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Torah Sparks

March 3, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 25:1-27:19; Hertz Chumash, p. 326
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 26:31-27:19; p. 333
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: I Samuel 15: 1-34; p. 995

(25:1-9) God commands that donations be taken from the Israelites for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

(25:10-40) Instructions for making the Ark and its covering, the table and its accessories, and the Menorah.

(26:1-30) Detailed instructions for the making of the Mishkan: the cloth covering, the gold clasps, and the goat hair tent over the Mishkan. Instructions regarding the 48 planks of the Mishkan, and their joining above by means of the rings, and inside by means of wooden bars.

(26:31-35) The curtain dividing the Tabernacle and screening the Holy of Holies where the Ark was placed.

(26:36-27:19) The screen for the entrance, the Altar, and the enclosure or courtyard of the Mishkan.

Theme 1: The Limits of Abstraction

Place the table outside the curtain, and the lamp stand by the south wall of the Tabernacle opposite the table, which is to be placed by the north wall. (Exodus 26:35)

  1. It says, "Command the children of Israel that they bring unto thee pure olive oil for the light" (Lev. 24:2) G-d says, "For thee, Moses, not for me, G-d. I need no light." The table was at the north side of the Sanctuary; the light on the south side." (Ex. 26:35) G-d says, "I need no eating, I need no light." (Note: In a person's house the table and the light normally are close to each other.) (Talmud, Menachot 86b)
  2. I do not believe that any man can doubt the correctness of the assertion that the Creator is not in need of anything for the continuance of His existence, or for the improvement of His condition. Therefore, G-d has no organs, or, what is the same, He is not corporeal; His actions are accomplished by His Essence, not by any organ, and as undoubtedly physical forces are connected with the organs, He does not possess any such forces, that is to say, He has, besides His Essence, nothing that could be the cause of His action, His knowledge, or His will, for attributes are nothing but forces under a different name... Our Sages laid down a general principle, by which the literal sense of the physical attributes of G-d mentioned by the prophets is rejected; a principle which evidently shows that our Sages were far from the belief in the corporeality of G-d, and that they did not think any person capable of misunderstanding it, or entertaining any doubt about it... they knew that there could not be any doubt about their metaphorical character, or any danger whatever of their being misunderstood; and that all such expressions would be understood as figurative language, employed to communicate to the intellect that notion of His existence. (Maimonides, Guide For The Perplexed; translated by M. Friedlander; p. 62)

Discussion Sparks:

Why are anthropomorphic references to G-d found in the Bible? Are they helpful to us in modern times in understanding G-d better? Why are they "dangerous"? How can they create theological problems for us as Jews? What are we to make of G-d and gender... and emotions (i.e. ealousy, anger, favor)? Why do you think that G-d wants a table (with read on it) and a lamp in the inner part of the Sanctuary? For whose purpose are they there?

Theme 2: What Is A Convincing Religion?

You shall make the Altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide - the Altar to be square - and three cubits high. Make its horns on the four corners, the horns to be of one piece with it; an overlay it with copper. (Exodus 27: 1-2)

  1. Of the many miracles to occur in the Tabernacle, the grandest were displayed with the Altar. The Midrash tells us that when Hashem commanded Moses to build an Altar of acacia wood overlaid with a thin layer of copper, Moses expressed concern that the continuous fire burning on the altar would melt the copper sheet and consume the wood. Hashem replied that Moses should not expect the laws of nature to restrict the Divine Presence. Just as the angels that are made of fire and flame are able to survive amidst snow and ice, so will the Altar. He was reminded of his own experience as he ascened the Mount in the thick darkness and approached the fiery celestial beings, Moses had also come away un- harmed for he had ascended in Hashem's Honor. (Tanchuma - comment by Elie Munk; The Call of Torah (Shemot), p.389)
  2. Then fire from the Lord descended and so consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When the people saw this, all the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out, "The Lord alone is G-d, The Lord alone is G-d!" (I Kings 18:38-39)
  3. The precise position of the altar of burnt offerings is not specified,... The details of its construction are quite complicated and imperfectly understood. It formed a square of 5 cubits... and stood 3 cubits high... it also had four bronzed, horn-shaped projections on the top of each corner. The inside was hollow. No mention is made of the "top" of the altar, in contrast to the incense altar... it is assumed that it was filled with field stones and earth in the wilderness encampments. This would have satisfied the requirement of 20:24 that there be "an altar of earth." It would also have protected the wooden structure below from the fire on the altar. (N. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary, Exodus; p. 172)

Discussion Sparks:

Miracles once were a very convincing method to bring people to a religious faith. Some people would mantain today that you have to believe in miracles in order to be a pious Jew. What then would you say is a modern miracle?

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