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Torah Sparks

Parashat Terumah
February 16, 2013 – 6 Adar 5773

Annual: Exodus 25:1-27:19 (Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 326)
Triennial: Exodus 26:31-27:19 (Etz Hayim p. 495; Hertz p. 333)
Haftarah: 1 Kings 5:26-6:13 (Etz Hayim p. 500; Hertz p. 336)

Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
(Temple Emanuel of North Jersey; Franklin Lakes, NJ)

Parashat Terumah opens with a call for Israelites whose hearts so move them to contribute gifts for the construction and upkeep of the sanctuary. The sanctuary is described in detail, along with many of the accoutrements and ritual objects used there. Among the items used in construction and decoration of the Tabernacle are a variety of exotic materials: dolphin skins and lapis lazuli, for example. Among the appurtenances of the sanctuary described in our parashah are the ephod and breastplate used by the priest; the ark, its cover adorned with cherubim; and the sanctuary table. Gold bowls, ladles, and jugs were for use on the table, which is where the bread offering was placed. The brass altar and its implements also are described.

The construction of the Tabernacle itself, which was based on the design revealed to Moses atop Mount Sinai, is described with attention to fine detail. Every loop, plank, peg, socket and hook is specified. Curtains and screens separate the Holy of Holies from the surrounding sanctuary and courtyard.

Theme #1: "If you build it…"

"And let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8)

Derash: Study

"They asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk where the sanctuary of the Holy One is to be found. He answered, 'Wherever we let Him in.'" (Nachalat Chamishah)

"It is the duty of every Jew to bring holiness into his own home, to make one's personal life, the tenor and atmosphere in one's home, absolutely suffused with holiness. Then 'I shall dwell among them' – Your home will become the sanctuary of God." (Rabbi Menachem of Amshinov)

"'That I may dwell among them.' Or, 'that I may dwell within them,' in reference to the Jewish People, implying that it is a duty for each and every one of the Children of Israel to make a sanctuary within his own heart, a place in which the Holy Presence may dwell. If all Jews build such a tabernacle within their hearts, the Lord will dwell within the heart of each and every one of them." (Moshe ben Chaim Alshekh)

"There is no sanctuary of virtue like home." (Edward Everett)

"Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing." (Rachel Naomi Remen)

Questions for Discussion

The Kotzker and Amshinover Rebbes – as well as Edward Everett (a Massachusetts congressman, born in 1794) – all seem to agree: the home is a sanctuary of unrivalled significance and spiritual power. What are the critical elements in maintaining the sanctity of the Jewish home? How do we let the Holy One in?

How does Alshekh's notion of a sanctuary within one's own heart differ from the idea of home as sanctuary? Are the two perspectives complementary? What does it mean to have God dwell in your heart? When have you sensed God's in-dwelling Presence?

The silent "place of refuge" described by Dr. Remen is not explicitly termed a "sanctuary"… yet provides a fine definition of that sacred institution. What makes a place (or a person) a sanctuary? Is a sanctuary a source of personal solace and perspective – the "strength on which to build a life"… or a function of what "we bring to another person"? What (or who) is your most meaningful and sought-after sanctuary: your Holy of Holies?

What is the significance of the obligation actively to build – rather than simply to designate or to discover – a sanctuary? How does this mandate relate to the other sanctuaries of our experience: our homes and the people we most trust and love?

Theme #2: "I have just created something totally illogical… That's what I like about it."

"They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold – overlay it inside and out – and make upon it a gold molding round about." (Exodus 25:10-11)

Derash: Study

"Overlay it inside and out; Raba said: 'A scholar (Talmid Chacham) whose inside is not like his outside is not a true scholar.'" (Talmud, Yoma)

"Only the purest and most precious metal was used in connection with the Holy of Holies. The Ark was overlaid with gold inside, where it was not visible to the eye, as well as outside where it was visible; to teach us that man must be as pure in mind and heart as he appears pure in outward manner and bearing." (Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz)

If the Ark is supposed to represent a Talmid Chacham, why is it not made of solid gold? What is the acacia wood doing there altogether? Should not the Torah scholar be pure, rather than veneered with spiritual beauty? …We must understand that as holy as we can become on the outside and on the inside, we nevertheless remain, and should remain, human beings! Our core is not gold, but wood, which represents our humanness. If we become so holy as to become totally spiritual, then we no longer have a place in this world, only in the world to come… The humanness within us is to be treasured. It is our job to sanctify it and cover it with gold." (Rabbi Yaacov Haber)

"She is mine own, and I as rich in having such a jewel as twenty seas, if all their sand were pearl, the water nectar, and the rocks pure gold." (William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona)

"Great thoughts and a pure heart, that is what we should ask from God." (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)

"All that is gold does not glitter." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

"Gold is the color heaven, of beautiful angels dancing beneath the brilliant laughing sun…. Gold feels like Joy and Hope… the tears of joy it brings, the strength that stands for Eternity." (Kelsey S.)

