Parashas Terumah – ...and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

In this weeks sedra and from now in the book of Shemos, we see the Torah describe the basic blueprints for the preparations and construction of the Mishkan (Temple) which translates as the 'dwelling place', as it says at the beginning of the sedra... 'they shall make a sanctuary for me' [25:8]. Now the sharp ones amongst you will notice that this is not fully true as in Parashas Ki Sisa the Torah takes the narrative back back to Mount Sinai with the incident of the golden calf which is seemingly unrelated to the construction of the Mishkan... but the even sharper ones amongst you would have read Sforno's commentary on this... who states that the very construction of the Mishkan was made necessary only by Israel's lapse into virtual idolatry. He holds that ideally we didn't even need a temple after the events at Sinai but only after Israel fell from its high level of spirituality through that event, did it become necessary. Rashi adds fuel to this by commentating that the instructions regarding the erection of the Mishkan were transmitted only after the Golden Calf incident (31:18).

The book of Shemos is called the Book of Redemption by Ramban. We saw in the early sedras of the book of Shemos, the physical departure from Egypt and then the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, which we are told was the ultimate goal of the redemption... so what has the Mishkan got to do with our exodus from Egypt? According to the Ramban, the nation had not reached it's purpose until the heights it achieved (even if it was temporarily) at Sinai and in order to maintain this experience the permanent existence of the Mishkan was necessary. The Beis HaMikdash was to be the central gathering point of the Jewish people where Hashem's presence would rest, a place where we would be able to go with offerings through which spiritual elevation would be possible. So where do we go today whilst in spiritual exile in order to serve Hashem? The centrality of G-d's presence today now rests in representations of the Beis HaMikdash in the form of our own synagogues and Beis Midrashim (study halls) which is why we must behave in these areas as if we are in the Temple itself (Gemara Megillah) which means no gossiping or playing around. Halachically we are not even supposed to go into a Beis Midrash to shelter from the rain as we should only have these areas for Torah study and prayer.

This week's Parasha twins in nicely with last weeks discussions on the laws given over in Parashas Mishpatim. By having the blueprint for the Temple given over chronologically following on from the civil laws we are once again reminded that the Mishkan and Sanhedrin (the seats of 'ritual' and law) are interrelated. This is yet another statement of the intertwined relationship between the laws of Temple offerings and those of mundane subjects such as Jewish bondsman and dangerous livestock, both of which are equal expressions of G-d's will.

In the opening lines of Terumah, it says... “Speak to the Children of Israel and let them take from Me a portion” [25:2]... This describes how the Jewish nation were asked to give donations to build the Mishkan but surely it should say 'give to me' instead of 'take from me', after all it is the Jewish people giving to build a sanctuary to Hashem... obviously a giving action and not a taking one? This isn't a grammatical error however and hidden within it is an important mussar lesson on how we should view the giving of tzadakah (charity) ourselves... Hashem was giving the nation the opportunity to donate 'a portion' into the building of the Mishkan, it wasn't to be miraculously built but instead required donations of precious materials from gold to incense [listed 25:3-7], by 'giving' us this opportunity to undertake such a huge mitzvah we were technically taking. We should adopt the same attitude with our own giving of tzadakah and should view it as them giving us the opportunity to undertake a mitzvah... with this in mind the giving over of donations will not seem such a terrible task but instead you might even find yourself thanking the person who asks as you might not have otherwise performed the mitzvah of tzadakah that day... just don't walk through Mea She'Arim!! I was once thanking my father for the incredible financial support he provides me with so that I am able to remain in Torah study, his response was that it was me who was supporting him... an attitude we should all learn from.

The mefarshim go to town with the commentaries on the various vessels and priestly garments which are described in Terumah and until the end of the Book of Shemos. There is such a huge amount of detail in the understanding of each item, the reasons they are designed in such a way and even on minute particularities such as the reasons for their materials or size. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of the material used to build the Mishkan was accumulated when leaving Egypt, and even more was found on the shore of the Red Sea after the Egyptian army was drowned. Why did we have to leave Egypt with such wealth? As we have seen continuously the events of the Exodus all had to take place in their own exact way so that we could receive the Ten Commandments AND build the Mishkan. The first vessel to be described is that of the Aron (The Ark)... yes from Indiana Jones... which was to be the central feature of the Mishkan which would rest in the holy of holies and house the Tablets received on Mount Sinai. In light of Ramban's view that the Mishkan was the permanent representation of the events that took place at Sinai it is no surprise that the Aron, containing the Tablets, took prime position in the Mishkan. The Hebrew word for The Ark, Aron/ארון is derived from the word Aura/אורה which means light... as the Torah is said to be the light of the world. It is written... “They shall make an Ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width and a cubit and a half its height”... it is brought down by Rabbi Kaplan that it is only here and in the measurements of the next vessel to be described, the table for the show bread, that we find the use of 'broken' dimensions (using halves). So why does Hashem need the dimensions to be two and a half cubits by one and a half by another one and a half... was he trying to work out how it would fit between the couch and the coffee table?! And what's more it is brought down in a Gemara discussion that the Aron Hakodesh did not take up any space within the holy of holies, it was said to be beyond physical constraints... so what is going on here? What does this all represent?

