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Torah Sparks

Parashat Terumah – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
February 1, 2014 – 1 Adar I 5774

Annual (Exodus 25:1-27:19): Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 326
Triennial (Exodus 25:1-40): Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 326
Maftir (Numbers 28:9-15): Etz Hayim p.930; Hertz p. 695
Haftarah (Isaiah 66:1-24, 23): Etz Hayim p. 1220; Hertz p. 944

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

The concept of the Tabernacle, the portable shrine, is introduced as a place for God to dwell among the Israelites. The people are asked to bring fine materials for the sanctuary. The Mishkan is to include an ark topped with a golden slab attended by two golden cherubs; a table; a candelabrum (menorah); a layered roof; curtains; an altar; and an enclosure. The dimensions and descriptions of all of these items are explained in fine detail.

Theme #1: Giving Until it Feels Good

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. (Exodus 25:1-2)

Even though the Tabernacle is a Divine command, not every Israelite is expected to be a part of the process; but somehow, the Mishkan must be built.

The Tabernacle, which was built with donations that were wholehearted, was impervious to the evil eye. The Temple, which was built with donations that were collected halfheartedly, was (eventually) destroyed by the enemy’s hand. -- Midrash HaGadol

At least at the time when you are occupied with doing commandments, separate yourselves and your souls entirely for God. A person should not set about doing sacred business with a heart full of avarice, caught up in the material world. Rather, let him purify his heart and his thoughts for what is holy. And this is the meaning of "and you shall take," that is,"when you take yourselves." "For Me" refers to "for My sake, for the sake of fulfilling My commandments." "Terumah," as Rashi and Onkelos suggest, means "you shall be separate and set apart from the vanities of this world." -- Simcha Bunem of Przysucha

It is said in the name of Rabbi Samuel son of Rabbi Isaac that the thought of creating Israel preceded all else. Had not the Holy One foreseen that after 26 generations Israel would accept the Torah, He would not have written in the Torah: “Command the children of Israel” (Numbers 5:2) or “Tell the Israelite people” (Exodus 25:2). -- Genesis Rabbah 1:4

Questions for Discussion:

Midrash HaGadol claims that the Mishkan was built in a pure way, with willing donations from the public, as opposed to the Temple, which was a less inclusive venture. Why is it important to give willingly, even if we were give the same amount of money in a reluctant fashion? Is there a problem with giving more money unwillingly rather than giving less money willingly? Does willing giving help to shape our personalities for the better?

To Simcha Bunem of Przysucha, the Israelites are commanded to give a terumah for the sake of remaining unique. Is there a difference between giving tzedakah because we are commanded and giving tzedakah because we decide on our own that it is the right thing to do? What does it mean to give in a “Jewish way?” Does giving in a Jewish way mean giving to primarily Jewish causes? By giving in $18 increments? By giving to Israel or endeavors that benefit Israel? By giving to one’s local Jewish community? Can one give Jewishly to a secular charitable cause?

Genesis Rabbah uses a seemingly innocuous quote from the beginning of the Torah portion to show that the creation of Israel was God’s initial priority. This is different from other midrashim that claim that the Torah was created before everything else. Why would our Sages deem this to be an important subject? If we agreed that Israel was created before everything else, what does it imply about the rest of creation? And what if we agreed that Torah was created first?

Theme #2: Extreme Makeover: Mishkan Edition

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

Perhaps responding to the Israelites’ fearful reaction during the revelation at Mount Sinai, God expresses a desire to get closer to the Chosen People -- and for God, the Tabernacle represents the perfect opportunity.

Moses and the children of Israel came and built the Tabernacle and its sacred vessels. They repaired the broken channels [linking the lower and upper worlds] until living water flowed again. Then the Shechina returned to dwell in the lower spheres. But now She dwelt in the Tent of Meeting, and not on the ground, as at the beginning of Creation. That is the meaning of the verse “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” -- Zohar

Should not the text read: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within it (i.e., the sanctuary)?” The explanation “that I may dwell within them” refers to the Jewish people, and implies that it is the duty of 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 the Jews build such a tabernacle within their hearts, The Lord will dwell within the heart of each and every one of them. -- Moses ben Hayyim Alshekh

Why do we always refer to God as “The Place”? Because He provides space to the world, but the world is not His space, as it says, “There is a place within Me” (Exodus 33:21). -- Genesis Rabbah

Questions for Discussion:

The Zohar understands that the Tabernacle’s purpose is for the Shechina (a manifestation of God’s presence) to reside among the general Israelite population, not just in the Tent of Meeting, a place primarily for conversations between God and Moses. Why is it important for a leader to spend time among the “common” people? What do the people gain from such interactions? What does the leader gain? Are there any negative aspects of these interactions?

To Moses ben Hayyim Alshekh, the Tabernacle is not only a physical building, but also a metaphor for the connection between an individual Jew and his/her relationship with God. How can a building inspire us to change our perspective? What are the most inspiring buildings that you have seen? Have some of them been synagogues, other Jewish buildings, other places of worship? What qualities make a building inspiring? Or should we not rely on physical spaces to inspire us?

Genesis Rabbah’s comment may be understood as a theory that the Tabernacle is a physical expression of God’s presence, not necessarily as a place where God will actually dwell. When considering the directions for building the Mishkan as detailed in this Torah portion, is the Tabernacle an adequate metaphor for God? If not, does an adequate metaphor exist?

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