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Torah Sparks

February 9, 2008 – 3 Adar I 5768

Annual: Ex. 25:1 – 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Triennial: Ex. 25:1 – 25:40 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Haftarah: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 500; Hertz p. 336)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to bring gifts – precious metals, fine fabrics, skins, wood, oil, spices, and jewels – for the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary, and its furnishings. God says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

God then provides detailed instructions for the ark and its cover, the table, and the menorah. Next, there are the instructions for making the mishkan’s coverings – layers of cloth, goats’ hair, and skins, from inside to outside. Next, the wooden structure of planks and silver and gold fittings is described.

The mishkan also was to have a curtain to partition off the Holy of Holies and a screen for its entrance. The altar of wood overlaid with bronze was to be placed outside the screen. The entire mishkan was to be surrounded by an enclosure made of linen curtains supported by wooden planks with bronze and silver fittings.

Just Do It

Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. (Shemot 25:2)

  1. Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts – As soon as Israel said, “We will do and listen,” God immediately told Moses, Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu). The Baal Shem Tov said: If a person feels an urge to perform a commandment, he should take this urge and convert it to action, or else the urge will soon disappear without a trace This we see in Aicha 3:41, Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in heaven – a person must transform the feeling in his heart into action with his hands, so that the feeling should not go to waste. Therefore, following all the enthusiasm that resulted from the receiving of the Torah, God said to Moses, “Take this enthusiasm and transform it into action – by building the Sanctuary.” (Sadeh Margalit)
  2. [The King of the Khazars], as we know from historical records, became a convert to Judaism about four hundred years ago. Once while he was dreaming, it appeared as if an angel addressed him, saying: “Your intentions are pleasing to the Creator, but not your actions.” (Kuzari [Rabbi Yehudah haLevi, 1080-1141, Spain])
  3. Rabbi Hanin of Sepphoris said [about a mound of earth], What does one who is slow-witted say? “Who,” he says, “can ever clear away such a mound?” But what does he who is intelligent say? “I will clear away two basketsfuls today and two basketsfuls tomorrow, until I have cleared it away entirely.” So also he who is slow-witted says, “How can I learn the entire Torah – Nezikin with its thirty chapters, Kelim with its thirty chapters?” But what does he who is intelligent say? “I will study two halakhot today and two halakhot tomorrow, until I have learned the entire Torah, all of it.” (Vayikra Rabbah 19:2)
  4. Shimon ben Rabban Gamliel taught: Not study, but action, is the essence of the matter. (Avot 1:17)

Sparks for Discussion

From time to time, each of us is filled with enthusiasm to do something new or to change the way we live – to learn Talmud, to reconnect with distant family members, to become shomer Shabbat, to begin a regular exercise program. With the best of intentions we declare our goals. But then, we think about how busy we already are or realize how large the task we have set ourselves is, and six months or a year later, all that is left is “I really, truly meant to do it.”

The Baal Shem Tov points out the critical importance of transforming enthusiasm and good intentions into actions. The question is, how do we do this? Rabbi Hanin of Sepphoris suggests one approach. Does this make sense to you? Can you think of others? How can you best go about turning your intentions into accomplishments?

Home, Sweet Home

The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: They shall not be removed from it. (Exodus 25:15)

  1. According to the simple meaning, there was no need for these poles to be removed because there was no bother or difficulty involved, since they were in the Holy of Holies where there were no people going in and out, only the Kohen Gadol who entered four times on one day of the year (Yom Kippur). But concerning the bronze altar, which was placed in the courtyard where everyone came and went, if its poles remained in place, the passersby would be inconvenienced. (Hizkuni [Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah, mid-13th century, France])
  2. The ark is the dwelling place of the Torah, our foundation and glory, and we have to show it the greatest reverence and respect. We are bidden not to remove its poles, since we might be called upon to go forth with the ark in haste, and in the hurry of the moment forget to examine whether the poles are properly secured and, God forbid, the ark might slip from our hold. If the poles are always secured in their place such a thing could never happen, since the ark would always be ready for transportation. (Sefer HaHinukh [attributed to Rabbi Aharon of Barcelona, 13th century, Spain])
  3. The poles, the means of conveying the ark, symbolically represent the command and the mission to carry the ark and its contents, if it becomes necessary, away from the precincts of its present position. The command that these means of transport may never be lacking is to emphasize in our minds the fact that from the very beginning it must be made clear that this Torah and its mission is in no way bound or confined to the place or existence at any time of the Temple and Sanctuary. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)

Sparks for Discussion

While the table and the two altars were also transported using poles, it was only the ark whose poles were permanent fixtures. Hizkuni suggests that God didn’t want to inconvenience the people entering and leaving the sanctuary by making them walk around the protruding poles – something to keep in mind in designing our own sacred spaces. Sefer HaHinukh calls to mind the story of Uzzah (Shmuel Bet 6:6-7, also the haftarah for Shemini). Rabbi Hirsch focuses on the symbolic rather than the practical.

The Jewish-born German poet Heinrich Heine called the Torah the portable homeland of the Jewish people. How does this fit with Hirsch’s understanding? Do you believe this is true? Can you think of times and places where this has been true? How does the existence of the State of Israel figure into the equation?

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