite the increase of our people that are reached in online Zoom prayer services. The energy of real people worshiping with intensity impacts upon each of us. Indeed, the words of the blessings in the Amidah are all in the plural denoting the interconnections and caring that we have with each other. I for one , deeply miss the smiling faces, warm greetings, and communal intensity in a live shul experience. Both the ecstatic mode and the contemplative mode are present for me in the service.
On this Shabbat, we also read Parshat Zachor,(‘Remember’ to fight against Amalek in every generation’) reminding us that evil Amalek (Radical Evil) energy remains alive and well in our world. Our Torah teaches that this is not to be ignored, we are to fight against Amalek-Radical Evil in every generation lest this negative energy increase and imperil our world. It is a Mitzvah, one that is necessary. Love does not mean accepting everything that one does; truly loving means caring enough to correct that which is destructive and harmful to others. And we must do it in a way that is responsible. As the Talmud says, ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner,’ everyone may be worthy of redemption, but evil acts are not to be tolerated, for if they are ignored, they will increase and destroy our world.
Let us conclude by also reminding ourselves of the origins of Amalek. Our Sages describe it as follows: There was a non-Jewish woman named Timnah who wanted to convert and enter the community of Israel, so she went to Jacob’s family; but they were not hospitable to her, and she was turned away. She then went to Esav’s family and they accepted her and welcomed her into the family. Timnah wound up marrying Esav’s son Eliphaz and the offspring of that union, Timnah’s son was Amalek ( Bereishit, 36:12). The shame and rejection that Timnah suffered from Jacob’s family remained a deep wound that was passed on from generation to generation. This painful reality, intolerance, rejection and treating others disrespectfully can lead to dire and egregious consequences. Therefore, another way to obviate the hostile, incorrigible actions of Amalek is to bring warmth, acceptance, and friendship to those whom we meet so the seed of Amalek is eradicated, and the best potential of all of us is actualized. The wounds that insensitivity can create are very deep and can lead to destructive anger and tragedy. As Rav Kook famously said, ‘The way to obviate endless hatred is through endless Love.’
May we all have a loving Shabbat and Welcome guests in the future (safely with masks and proper distance) who enter our presence, show them the warm love of our hearts, and bring them closer to our Creator in our Holy Sanctuary. Our mystical Rabbis teach (through Gematria, the secret of the Hebrew Letters) what makes a home into a holy sanctuary, is an open heart. They teach that the Hebrew word for sanctuary is ‘Mikdash’ (444 in Gematria), the Hebrew word for home is ‘Bayit’ (412 in Gematria), the Hebrew word for heart is ‘Lev’ (32). What makes a home into a Holy Sanctuary is the Heart! Yes friends, today our homes are the sanctuaries to create peace and love in our world. May we be blessed to MAKE it so. Amen.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
What We Talk About
We’re thinking Place here, this the first objectification of spirit. At the beginning of the enterprise, God says build it, build it out of Me, but don’t be distracted into thinking outer is inner. The enterprise is always inner.
The Holy One is always delighted
when we storm the upper worlds
and take the Shekhinah
to dwell among us.
Build your palaces
raise all the money you can
But I will set my spirit in the inner chambers –
I want your heart, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Make [of] Me a Mikdash/Sanctuary
And I will dwell within them
“Dolphin skin coat
before it was
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
A Portable Home (Terumah 5779)
The parsha of Terumah describes the construction of the Tabernacle, the first collective house of worship in the history of Israel. The first but not the last; it was eventually succeeded by the Temple in Jerusalem. I want to focus on one moment in Jewish history which represents Jewish spirituality at its lowest ebb and highest flight: the moment the Temple was destroyed.
It is hard to understand the depth of the crisis into which the destruction of the First Temple plunged the Jewish people. Their very existence was predicated on a relationship with God symbolised by the worship that took place daily in Jerusalem. With the Babylonian conquest in 586 BCE, Jews lost not only their land and sovereignty. In losing the Temple, it was as if they had lost hope itself. For their hope lay in God, and how could they turn to God if the very place where they served Him was in ruins? One document has left a vivid record of the mood of Jews at that time, one of the most famous of the psalms:
By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept as we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a strange land? (Psalm 137)
It was then that an answer began to take shape. The Temple no longer stood, but its memory remained, and this memory was strong enough to bring Jews together in collective worship. In exile, in Babylon, Jews began to gather to expound Torah, articulate a collective hope of return, and recall the Temple and its service.
The prophet Ezekiel was one of those who shaped a vision of return and restoration, and it is to him we owe the first oblique reference to a radically new institution that eventually became known as the Beit Knesset, the synagogue: “This is what the sovereign Lord says: although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet I have become to them a small Sanctuary [Mikdash me’at] in the countries where they have gone” (Ezekiel 11:16). The central Sanctuary had been destroyed, but a small echo, a miniature, remained.
The synagogue is one of the most remarkable examples of an itaruta de’letata, “an awakening from below.” It came into being not through words spoken by God to Israel, but by words spoken by Israel to God. There is no synagogue in Tanach, no command to build local houses of prayer. On the contrary, insofar as the Torah speaks of a “house of God” it refers to a central Sanctuary, a collective focus for the worship of the people as a whole.
