March 4, 2006 - 4 Adar 5766
Annual: Ex. 25:1 - 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Triennial: Ex. 26:1 - 26:30 (Etz Hayim p 491; Hertz p. 330)
Haftarah: I Kings 5:26 - 6:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 500; Hertz p. 336)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
This week's portion describes in great detail the building of the tabernacle (mishkan), a portable tent and worship center that the Israelites will carry through the wilderness. God tells Moses to command the people, "Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). Notice that the Torah does not say that God will dwell in the sanctuary, but rather that God will dwell among the people. When we do God's work, God dwells among us.
The people are to bring many precious materials as offerings: gold, silver, bronze, fabrics of various textures and colors, oil, incense and all kinds of precious stones. The description begins from the inside of the structure, starting with the holiest place, an ark of shittim wood with gold both inside and outside. The holy tablets would be kept in the ark. Poles were attached to the ark to allow it to be carried.
Two cherubim, gold figures (usually pictured as children, but some mystics see them as a male and a female) are to be placed above the ark. The cherubim would face each other, their wings touching above their heads. Later, when God would speak to Moses, God's voice would appear from between the faces of the cherubim.
The description continues with a seven-branched candelabra made of solid gold. There is a table and an altar. The tent is surrounded by acacia wood and curtains. Every detail is given, down to the clasps that hold the curtains up.
Issue #1 - Covering Up
"And you shall hang up the veil from the clasps, that you may bring in there inside the veil the ark of the Testimony; and the veil shall separate for you between the holy place and the most holy" (Exodus 26:33)
- If you were to see a Torah lying uncovered in the sanctuary, what would your first reaction be? Most Jews say that they would place a cover over the scroll. Why? To cover is the first step of holiness.
- In this week's portion we learn the ideal of achieving holiness by covering up. The entire tabernacle is covered by heavy curtains. God commands Moses to build a special partition to separate the holiest spot in the structure from the rest of the tabernacle. "Make a partition of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool, together with twisted linen" (Exodus 26:31). Only the finest quality material is used to set the Holy of Holies apart from the rest of the tabernacle.
- In the context of the tabernacle, separating and covering up were significant parts of how the Israelites demonstrated what was holy. Centuries later, in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies was off limits. The only exception was made for the High Priest and even he had access only to that area on Yom Kippur. The people Israel truly was in awe of that moment when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Each person knew a mistake made when he was inside the covered-up area could create havoc. When the High Priest successfully exited the Holy of Holies was a time for joy and celebration. The tension and joy of the moment is described in the liturgy of Yom Kippur's Avodah service.
- This is not the world in which we live. We seem to have lost this sense of holiness. One proof seems to be that these days nothing is covered. On television, in the movies, in newspapers and magazines, everything is lived in the open. Reality shows and tabloids reveal all there is to reveal. Contrast today's attitude to the one reflected in the Garden of Eden. In that early time, Adam and Eve initially were "naked and not ashamed." But after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they covered themselves. Covering the body leaves a sense of mystery as well as modesty. In Hebrew, the term for an improper sexual encounter is gilui arayot, uncovering nakedness. How can we teach our people to discover the holiness at their fingertips, practically demonstrated by keeping covered?
Issue #2 - Inside and Outside
"And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and shall make upon it a rim of gold around it" (Exodus 25:11)
- The ark, as the holiest part of the tabernacle, was overlaid with gold. It is easy to understand the gold covering on the outside, where people could see it. But why was there gold on the inside?
- The Talmud (Yoma 72b) teaches, "Rava said, Any scholar whose inside is not like his outside, is not truly a scholar." What does this teaching mean? We should strive for consistency; the kind of person we are on the outside should match or be reflection of the kind of person we are on the inside. We use the word "hypocrisy" for people who present themselves one way to the outside world and while being very different on the inside. What is wrong with hypocrisy? But no one can always be exactly the same inside and out. Sometimes people are just inconsistent. What is the difference between hypocrisy and inconsistency?
- Just as the altar was overlaid with gold both inside and out, in order to have a consistent look, we must strive to overlay ourselves with a gold heart on the inside that matches the gold face we show on the outside. How do we develop these qualities on the inside? What inner virtues should we develop within ourselves?