file Musings on Parshat Terumah-2015

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5 years 9 months ago #315 by Heshy Berenholz
Musings on Parshat Terumah-2015 was created by Heshy Berenholz

Voluntary contributions of materials to be brought to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle):

Gold, silver and copper
Turquoise, purple and crimson wool
Linen and goats hair
Ram skins dyed red
Multicolored tachash (sealskins)
Acacia wood (either purchased locally or from a forest near Mt. Sinai or from the acacia trees that Ya’akov Avinu brought to, and planted in, Egypt)
Oil for the menorah
Spices for the anointing oil and for sweet incense
Onyx stones and stones for the ayphod (apron) and for the breastplate

 Ark
 Kaporet and the Keruvim
 Table
 Menorah
 Roof coverings
 Interlocking beams (made from acacia wood) and sockets (silver) form the walls that enclose the Holy and Holy of Holies
 Copper altar for animal offerings
 *Courtyard of the Mishkan (note: measurements assume an amah = 24 inches)

The Sanctuary Layout

The Tabernacle, 64 feet long and 24 feet wide including beams for walls, was divided into the Holy and Holy of Holies, separated by a Paroches (partition) of turquoise, purple and crimson wool thread twisted with fine linen thread on which keruvim were professionally woven into on both sides. The Holy section measured 40’x 20’ and the Holy of Holies was 20’x 20’. The Table, the Menorah and the Incense Altar were in the Holy section; only the Ark was domiciled in the Holy of Holies. The Tabernacle was covered with tapestries; sheets made of goats’ hair; ram skins; and sealskins.

The Copper Altar for animal sacrifices and its ramp was situated in the surrounding courtyard, which measured 20,000 square feet in total area and was enclosed by walls made of curtains.

The gradation in sanctity is reflected in the materials used with the most sacred made of gold and the least holy made of copper.

(*Note: This diagram assumes amah=1.75 feet)


Some maintain that since the Torah does not always report events chronologically (but thematically) the edict to build the Mishkan occurred after the sin of the Golden Calf. Let the golden objects in the Mishkan be a reminder of and catalyst for forgiveness for that sin that utilized gold. Associating the Mishkan with the acceptance of God and His Torah is of greater importance than chronological accuracy.

Those who think that the Golden Calf incident and the Mishkan are related but insist that the Torah reports things in a chronological order maintain that this in another instance of “God providing the remedy before the problem occurs”.


Man needs concrete reminders. Abravanel opines that the Mishkan reinforces the view that God continues to exist in the world even after He created it. Seeing the Mishkan is a reminder of His ongoing presence and involvement. Ramban views the Mishkan as a mobile Mt. Sinai that offered the opportunity for its viewer to remember and re-experience that awesome, nation-defining event (fiery center, altar, offerings, the surrounding nation encamped from a distance).

The ancients built homes for their deities that included bedrooms. The Mishkan contains altars, menorah, table (for breads) but no bedrooms in order to avoid the sexual, licentious behavior that was part of many pagan cult rituals.

The very act of building the Mishkan for God to “dwell” in the hearts and minds of the Israelites provided a unifying and creative effort that would also have an inspiring, positive impact on the nation. According to the Or Hachaim every person had a role to play-- underscoring how the Torah (Judaism) can only be fulfilled when each and every one of us joins in to unify the nation.

Relationship between Mishkan and Creation

Martin Buber notes that the Hebrew words assay (to do or to make) or laasos appear many more times in the Mishkan construction than in the Creation story. God rested on the seventh day of creation. Here Moshe was called up to God on the seventh day after he went up to Mt. Sinai. The phrasing for completion of the Creation is “Va’yechulu hashmayim v’haaretz”- “the heavens and earth were completed”. The same root word is found here, “Va’taychal…”

Perhaps the Torah is emphasizing that the nation of Israel was starting a New World, a new beginning. Reference to the Creation underscores the need for Man to be a partner with God in building and creating. And the lesson of Life, as Ramban points out, is that Man needs to be creative and productive in his lifetime, just as God was and is in His creation of the universe.

The Ark

This is the first and the longest of the Mishkan’s contents to be described:

 5’ long x 3’ wide x 3’ tall
 Made of acacia wood
 Plated inside and out with pure gold
 Had a gold-rimmed edge all around.
 The Torah, or the tablets of the Asseres Hadibros, was kept in it
 Poles made of gold-plated acacia wood were to remain in the four golden rings, one in each corner.

Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz thinks that overlay of gold on the inside, where it was not visible and on the outside where it was, reminds us that one must be “as pure in mind and heart as he appears pure in outward manner and bearing”.

Sefer Hachinuch theorizes that the need for the staves to be permanently attached is to avoid the Ark slipping in the event of a hasty departure. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch thinks that the message here is that we must always be ready to leave our surroundings at a moment’s notice and take the Torah (literally and conceptually) with us wherever we go.

(Source: Temple Institute)

Kaporet and Keruvim

The Kaporet, a lid for the Ark, whose root word means to atone as well as to cover, consisted of…
A slab of pure gold that measured 5’x 3’ (the same dimensions as the top surface of the Ark) that was…
Three inches in thickness, according to the Talmud and…
Included two Keruvim, winged forms molded from the same piece of gold, one at each end. The wings were spread upwards, sheltering the Kaporet, as if they were ready to take off. Yet they faced one another with heads tilted downward towards the Kaporet.

The Torah gives no information about the size or characteristics of the Keruvim. It is left to the Sages and the commentaries to flesh out this very sketchy description. The Talmud, based on an etymological analysis of the word Keruvim, concludes that Keruvim had the faces of children (perhaps symbolizing God’s closeness to Man). The Zohar adds that there was one of each sex.

Some scholars think Keruvim were bird-like creatures with wings and with faces of human infants. Rabbi Günter Plaut notes the Egyptian influence. Egyptian Keruvim-like figures of animals with a human head were used to mediate between Man and his deity and to guard holy places. As an example, the Egyptian Sphinx had the body of a lion and a human face. The Pharaohs of Egypt insisted on being buried in gold, which they believed was the "flesh of the gods."

Rabbi Plaut theorizes that the Keruvim were images that reflected an unshakable ancient mythological tradition. They were purposely hidden away in a totally inaccessible place (Holy of Holies) so that the danger of their being worshipped was minimized. Though the existence of the Keruvim appears to run counter to the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping images, in fact there was never a time in Jewish history that the Keruvim were worshiped as deities. Rambam observes that they faced each other so that they would not be mistaken for a deity.

Rav Hirsch sees the upward spread of the wings towards God hinting at the protective aspects of first five of the Ten Commandments that focus on Man’s relationship with God while the downward facial tilt points to the earthly rules between Man and Man embodied in the last five Commandments. Some argue that the wings covering the entire Kaporet and downward- looking faces are about averting one’s eyes from viewing the Divine. Others see the concept of T’shuva here, wherein a person is the recipient of the Divine gift of another chance to change his ways and become “innocent as a new born babe”.

It is noteworthy that the first time the Keruvim appear in the Torah is when God installed “…the Keruvim and the twirling fiery sword to protect the way (or show the way) to Eytz Hachayim”. The Garden of Eden story describes a time when there was an ideal love-filled, close relationship between Man and God. Perhaps like their predecessors, the Keruvim in the Mishkan were meant to “show us the way” to rebuild relationships with God and with one another.

Rabbi David Fohrman views the Keruvim as separators. In the Creation story they were designed to prevent Man from returning to God’s Garden of Eden, an area that He had set aside in His Universe for Man to enjoy, but was precluded from returning to after sinning. In the Mishkan the Keruvim appear in three places, each of which provides a type of separation. The Keruvim are…

 The gold angelic figures on the Kaporet, separating the worldly knowledge of the Ark and its contents from the Divine
 Woven into the Paroches , the curtain that separates the Holy from the Holy of Holies
 Embroidered into the tapestry and curtains that served as the Mishkan’s roof

When God created the universe He made three groupings:

 Light/darkness
 Water/sky
 Day/ night.

By building of the Mishkan we are emulating God. Just like He set aside a part of His universe for Mankind, we are carving out a piece of His universe for Him to dwell in. Just like the boundaries He established facilitated our ability to survive, the keruvim- boundaries in the Mishkan facilitate our ability to gradually move to a higher level of relationship with the Him. Ultimately, God’s “voice” his heard from between the Keruvim on the Kaporet.