We tend to forget how profound the concept of a synagogue was. Professor M. Stern has written that “in establishing the synagogue, Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion and society, for the synagogue was an entirely new environment for divine service, of a type unknown anywhere before.” It became, according to Salo Baron, the institution through which the exilic community “completely shifted the emphasis from the place of worship, the Sanctuary, to the gathering of worshippers, the congregation, assembled at any time and any place in God’s wide world.” The synagogue became Jerusalem in exile, the home of the Jewish heart. It is the ultimate expression of monotheism – that wherever we gather to turn our hearts towards heaven, there the Divine Presence can be found, for God is everywhere.
Where did it come from, this world-changing idea? It did not come from the Temple, but rather from the much earlier institution described in this week’s parsha: the Tabernacle. Its essence was that it was portable, made up of beams and hangings that could be dismantled and carried by the Levites as the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. The Tabernacle, a temporary structure, turned out to have permanent influence, whereas the Temple, intended to be permanent, proved to be temporary – until, as we pray daily, it is rebuilt.
More significant than the physical structure of the Tabernacle was its metaphysical structure. The very idea that one can build a home for God seems absurd. It was all too easy to understand the concept of sacred space in a polytheistic worldview. The gods were half-human. They had places where they could be encountered. Monotheism tore this idea up at its roots, nowhere more eloquently than in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
Hence the question asked by Israel’s wisest King, Solomon: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!” (I Kings 8:27).
The same question is posed in the name of God by one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Isaiah:
Heaven is My throne,
and the earth is My footstool.
Where is the house you will build for Me?
Where will My resting place be? (Isaiah 66:1)
The very concept of making a home in finite space for an infinite presence seems a contradiction in terms. The answer, still astonishing in its profundity, is contained at the beginning of this week’s parsha: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them [betokham]” (Exodus 25:8). The Jewish mystics pointed out the linguistic strangeness of this sentence. It should have said, “I will dwell in it,” not “I will dwell in them.” The answer is that the Divine Presence lives not in a building but in its builders; not in a physical place but in the human heart. The Sanctuary was not a place in which the objective existence of God was somehow more concentrated than elsewhere. Rather, it was a place whose holiness had the effect of opening hearts to the One worshipped there. God exists everywhere, but not everywhere do we feel the presence of God in the same way. The essence of “the holy” is that it is a place where we set aside all human devices and desires and enter a domain wholly set aside for God.
If the concept of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is that God lives in the human heart whenever it opens itself unreservedly to heaven, then its physical location is irrelevant. Thus the way was open, seven centuries later, to the synagogue: the supreme statement of the idea that if God is everywhere, He can be reached anywhere. I find it moving that the frail structure described in this week’s parsha became the inspiration of an institution that, more than any other, kept the Jewish people alive through almost two thousand years of dispersion – the longest of all journeys through the wilderness.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Adam Greenwald
I learned this story from Rabbi Ed Feinstein, the greatest of rabbinic storytellers.
Once upon a time, there lived a wealthy man whose greatest joy was to sleep in synagogue. Each Shabbat he would find a comfortable place on a pew in the back, settle in, and let the songs of thanksgiving and praise that surrounded him lull him into a deep and restful slumber.
On the morning that Parshat Terumah was read from the Torah, he was drifting off just as the hazzan chanted the line “And you shall place loaves of bread before me always” (Exodus 25:30). As sometimes happens in those murky moments halfway between sleep and wakefulness, those words entered his ears but seemed to have come to him not from the bimah of the synagogue, but as a heavenly voice in his dreams.
When he later awoke, that command remained clear and distinct in his brain. Was it a personal message from the Almighty? He needed to find out. After Shabbat ended, he baked two loaves of bread and snuck back into the synagogue with them under cover of darkness. He tucked the two loaves into the Ark – since where else would God look but there – and spirited away.
Moments later, the synagogue’s poor janitor entered the sanctuary, to tidy up after the day’s worship. A pious man, as he cleaned and straightened up, he spoke aloud to God about his troubles, particularly his difficulty in feeding his large family. When he came to do the final task – dusting off the Ark – he noticed, its door was slightly ajar. Opening it up, he discovered two fresh loaves of bread waiting for him, still warm from the oven! “It’s a miracle,” he exclaimed. “A miracle from God!” Moreover, he humbly offered a blessing of gratitude – Baruch ha-tov v’ha’meitiv — to the One who is good and does good.
The next morning, the wealthy man awoke with a deep sense of embarrassment. He knew with certainty that he must have dreamt the words about the bread, that he had allowed his imagination to run away with him. He needed to return to the synagogue and recollect the loaves before anyone found them and laughed at his foolishness.
Upon returning to the synagogue early in the morning, and opening the doors to the Ark, he found to his shock and amazement that the loaves were gone! Indeed, he thought to himself, this proved that it could not have been a mere dream. God had wanted his offering of bread and had consumed the loaves as surely as God had accepted the ancient sacrifices that were placed upon the altar. Then and there, the wealthy man committed to bringing another offering of bread just as soon as he could.
On and on the pattern went, for weeks, months, maybe years. Each morning the rich man secretly placed bread in the Ark. The poor man opened each night and fed his family. Each believed they were party to a miracle. In addition, the truth is, they were – just maybe not the kind that they had thought.