Questions for Discussion

Shakespeare's loving tribute is remarkably reminiscent of Akdamut, the 11th Century Aramaic paean to God chanted on Shavuot ("Were all the skies parchment and all the reeds pens and all the oceans ink, and all who dwell on earth scribes, His grandeur could not be told.)" How does romantic love help us more fully to understand our relationship to God? How can we draw on our love of God, the better to relate to those with whom we share our most loving and intimate human bonds?

Consider the "debate" between Raba (together with Rabbi Hertz) and Rabbi Haber. Is it crucial that our "insides" and "outsides" coincide? Or should we strive for a "gold standard" of, e.g., kindness, generosity, supportiveness, deference, and attention… even when – on the inside – we are less than genuinely eager, engaged, and motivated? Must we truly be "pure gold"… or is it sufficient at times discreetly and artfully to compensate for our "acacia wood core"?! What measures are we to take in order to accommodate the human limitations of others, especially those we love?

Why gold?! What is the symbolic significance of the composition of the Ark and its purity? Great thoughts? Joy? Hope? "The strength that stands for Eternity"? How does Tolkien provide an important corrective to his fellow poets, Goethe and Kelsey S. (a high school student!!)?

To what specific religious, moral, or personal issues might Rabbi Hertz be alluding in his discussion of behavior that is "visible" and that which is "not visible to the eye"? Are there moral challenges unique to the "Talmid Chacham"? What earns an individual this lofty status? What motivates any of us to be "good as gold" when no one is looking and there are – ostensibly – no "consequences"?

Historic Note (a personal message from Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser)

Today, February 16, 2013, as Parashat Terumah is being read, my daughter, Shira Yaffa Prouser, and her fiancé, Avraham Aryeh Kravitz, will be celebrating their approaching marriage with an aufruf, together with the bridegroom's congregation in Philadelphia. On February 16, 1786, James Monroe – delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and future Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, and President of the United States – married the beautiful 17-year-old Elizabeth Kortright of New York. During Monroe's tenure at the embassy in Paris, the French referred to his bride as "la belle Americaine." Historians insist that young James married Miss Kortright purely out of sincere love, as the father of the bride had lost his fortune during the Revolutionary War! Today, as bride and groom worship with their community and listen to Parashat Terumah being chanted, may they remember the words of Midrash Shemot Rabbah 23:5… "B'eizeh zechut omrim Yisrael SHIRA? B'zechut AVRAHAM" -- "By what merit does the People Israel sing SHIRA (songs of praise)? By the merit of AVRAHAM." May they be blessed with true love, many reasons to sing God's praises, and the faith of Avraham Avinu.

Halachah L'Maaseh

Parashat Terumah opens with a description of gifts of gold, silver, and bronze, contributed to the Tabernacle by Israelites "whose hearts so moved them" (Exodus 25:2-3). The groom's similarly loving gift of a ring to his bride (though nowhere mentioned in the Talmud) has been a standard element of the Jewish wedding since at least the seventh century. (See Rabbi Isaac Klein, Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 402; Rabbi Isadore Epstein, The Responsa of Rabbi Solomon Ben Adreth [Rashba] of Barcelona, p. 83; Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer 27:1, Rema ad loc.). The ring must have some intrinsic value, and should be made of plain metal: customarily without stones (See Even ha-Ezer 31:2; Rabbi Isaac Klein suggests that the exclusion of stones is a recognition that true wealth and fortune derive not from gems or material goods, but "when marriage is based on mutual understanding and affection, and is consecrated and governed by a religious and moral way of life," p. 403). Some authorities state a preference for gold wedding rings… some, specifically for yellow gold, so as to minimize confusion or misunderstanding regarding the value of the gift (See Rabbi Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage). In practice, as at the Tabernacle, any material of value is acceptable. (Notwithstanding the common use of a ring, in fact, any object of value may be used as the gift to establish "betrothal." Rashba mentions the use of fruit and a prayerbook; Rabbi Yitzchak ben Aba Mari, the 12th century French Tosafist, records the practice of the bridegroom effecting betrothal over a cup of wine in which a ring has been placed!) The wedding ring must be presented with the prescribed verbal declaration, and accepted – just as the gold for God's Sanctuary was given – with a willing heart… all in the presence of duly designated and qualified witnesses. Mazal Tov!!

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