The winged Keruvim imagery merges the divine (upward sloping wings) with the earthly (cherubic infants or birds with a human face).The Kaporet / Keruvim, an independent and distinct vessel from the Ark, may be likened to a computer interface that enables two totally different and incompatible operating systems to communicate with one another. This Divine venue permits interaction and communication between polar opposites (incomprehensible God and mundane Man and Woman).The Keruvim ’s wings reach up to hear

from above (they resemble animal ears) and their downward pointing faces draw up from below. God communicates to Man from between the Keruvim.

Interaction leads to interdependence, awe, and absorption of positive attributes, closeness and love. This model of deep involvement is suitable for both Man/God and Man/Woman relationships. This deepest, holiest of truths is appropriately domiciled in the Holy of Holies and is visited by the Holy High Priest only once a year, on the Holy day of Yom Kippur.

Baruch Cohen points out that the Keruvim’s faces of children contain the message that every day is a new beginning, like a new child. Although one may have not reached one’s goal (including connecting with God) one always has the opportunity to begin anew. In Kabbalah, girl-women represent desire, while boy-man represents the fulfillment of desire. To achieve fulfillment one must yearn and crave. One cannot reach God unless he has a burning passion to achieve a relationship.

The Table was…

• Made from acacia wood
• Coated with pure gold and included four gold rings for staves for transportation
• 4’ long x 2’ wide x 3’ tall
• Decorated with a 3” high frame and golden-rimmed edge
• The place for the twelve Showbreads (lechem hapanim) that were displayed (placed on the table on the Sabbath, arranged in two rows, left there until the following Sabbath when they were removed and eaten by the priests and replaced by fresh loaves)

(Source: Temple Institute)

Rabbi Marc Angel notes the difficulty of translating the Hebrew term for the twelve loaves (lechem hapanim). Some think it means “bread of [God’s] Presence”. Others prefer the literal translation “bread of the faces”. Rabbi Angel quotes the unique insight of the Hassidic Rebbe Avraham Mordechai of Gur whose translation is that every person who looked at the bread perceived his or her own face (hapanim means “the faces”).The personality of the viewer influenced his/her perception, which in turn is influenced by the person’s inner being. A pious, kind individual might see the bread as being fresh and warm whereas a cynical, mean individual would think the bread was stale and cold. The Rebbe’s message is that if one is to experience life in a positive way, one needs to develop a positive worldview. “We have the power to define who we are and how we face life. We each shape our external experiences by our internal attitudes.”

The Menorah …

 Was less than five feet tall, according to some opinions; the Torah does not specify its height
 Was hammered out of a single piece of pure gold
 Had six diagonal branches in straight lines, not curved, (according to Rambam and others) coming out of its stem, three on each side at the same height as the central shaft so that all the lamps were in a straight line
 Had three decorated cups, a sphere and a flower on each branch
 Had lamps (receptacles for oil and wicks) lit in such a way that the lights on the six branches were directed towards the center lamp
 Had a three- legged base


o Ten tapestries made of fine linen thread twisted with turquoise, purple and crimson wool thread
o Image of Keruvem professionally woven into them
o Each tapestry was 56’ long x 8’ wide
o Two sets of five tapestries each stitched to one another
o Fifty loops made on the edge of each set
o Fifty golden clasps inserted in loops to form the roof
o Another covering of eleven sheets of goats’ hair, each 60’ x 8’ , with fifty loops on one set of five sheets and 50 loops on the set of other six sheets
o Fifty copper clasps inserted into loops to form a second covering
o Another covering of ram skins dyed red and another one of tachash(sealskins)

The Walls

 Beams of gold-plated acacia wood twenty feet tall, three feet wide and two feet deep with two square pegs on the bottom
 Silver sockets for the square pegs
 Twenty boards and forty sockets for the southern and northern walls; six boards and twelve sockets for the western wall
 Four external crossbars, each half the length, to connect the beams on each wall, and one inside middle crossbar running the length of each wall
 Connected to each other on top by rings that fit into grooves carved into the beams

(Source: Temple Institute)

The Copper (Bronze) Altar for burnt offerings

 Made of hollow, copper-plated acacia wood
 6’ tall x 10’ wide x 10’ long
 Had a square horn/projection at each of the four corners
 Had lattice of copper netting with four rings (for transportation) beneath a decorative ledge-like border
 Had four staves of copper-plated acacia wood

(Source: Temple Institute)

Rabbi H.L. Berenholz

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