Parshat Terumah begins with the command to all people to open their hearts and give what they can for the building of holy space where God can dwell. Generous giving and grateful receiving are essential parts of the sacred script of how we manifest God’s presence among us. As we give and take, as we share and support, we sanctify our world and become God’s agents in blessing one another.
From Rabbi David Kasher
UNICORNS AND MERMAIDS – Parshat Terumah
This post originally appears at Kevah.org.
It all started with dolphins.
I’m reading this week’s parsha, Terumah, which – let’s be honest – might be the least exciting read in the whole Torah. I mean, on the one hand, it’s all about building a structure for God to dwell on earth – an awesome undertaking. But on the other hand, it reads a bit like an IKEA furniture assembly instruction manual. For example:
The length of each plank shall be ten cubits and width of each plank a cubit and a half. Each plank shall have two tenons, parallel to each other; do the same with all planks of the Tabernacle. (Exodus 26:16-17)
טז עֶשֶׂר אַמּוֹת, אֹרֶךְ הַקָּרֶשׁ; וְאַמָּה וַחֲצִי הָאַמָּה, רֹחַב הַקֶּרֶשׁ הָאֶחָד. יז שְׁתֵּי יָדוֹת, לַקֶּרֶשׁ הָאֶחָד–מְשֻׁלָּבֹת, אִשָּׁה אֶל-אֲחֹתָהּ; כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה, לְכֹל קַרְשֵׁי הַמִּשְׁכָּן.
And on and on, paragraph after paragraph – lots more like that. On the heels of the splitting of the Red Sea and the revelation at Mount Sinai, this stuff can be, well… a little bit of a buzzkill.
But in fact, I had one of the most psychedelic, surreal, other-worldly experiences while reading this parsha. For in it, I came across some of the strangest stuff the Torah has to offer. And it all started with dolphins.
At the beginning of the parsha, we’re told that all the people are supposed to bring donations for the construction of the Tabernacle. And again, if you’re feeling cynical, you might say this reads a bit like a laundry-list:
These are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hairs; tanned rams skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood. (Exodus 25:3-5)
ג וְזֹאת, הַתְּרוּמָה, אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ, מֵאִתָּם: זָהָב וָכֶסֶף, וּנְחֹשֶׁת. ד וּתְכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי, וְשֵׁשׁ וְעִזִּים. ה וְעֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים וְעֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים, וַעֲצֵי שִׁטִּים.
WAIT, STOP, WHAT?? Dolphin skins?! Did the Torah really just tell me that the Children of Israel, in the middle of the Sinai desert, are carrying around dolphins?
Well, this is just the English translation from the JPS Tanakh. So let’s take a look at the word in Hebrew: תחשים, techashim. It’s an unusual word; we haven’t seen it before. So what does it mean? What is a tachash?
Let’s look at Rashi first, as we always do. He says:
This was a kind of animal that only existed for a short time, and it had many colors…
מין חיה, ולא היתה אלא לשעה והרבה גוונים היו לה
The second of the great commentators, the Ibn Ezra, says something similar, but he adds a cross-reference:
This was a kind of animal that was known in those days, as we see from what is written in Ezekiel (16:10), ‘I gave you sandals made of tachash.’
מין חיה היתה ידועה בימים ההם. כי כן כתוב ואנעלך תחש.
Okay, so now we know there’s another place in the Hebrew Bible where the word is used. But what does it mean there? We may be imagining sandals of dolphin-leather. But remember, neither Rashi nor the Ibn Ezra actually mention dolphins. So how did we get there?
Aryeh Kaplan, in his translation of the Torah, ends up going with the awkward phrase, “blue-processed skins,” but he does a great job of giving a summary of all the animals that have been attributed to the word tachash over the years, and it makes for quite a list:
weasel – squirrel – badger – wild ram – antelope – okape – giraffe – seal – sea cow – dugong
Wow, it might be even crazier to transport a giraffe across the desert than a dolphin! And what the heck is an okape or a dugong, anyway?
But the most fantastic explanation of the tachash comes from the Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat 28b:
The tachash of Moses’ day was a separate species, and the Sages could not decide whether it belonged to the genus of wild beasts or to the genus of domestic animals. And it had one horn in its forehead, and it only existed for Moses for that moment, and he made the Tabernacle with it, and then it was hidden.
תחש שהיה בימי משה בריה בפני עצמה היה ולא הכריעו בה חכמים אם מין חיה הוא אם מין בהמה הוא וקרן אחת היתה לו במצחו ולפי שעה נזדמן לו למשה ועשה ממנו משכן ונגנז
Whoa! A horn in the middle of its head? And it only existed for a moment and then was hidden forever? Well, Kaplan says that this might refer to a narwhal, the only animal we know whose tusk makes it look like it has a single horn.
But I think you know what else this magical one-horned creature sounds a lot like…
That’s right: A UNICORN!
Now, I’m not really suggesting the tachash is secretly the Jewish legend of the unicorn. But it is remarkable that here in our tradition we have this mysterious, ephemeral animal that shares so many features with that other classic mythical beast.
But, wait – that’s not all! Tracking down the dolphin brought me to other strange creatures before the hunt was over. A friend pointed out to me that dolphins are actually mentioned explicitly in the Talmud, in Tractate Bechorot 8a:
Dolphins are fruitful and multiply like human beings. And what is a dolphin? Rabbi Judah said: they are creatures of the sea.