Each item in the Beis HaMikdash was a representation of something, the Ark which held the Tablets, represented the Torah and the Table which held the show breads represented sustenance and prosperity. And what do our broken dimensions represent? Incompletion... When we apply this to answer our question as to why the dimensions for the Ark were incomplete we see that the Torah is trying to tell us an important lesson here that no matter how long, wide or high you delve into Torah, our studies are always incomplete, we need to always shteig harder and keep learning. In aggadic texts the Torah is compared to a sea as it is so vast, it just keeps going! When it comes to the Table, the Torah gives us the following dimensions... “You shall make a Table of acacia wood, two cubits its length, two cubits its width, and a cubit and a half its height”. So here we see just the one broken dimension on the height... and when we relay back the information that the Table represents sustenance and prosperity we see that this should be our attitude towards these properties... when it comes to our own dimensions down here (the length and width) we should always have the attitude that they are complete and we should be satisfied with our lot. Every morning we recite the bracha in which we say 'שעשח לי כל צרכי'/who has provided me with all my needs, a fundamental part of being Jewish is being satisfied with what Hashem has given you... and the broken dimension representing incompleteness on the height?... This represents our spending on holy items and mitzvahs such as teffilin, tsit-tsit, tzadakah etc. We don't cheap-out when we are looking for a new suit or when we get the latest high-tec gadget phones and computers so all the more so we should be happy to spend when it comes to this area of life, which is the most important. People laugh at the amount people spend on a beautiful Lulav and Esrog every year but there is far more value halachically in spending here on a mitzvah than there is in other areas of life. Our incomplete dimension on the height of the Table gives us a little reminder of this. The cover of the Aron was made of solid gold and on top stood two Cherubim (Angels), which were hammered out from the same chunk of gold. There is a lot of commentary on the Cherubim and I can only provide a snippet of this but the symbolism represented here is almost endless. The solid gold with which the cover was made was representative of the human soul which is in the image of Hashem. The Cherubim were said to have the faces of a male and female child and the wings of birds. Their wings stretched upwards to teach us that we must aspire to raise ourselves upwards to understand G-d's wisdom and excel in His service. Their faces were directed downwards towards the ark but also towards eachother (so facing eachother but looking downwards), to symbolise that we must see face to face with our fellow Jews but the only way to do this is to also have your eyes on the Torah as it is through this wisdom that we can properly interact with our fellow Jews. It is no good seeing eye-to-eye with someone by desecrating Shabbat, for example, our eyes must therefore always be on the Torah as well.

Bonus question... when was the last time the Torah mentioned the word כרבים/Cherubim?...

All the way back in Parashas Bereishis we see that when Hashem banished Adam from the Garden of Eden he stationed two כרבים/Cherubim at 'the east' to guard the way to the Tree of Life. What this exactly means is beyond the scope of this discussion BUT the general idea which Rashi helps us with is that these כרבים/Cherubim were destructive angels, who have the responsibility of preventing man from discovering and re-entering the Garden of Eden. So why does the Torah use the same term for both a destructive and holy angel? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky answers that this alludes to the paramount importance of educating children (as theכרבים/Cherubim had faces of children). With their eyes on the Torah the כרבים/Cherubim are holy and getting on but they also have the ability with the lack of Torah to become destructive. From personal experience I have never seen a physical fight break out in a year and a half of being at Yeshiva, and it is almost unheard of in the Torah world, whereas in the same period of time in a normal secular school and even university where there is obviously no Torah education, there would be 'destructive' behaviour almost daily... and that wasn't just the students!!

Now that we are in the month of Adar I hope that everyone has a very happy time as this is the month for it! I wish you all a great Shabbat and successful week ahead.

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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