file Musings on Parshat Terumah

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8 years 7 months ago - 8 years 7 months ago #46 by Heshy Berenholz
Musings on Parshat Terumah was created by Heshy Berenholz

Voluntary contributions to be brought to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle)…The Ark…The Kaporet and the Keruvim atop the Ark…The Table…The Menorah… Hanging tapestries and coverings…Interlocking beams (made from acacia wood) and sockets (silver) form the walls that enclose the Holy (20 x 10 amos, about 40’x 20’) and Holy of Holies (10 x10 amos, about four hundred square feet)…Copper altar…Courtyard of the Mishkan


Some maintain that since the Torah does not always report events chronologically (but thematically)so 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 egregious sin that utilized gold. Thematically associating the Mishkan with the previous topic of Hebrews’ acceptance of G-d and his Torah is of greater importance than chronological accuracy.

Those who insist that the Torah reports things in a chronological order maintain that this in another instance of “G-d providing the remedy before the problem occurs”.


Man needs concrete reminders. Abravanel’s view is that the Mishkan serves to negate the view that G-d abandoned the world soon after He created it. Seeing the Mishkan is a reminder of His ongoing presence and involvement .Ramban maintains that the Mishkan was 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 so that G-d could “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.

Mishkan and Creation

Martin Buber notes that the Hebrew words asay or laasos appear in both stories but many more times in the Mishkan construction. G-d rested on the seventh day of creation. Here Moshe was called up to G-d 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, “V’atechel…”

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 G-d in building and creating. And the lesson of Life, as Ramban points out, is that Man needs to be creative in his lifetime, to mirror the Creativity of G-d in His creation of the world.

The Ark

This is the first of the Mishkan’s contents and the longest to be described. It was made of acacia wood then coated inside and out with pure gold and had a gold-rimmed edge all around. Its dimensions were 5’x 3’x 3’ (assuming an amah =2 feet).There were four golden rings, one for each corner. The Torah, or the tablets of the Asseres Hadibros, was placed in the Ark.

Poles made of gold-plated acacia wood were to remain permanently in the gold rings. 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.

Kaporet and Keruvim

The Kaporet, a lid for the Ark, was made of pure gold and measured 5’x 3’. Two Keruvim, winged forms molded from the same piece of gold, were hammered out at each end of the Kaporet. The wings were spread upwards, sheltering the Kaporet, as if they were ready to take off; they faced one another yet were tilted downward towards the Kaporet.

The Torah gives no information on 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. 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 god.

Rav Hirsch sees the upward spread of the wings towards G-d hinting at the protective aspects of first five of the Ten Commandments that focus on Man’s relationship with G-d 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 has the opportunity deriving from G-d 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 G-d 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 G-d. Perhaps like their predecessors, the Keruvim in the Mishkan were meant to “show us the way” to rebuild relationships with G-d and with one another.

The winged Keruvim imagery merges the divine (upward sloping wings) with the earthly (cherubic infants or bird with a human face).The kaporet / keruvim, a separate and distinct vessel from the Ark, is like 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 G-d and mundane Man--or 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. The sound of G-d’s speech is heard 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/G-d 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.

Rabbi H. L. Berenholz
Last edit: 8 years 7 months ago by Heshy Berenholz.

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