הדולפנין פרין ורבין כבני אדם מאי דולפנין אמר רב יהודה בני ימא
Now that’s all fine and well. But what gets really crazy is that all the major commentators – Rashi, Tosafot, and the Shita Mekubetzet – all seem to follow a different manuscript that reads: “Dolphins are fruitful and multiply from human beings.“ FROM human beings!
Rashi explains this as follows:
When human beings mate with them, they become pregnant… Then there are creatures of the sea which have half human form and half fish form…
ה”ג הדולפנין פרים ורבים מבני אדם – שאם בא אדם עליהם מתעברות הימנו. בני ימא – דגים יש בים שחציין צורת אדם וחציין צורת דג…
Well now this sounds a lot like… MERMAIDS!
But the point is, the rabbis of the Talmud did know about dolphins, or at least, had heard of them. And they were such unusual creatures that they sparked in the rabbinic imagination tales of strange cohabitation and hybrid offspring – the stuff of fantasy and legend.
Now to return to our original question, this mention of dolphins in the Talmud suggests that the tachash of the bible wasn’t actually a dolphin. Because it never seemed to occur to the rabbis to connect the two creatures.
But the tachash did serve the same role as the dolphin did for them. It was a creature of such mystery and wonder that it suggested magical possibilities. It was shadowy figure upon which they could project the wildest visions from their dreamscapes: a beast of shimmering colors, thick skins and a horn, coupling with people on the seashores and then vanishing into the night – maybe vanishing forever.
If this is what a tachash symbolizes, then it truly does belong among the things that go into building the Tabernacle. For think about what else is on that list: strong wood and precious metals, fine cloth dyed in regal colors, oils and spices, and an assortment of sparkling stones. Animal, vegetable, mineral. Every treasure and wonder that can be found on the earth or beneath it. Everything.
Jorge Luis Borges has a great short story describing an Empire in which, “the art of cartography attained such perfection,” that they eventually drew up a map of the Empire so detailed that it actually grew to be size of the Empire. There was no longer any difference between the map of the world and the world itself.
The Tabernacle is like that. It aspires to contain God, after all. So it must start by containing the world itself. It must be constructed of pieces of everything in the world. The trees, and the rocks, and the animals will all be embedded in it. And we will be in it. It will hold our prayers and our sins and our best intentions. And more. It will hold our dreams and our nightmares, our wildest fantasies and strangest visions. Unicorns and mermaids, the cherubs and the Leviathan. Everything, everything, everything.
From the Hebrew College
By Rabbi Adam Lavitt,
Hope in the Margins
Speaking with a woman in hospice care, she told me she could not watch the news anymore because it depressed her too much. Though she was facing the end of her life, the turbulence of these times was utterly unbearable to her. In her despair I saw reflected back to me my own certainty, as I look into the public sphere, that our society is stuck. Her hopelessness touched my own fear that things will not change.
Torah counters this belief by showing that change is built into the very fabric of creation—that ordinary moments are precisely the times we can access our extraordinary power to unearth alternatives, and from which we can build grounds for new hope. This week, God gives Moses the blueprint for the Tabernacle, the space that will serve as a meeting place between the Israelite people and God in the wilderness.
These detailed instructions describe an ornate, golden sanctuary. But in the middle of this blueprint, God tells Moses to include a set of tongs for removing the menorah’s burnt wicks in the design of the Tabernacle’s golden menorah. Tongs are not beautiful, nor do they serve an especially useful function in this domain. In the midst of this shining splendor, why are tongs mentioned in the Divine instructions to construct the Tabernacle?
A clue lies in a list of miraculous objects created during the twilight on the sixth day of creation, including Miriam’s well, Moses’ staff—and a pair of tongs. Rabbeinu Yonah, a 13th century commentator, says the tongs are mentioned in this list to “make known that all the Holy One created, was created on condition that it change its nature when it is told, at a time when it is needed…and that these objects are included in the things that have change embedded in them.”
This list contains wondrous things—the staff that parted the Red Sea, and the miraculous well that quenched the Israelites’ thirst in the desert. The tongs, once again, do not seem to belong here. But there is a reason that, of all the objects in the Tabernacle, the most ordinary one is created during the twilight. By including the tongs on this list, the rabbis assert there is vast potential tucked away in seemingly unremarkable objects and moments. The tongs represent all of the powerful resources that are within our reach.
Perhaps our willingness to discover the miraculous in the everyday is our most effective antidote to despair. Rabbeinu Yonah teaches, when its moment comes, each object mentioned in this list—and possibly many more we do not yet know about—will miraculously transform its nature so it can perform the extraordinary feat it was ultimately created for. If a pair of tongs has the capacity to change its very nature, what else do we believe cannot change that, as a matter of fact, has buried within it the seeds of its own transformation?
Our certainty that things cannot change offers us psychological protection by forcing us to abandon our expectations. But it also obscures the reality that change is a property intrinsic to everything that exists—our bodies, our relationships, even our social and political institutions. Opposed to our surety, hope locates itself in the premises that we do not know what will happen, and that in the spaciousness of that uncertainty is room to act. Torah invites us to imagine all that is still unknown sitting in the twilight, waiting to be thrust into history in order to embrace an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists—which excuses both groups from acting.
