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Torah Sparks

Parashat Terumah
February 20, 2010 – 6 Adar 5770

Annual (Ex. 25:1-27:19): Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 326
Triennial (Ex. 26:31-27:19): Etz Hayim p. 495; Hertz p. 333
Haftarah (1 Kings 5:26-613): Etz Hayim p. 500; Hertz p. 336

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, NJ

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 portable sanctuary – the Mishkan – and its furnishings. God says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

God gives them 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 the silver and gold fittings are 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.

1. The Way of Atonement

You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide – the altar is to be square – and three cubits high. (Exodus 27:1)

  1. A. The Holy Blessed One said to Moses, “Tell them that they should make the altar of burnt offering so that it will provide atonement for the sins of My children, for this is what I ordained with Abraham their father, that if his children would sin, I would forgive them by means of sacrifices, as it is said, ‘Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat’” (Genesis 15:9) What is mizbeah (altar)? Mem – mehilah (forgiveness), zayin – zechut (merit), bet – berakhah (blessing), het – chayyim (life) Shittim (acacia): Shin – shalom (peace), tet – tovah (goodness), yud – yeshua (salvation), mem – mehilah (forgiveness). (Tanhuma, Terumah 10
  2. God foresaw that the Temple would be destroyed, and He said, “While the Temple exists, and you bring sacrifices, the Temple atones for you; when the Temple is not there, what shall atone for you? Busy yourselves with the words of the Torah, for they are equivalent to sacrifices, and they will atone for you.” (Tanhuma Buber, Ahare Mot 35a)
  3. It happened that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai went out from Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yehoshua followed him, and he saw the burnt ruins of the Temple, and he said, “Woe is it that the place where the sins of Israel found atonement is laid waste.” Then Rabbi Yohanan said, “Grieve not, we have an atonement equal to the Temple, the doing of deeds of chesed (loving-kindness),” as it is said, “For I desire chesed, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6)
  4. Rabbi Eleazar also said: Prayer is more efficacious than offerings, as it says, “What need have I of all your sacrifices?” (Isaiah 1:11) and this is followed by, “And when you lift up your hands (in prayer)” (Isaiah 1:15). [The latter verse supersedes the former.] (Talmud Berakhot 32b)
  5. Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Eleazar both explain that as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man’s table atones for him. (Talmud Berakhot 55a)

Sparks for Discussion

During the time of the Mishkan and the Temple, a person could bring a sacrifice to atone for an inadvertent sin. What do you imagine the person who did this experienced? Our commentators suggest several alternate ways of atoning for sins once sacrifices were no longer possible. Which of these do you believe is the most effective, from the human point of view? Do you think that any or all of these have the emotional impact of bringing an animal sacrifice? In what ways does “a man’s table” atone for him?

2. The Brazen Altar

Make its horns on the four corners, the horns to be of one piece with it, and overlay it with copper [better: bronze]. (Exodus 27:2)

  1. To atone for brazenness, as it is said: “Because I know how stubborn you are (your neck is like an iron sinew and your forehead bronze).” (Isaiah 48:4) (Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), 1040-1105, France)
  2. Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai: A man who has haughtiness within him is as though he had worshipped an idol, for Scripture says, “Every haughty person is an abomination to the Lord” (Mishlei 16:5), and says elsewhere of an idol, “You must not bring an abomination into your house” (Devarim 7:26). On his own authority, Rabbi Yohanan said: A person who is guilty of such haughtiness is as one who denies the Root of the universe, for of him it is said, “Beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God” (Devarim 8:14). (Talmud Sotah 4b)
  3. Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav: When a man boasts, if he is a sage, his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet, his gift of prophecy departs from him. (Talmud Pesahim 66b)
  4. Our masters taught: Adam was created on the eve of Shabbat. Why? So that if a person’s opinion of himself should become overweening, he would be reminded that the gnat preceded him in the order of creation. (Talmud Sanhedrin 38a)
  5. A sage was once asked: “How come you are accepted as the undisputed leader of your generation?” He replied: “I have never met any person in whom I did not detect some quality in which he was superior to me... If he was less wise than I, I considered that on the Day of Judgment he will be held less accountable than I, for my transgressions were committed with full knowledge, while his were committed in error. If he was older, I would reason that the merit that he already acquired must exceed mine. If he was younger, I calculated that his sins were fewer than mine... If the man was richer, then perhaps his wealth has enabled him to surpass me in serving God [through acts of charity]. If he was poorer, I would consider him to be contrite and of a humbler spirit than I. Thus, I honored all men and humbled myself before them.” (Hovot Ha-levavot (Bahya ibn Pekuda), 1050-1120, Spain)
  6. Every person must have two pockets. In one of them he must carry a slip of paper that says, “The world was created for me,” while the other must carry a slip that says, “I am but dust and ashes.” The secret, though, is knowing how to use each of them, in the right place and at the right time, for unfortunately many people use them in the reverse order of what is needed. (Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, 1765-1827, Poland)

Sparks for Discussion

Why do you think Rashi considers brazenness a sin that requires atonement? Our commentators condemn pride and praise humility. How can we learn to be less haughty? Is it possible to be too humble? How and where do you draw the line between healthy self-esteem and sinful arrogance?

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