The tongs stand for all the power stored in the margins, the hidden places, the moments we might otherwise overlook. These twilight objects are the creative possibilities that are waiting in the wings of our public imagination to change the very course of history. Hope is what happens when we turn our attention away from the limelight of the world stage, where the powerful appear to keep gaining power—and instead peer into the twilit margins, where we can perceive the capacity for transformation built into the fabric of the universe.
Next time you pick up a pair of tongs, remember that the tools you need to make the change you want to see in the world are already here—usually in the most unexpected of places.
“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.
The Architecture of Holiness (Terumah 5777)
From here to the end of the book of Exodus the Torah describes, in painstaking detail and great length, the construction of the Mishkan, the first collective house of worship of the Jewish people. Precise instructions are given for each item – the Tabernacle itself, the frames and drapes, and the various objects it contained – including their dimensions. So for example we read:
“Make the Tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them by a skilled worker. All the curtains are to be the same size—twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide… Make curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle—eleven altogether. All eleven curtains are to be the same size—thirty cubits long and four cubits wide… Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. Each frame is to be ten cubits long and a cubit and a half wide…” (Ex. 26:1-16)
And so on. But why do we need to know how big the Tabernacle was? It did not function in perpetuity. Its primary use was during the wilderness years. Eventually it was replaced by the Temple, an altogether larger and more magnificent structure. What then is the eternal significance of the dimensions of this modest, portable construction?
To put the question more sharply still: is not the very idea of a specific size for the home of the Shekhinah, the Divine presence, liable to mislead? A transcendent God cannot be contained in space. Solomon said so:
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this Temple I have built.” (1 Kings 8:27)
Isaiah said the same in the name of God Himself:
“Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me? Where will My resting place be?” Isaiah 66:1
So no physical space, however large, is big enough. On the other hand, no space is too small. So says a striking midrash:
When God said to Moses, ‘Make Me a Tabernacle,’ Moses said in amazement, ‘The glory of the Holy One blessed be He fills heaven and earth, and yet He commands, Make me a Tabernacle?’… God replied, ‘Not as you think do I think. Twenty boards on the north, twenty on the south and eight in the west are sufficient. Indeed, I will descend and confine My presence even within one square cubit.’ (Shemot Rabbah 34:1)
So what difference could it make whether the Tabernacle was large or small? Either way, it was a symbol, a focus, of the Divine presence that is everywhere, wherever human beings open their heart to God. Its dimensions should not matter.
I came across an answer in an unexpected and indirect way some years ago. I had gone to Cambridge University to take part in a conversation on religion and science. When the session was over, a member of the audience came over to me, a quiet, unassuming man, and said, “I have written a book I think you might find interesting. I’ll send it to you.” I did not know at the time who he was.
A week later the book arrived. It was called ‘Just Six Numbers’, subtitled ‘The deep forces that shape the universe’. With a shock I discovered that the author was the then Sir Martin, now Baron Rees, Astronomer Royal, later President of the Royal Society, the oldest and most famous scientific body in the world, and Master of Trinity College Cambridge. In 2011 he won the Templeton Prize. I had been talking to Britain’s most distinguished scientist.
His book was enthralling. It explained that the universe is shaped by six mathematical constants which, had they varied by a millionth or trillionth degree, would have resulted in no universe or at least no life. Had the force of gravity been slightly different, for example, the universe would either have expanded or imploded in such a way as to preclude the formation of stars or planets. Had nuclear efficiency been slightly lower the cosmos would consist only of hydrogen; no life would have emerged. Had it been slightly higher there would have been rapid stellar evolution and decay leaving no time for life to evolve. The combination of improbabilities was immense.
Torah commentators, especially the late Nechama Leibowitz, have drawn attention to the way the terminology of the construction of the Tabernacle is the same as that used to describe God’s creation of the universe. The Tabernacle was, in other words, a micro-cosmos, a symbolic reminder of the world God made. The fact that the Divine presence rested within it was not meant to suggest that God is here not there, in this place not that. It was meant to signal, powerfully and palpably, that God exists throughout the cosmos. It was a man-made structure to mirror and focus attention on the Divinely-created universe. It was in space what Shabbat is in time: a reminder of creation.
The dimensions of the universe are precise, mathematically exact. Had they differed in even the slightest degree the universe, or life, would not exist. Only now are scientists beginning to realise how precise, and even this knowledge will seem rudimentary to future generations. We are on the threshold of a quantum leap in our understanding of the full depth of the words: “How many are your works, Lord; in wisdom You made them all” (Ps. 104:24). The word “wisdom” here – as in the many times it occurs in the account of the making of the tabernacle – means, “precise, exact craftsmanship” (see Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, III:54).
In one other place in the Torah there is the same emphasis on precise dimensions, namely, Noah’s ark: “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around” (Gen. 6:14-16). The reason is similar to that in the case of the Tabernacle. Noah’s ark symbolised the world in its Divinely-constructed order, the order humans had ruined by their violence and corruption. God was about to destroy that world, leaving only Noah, the ark and what it contained as symbols of the vestige of order that remained, on the basis of which God would fashion a new order.
Precision matters. Order matters. The misplacement of even a few of the 3.1 billion letters in the human genome can lead to devastating genetic conditions. The famous “butterfly effect” – the beating of a butterfly’s wing somewhere may cause a tsunami elsewhere, thousands of miles away – tells us that small actions can have large consequences. That is the message the Tabernacle was intended to convey.
God creates order in the natural universe. We are charged with creating order in the human universe. That means painstaking care in what we say, what we do, and what we must restrain ourselves from doing. There is a precise choreography to the moral and spiritual life as there is a precise architecture to the tabernacle. Being good, specifically being holy, is not a matter of acting as the spirit moves us. It is a matter of aligning ourselves to the Will that made the world. Law, structure, precision: of these things the cosmos is made and without them it would cease to be. It was to signal that the same applies to human behaviour that the Torah records the precise dimensions of the Tabernacle and Noah’s ark.
By: Rabbi Gary Ezra Oren
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 Gift of Giving (Terumah 5776)
It was the first Israelite house of worship, the first home Jews made for God. But the very idea is fraught with paradox, even contradiction. How can you build a house for God? He is bigger than anything we can imagine, let alone build.
King Solomon made this point when he inaugurated another house of God, the First Temple: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this house I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). So did Isaiah in the name of God himself: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What house can you build for me? Where will my resting place be? (Is. 66:1).
Not only does it seem impossible to build a home for God. It should be unnecessary. The God of everywhere can be accessed anywhere, as readily in the deepest pit as on the highest mountain, in a city slum as in a palace lined with marble and gold.
The answer, and it is fundamental, is that God does not live in buildings. He lives in builders. He lives not in structures of stone but in the human heart. What the Jewish sages and mystics pointed was that in our parsha God says, “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell in them” (Ex. 25:8), not “that I may dwell in it.”
Why then did God command the people to make a sanctuary at all? The answer given by most commentators, and hinted at by the Torah itself, is that God gave the command specifically after the sin of the golden calf.
The people made the calf after Moses had been on the mountain for forty days to receive the Torah. So long as Moses was in their midst, the people knew that he communicated with God, and God with him, and therefore God was accessible, close. But when he was absent for nearly six weeks, they panicked. Who else could bridge the gap between the people and God? How could they hear God’s instructions? Through what intermediary could they make contact with the divine presence?
That is why God said to Moses, “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” The key word here is the verb sh-kh-n, to dwell. Never before had it been used in connection with God. It eventually became a keyword of Judaism itself. From it came the word Mishkan meaning a sanctuary, and Shekhinah, the divine presence.
Central to its meaning is the idea of closeness. Shakhen in Hebrew means a neighbour, the person who lives next door. What the Israelites needed and what God gave them was a way of feeling as close to God as to our next-door neighbour.
That is what the patriarchs and matriarchs had. God spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah intimately, like a friend. He told Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. He explained to Rebecca why she was suffering such acute pain in pregnancy. He appeared to Jacob at key moments in his life telling him not to be afraid.
That is not what the Israelites had experienced until now. They had seen God bringing plagues on the Egyptians. They had seen Him divide the sea. They had seen Him send manna from heaven and water from a rock. They had heard His commanding voice at Mount Sinai and found it almost unbearable. They said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” God had appeared to them as an overwhelming presence, an irresistible force, a light so bright that to look at it makes you blind, a voice so strong it makes you go deaf.
So for God to be accessible, not just to the pioneers of faith – the patriarchs and matriarchs – but to every member of a large nation, was a challenge, as it were, for God Himself. He had to do what the Jewish mystics called tzimtzum, “contract” Himself, screen His light, soften His voice, hide His glory within a thick cloud, and allow the infinite to take on the dimensions of the finite.
But that, as it were, was the easy part. The difficult part had nothing to do with God and everything to do with us. How do we come to sense the presence of God? It isn’t difficult to do so standing at the foot of Mount Everest or seeing the Grand Canyon. You do not have to be very religious or even religious at all, to feel awe in the presence of the sublime. The psychologist Abraham Maslow, whom we encountered a few weeks ago in these pages, spoke about “peak experiences”, and saw them as the essence of the spiritual encounter.
But how do you feel the presence of God in the midst of everyday life? Not from the top of Mount Sinai but from the plain beneath? Not when it is surrounded by thunder and lightning as it was at the great revelation, but when it is just a day among days?
That is the life-transforming secret of the name of the parsha, Terumah. It means “a contribution”. God said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to take for me a contribution. You are to receive the contribution for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give” (25:2). The best way of encountering God is to give.
The very act of giving flows from, or leads to, the understanding that what we give is part of what we were given. It is a way of giving thanks, an act of gratitude. That is the difference in the human mind between the presence of God and the absence of God.
If God is present, it means that what we have is His. He created the universe. He made us. He gave us life. He breathed into us the very air we breathe. All around us is the majesty, the plenitude, of God’s generosity: the light of the sun, the gold of the stone, the green of the leaves, the song of the birds. This is what we feel reading the great creation psalms we read every day in the morning service. The world is God’s art gallery and His masterpieces are everywhere.
When life is a given, you acknowledge this by giving back.
But if life is not a given because there is no Giver, if the universe came into existence only because of a random fluctuation in the quantum field, if there is nothing in the universe that knows we exist, if there is nothing to the human body but a string of letters in the genetic code and to the human mind but electrical impulses in the brain, if our moral convictions are self-serving means of self-preservation and our spiritual aspirations mere delusions, then it is difficult to feel gratitude for the gift of life. There is no gift if there is no giver. There is only a series of meaningless accidents, and it is difficult to feel gratitude for an accident.
The Torah therefore tells us something simple and practical. Give, and you will come to see life as a gift. You don’t need to be able to prove God exists. All you need is to be thankful that you exist – and the rest will follow.
That is how God came to be close to the Israelites through the building of the sanctuary. It wasn’t the quality of the wood and metals and drapes. It wasn’t the glitter of jewels on the breastplate of the High Priest. It wasn’t the beauty of the architecture or the smell of the sacrifices. It was the fact that it was built out of the gifts of “everyone whose heart prompts them to give” (Ex. 25:2). Where people give voluntarily to one another and to holy causes, that is where the divine presence rests.
Hence the special word that gives its name to this week’s parsha: Terumah. I’ve translated it as “a contribution” but it actually has a subtly different meaning for which there is no simple English equivalent. It means “something you lift up” by dedicating it to a sacred cause. You lift it up, then it lifts you up. The best way of scaling the spiritual heights is simply to give in gratitude for the fact that you have been given.
God doesn’t live in a house of stone. He lives in the hearts of those who give.
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 Gratitude of Labour (Terumah 5775)
There is an important principle in Judaism, a source of hope and also one of the structuring principles of the Torah. It is the principle that God creates the cure before the disease. Bad things may happen but God has already given us the remedy if we know where to look for it.
So for instance in Chukkat we read of the deaths of Miriam and Aaron and how Moses was told that he would die in the desert without entering the Promised Land. This is a terrifying encounter with mortality. Yet before any of this, we first hear the law of the red heifer, the rite of purification after contact with death. The Torah has placed it here to assure us in advance that we can be purified after any bereavement. Human mortality does not ultimately bar us from being in the presence of Divine immortality.
This is the key to understanding Terumah. Though not all commentators agree, its real significance is that it is God’s answer in advance to the sin of the golden calf. In strict chronological terms it is out of place here. It (and Tetzaveh) should have appeared after Ki Tissa, which tells the story of the calf. It is set here before the sin to tell us that the cure existed before the disease, the tikkun before the kilkul, the mending before the fracture, the rectification before the sin.
So to understand Terumah and the phenomenon of the mishkan, the Sanctuary and all that it entailed, we have first to understand what went wrong at the time of the golden calf. Here the Torah is very subtle and gives us, in Ki Tissa, a narrative that can be understood at three quite different levels.
The first and most obvious is that the sin of the golden calf was due to a failure of leadership on the part of Aaron. This is the overwhelming impression we receive on first reading Exodus 32. We sense that Aaron should have resisted the people’s clamour. He should have told them to be patient. He should have shown leadership. He did not. When Moses comes down the mountain and asks him what he has done, Aaron replies:
“Do not be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil They said to me, ‘Make an oracle to lead us, since we do not know what happened to Moses, the man who took us out of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Ex. 32: 22-24).
This is a failure of responsibility. It is also a spectacular act of denial (“I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”). So the first reading of the story is of Aaron’s failure.
But only the first. A deeper reading suggests that it is about Moses. It was his absence from the camp that created the crisis in the first place. “The people began to realize that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Make us an oracle to lead us. We have no idea what happened to Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt.’” (Ex. 32: 1).
God told Moses what was happening and said: “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have wrought ruin” (32: 7). The undertone is clear. “Go down,” suggests that God was telling Moses that his place was with the people at the foot of the mountain, not with God at the top. “Your people” implies that God was telling Moses that the people were his problem, not God’s. He was about to disown them.
Moses urgently prayed to God for forgiveness, then descended. What follows is a whirlwind of action. Moses descends, sees what has happened, breaks the tablets, burns the calf, mixes its ashes with water and makes the people drink, then summons help in punishing the wrongdoers. He has become the leader in the midst of the people, restoring order where a moment before there had been chaos. On this reading the central figure was Moses. He had been the strongest of strong leaders. The result, though, was that when he was not there, the people panicked. That is the downside of strong leadership.
But there then follows a chapter, Exodus 33, that is one of the hardest in the Torah to understand. It begins with God announcing that, though He would send an “angel” or “messenger” to accompany the people on the rest of their journey, He Himself would not be in their midst “because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” This deeply distresses the people (33: 1-6).
In verses 12-23, Moses challenges God on this verdict. He wants God’s presence to go with the people. He asks, “Let me know Your ways” and “Pray let me see Your glory.” This is hard to understand. The entire exchange between Moses and God, one of the most intense in the Torah, is no longer about sin and forgiveness. It seems almost to be a metaphysical inquiry into the nature of God. What is its connection with the golden calf?
It is what happens between these two episodes that is the most puzzling of all. The text says that Moses “took his tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp, far from the camp” (33: 7). This must surely have been precisely the wrong thing to do. If, as God and the text have implied, the problem had been the distance of Moses as a leader, the single most important thing for him to do now would be to stay in the people’s midst, not position himself outside the camp. Moreover, the Torah has just told us that God had said He would not be in the midst of the people – and this caused the people distress. Moses’ decision to do likewise would surely have doubled their distress. Something deep is happening here.
It seems to me that in Exodus 33 Moses is undertaking the most courageous act of his life. He is saying to God: “It is not my distance that is the problem. It is Your distance. The people are terrified of You. They have witnessed Your overwhelming power. They have seen You bring the greatest empire the world has ever known to its knees. They have seen You turn sea into dry land, send down food from heaven and bring water from a rock. When they heard Your voice at Mount Sinai, they came to me to beg me to be an intermediary. They said, ‘You speak to us and we will hearken, but let not God speak to us lest we die’ (Ex. 20: 16). They made a calf not because they wanted to worship an idol, but because they wanted some symbol of Your presence that was not terrifying. They need You to be close. They need to sense You not in the sky or the summit of the mountain but in the midst of the camp. And even if they cannot see Your face, for no one can do that, at least let them see some visible sign of Your glory.”
That, it seems to me, is Moses’ request to which this week’s parsha is the answer. “Let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst” (25: 8). This is the first time in the Torah that we hear the verb sh-kh-n, meaning “to dwell,” in relation to God. As a noun it means literally, “a neighbour.” From this is derived the key word in post-biblical Judaism, Shekhinah, meaning God’s immanence as opposed to His transcendence, God-as-One-who-is-close, the daring idea of God as a near neighbour.
In terms of the theology of the Torah, the very idea of a mishkan, a sanctuary or Temple, a physical “home” for “God’s glory,” is deeply paradoxical. God is beyond space. As King Solomon said at the inauguration of the first Temple, “Behold the heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot encompass You, how much less this house?” Or as Isaiah said in God’s name: “The heavens are My throne and the earth My foot-stool. What house shall you build for Me, where can My resting place be?”
The answer, as the Jewish mystics emphasized, is that God does not live in a building but rather in the hearts of the builders: “Let them make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25: 8) – “among them,” not “in it.” How, though, does this happen? What human act causes the Divine presence to live within the camp, the community? The answer is the name of our parsha, Terumah, meaning, a gift, a contribution.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying ‘Tell the Israelites to bring Me an offering. You are to receive the offering for Me from everyone whose heart moves them to give.’” This would prove to be the turning point in Jewish history.
Until that moment the Israelites had been recipients of God’s miracles and deliverances. He had taken them from slavery to freedom and performed miracles for them. There was only one thing God had not yet done, namely, give the Israelites the chance of giving back something to God. The very idea sounds absurd. How can we, God’s creations, give back to the God who made us? All we have is His. As David said, at the gathering he convened at the end of his life to initiate the building the Temple:
Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things … Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (I Chronicles 29: 12, 14)
That ultimately is the logic of the mishkan. God’s greatest gift to us is the ability to give to Him. From a Judaic perspective the idea is fraught with risk. The idea that God might be in need of gifts is close to paganism and heresy. Yet, knowing the risk, God allowed Himself to be persuaded by Moses to cause His spirit to rest within the camp and allow the Israelites to give something back to God.
At the heart of the idea of the sanctuary is what Lewis Hyde beautifully described as the labour of gratitude. His classic study, The Gift, looks at the role of the giving and receiving of gifts, for example, at critical moments of transition. He quotes the Talmudic story of a man whose daughter was about to get married, but who had been told that she would not survive to the end of the day. The next morning the man visited his daughter and saw that she was still alive. Unknown to both of them, when she hung up her hat after the wedding, its pin pierced a serpent that would otherwise have bitten and killed her. The father wanted to know what his daughter had done that merited this divine intervention. She answered, “A poor man came to the door yesterday. Everyone was so busy with the wedding preparations that they did not have time to deal with him. So I took the portion that had been intended for me and gave it to him.” It was this act of generosity that was the cause of her miraculous deliverance.
The construction of the sanctuary was fundamentally important because it gave the Israelites the chance to give back to God. Later Jewish law recognised that giving is an integral part of human dignity when they made the remarkable ruling that even a poor person completely dependent on charity is still obliged to give charity. To be in a situation where you can only receive, not give, is to lack human dignity.
The mishkan became the home of the Divine presence because God specified that it be built only out of voluntary contributions. Giving creates a gracious society by enabling each of us to make our contribution to the public good. That is why the building of the sanctuary was the cure for the sin of the golden calf. A people that only received but could not give was trapped in dependency and lack of self-respect. God allowed the people to come close to Him, and He to them, by giving them the chance to give.
That is why a society based on rights not responsibilities, on what we claim from, not what we give to others, will always eventually go wrong. It is why the most important gift a parent can give a child is the chance to give back. The etymology of the word Terumah hints at this. It means, not simply a contribution, but literally something “raised up.” When we give, it is not just our contribution but we who are raised up. We survive by what we are given, but we achieve dignity by what we give.
 In Deuteronomy 9: 20, Moses discloses a fact which has been kept from us until that point: “God also expressed great anger toward Aaron, threatening to destroy him, so, at that time, I also prayed for Aaron.”
 Lewis Hyde, The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2006.
 Shabbat 156b.
 Maimonides Hilkhot Shekalim 1: 1, Mattenot Ani’im 7: 5.
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 Miles Krassen</strong>
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 the Maqam Project
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 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 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 Chaya Lester
Poetic Commentary on Teruma- Mishkan
I very much appreciate the spoken poetry as well as the visual arts.
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.
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
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 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)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
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.
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).
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!!!
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)
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.
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 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 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)
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.
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