It’s (Never) Too Little and (Never) Too Late
ועשו ארון עצי שטים
“And they shall make an Ark of acacia wood.” (Shemot 25:10)
Parshat Terumah introduces us to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which G-d commanded the Jewish people to build as a resting place for the Shechinah (Divine Presence). G-d instructed Moses regarding all of the vessels of the Mishkan, detailing their appearance, dimensions, and the material from which they should be made.
For each of the vessels, G-d gave the command to Moses in the first-person singular: “You shall make a Menorah.” “You shall make an Altar.” “You shall make a Table.” The commentaries point out one curious exception. The commandment regarding the construction of the Aron (Holy Ark), which housed a Torah scroll and the Tablets which Moses received at Mount Sinai, was given in the third-person plural: “And they shall make an Ark.” Why was the Holy Ark different? Why did G-d emphasize that all of the Jewish people should be involved in its construction?
Perhaps an insight into understanding this difficulty can be gleaned from a powerful story told by Rabbi Yissochar Frand about a Jewish boxer at the most recent Siyum HaShas (celebration of the completion of the study of the entire Talmud).
The boxer had a son, who grew up ignorant of Judaism. As the boxer’s son grew up, he became interested in learning more about his roots and began studying with great diligence in a local yeshiva. When he came home each night, he engrossed himself in the review of that day’s Talmudic studies. His father couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating and enjoyable about the study of the Talmud. Eventually, the father begged his son to teach him, but the son dismissed him, explaining that he didn’t even know Hebrew and certainly couldn’t understand a page of difficult Aramaic text. The father pressed his son to at least give him a taste by teaching him just one daf (page) of Talmud. The son relented, but it was a long, arduous project. Line by line they continued, plodding forward until after one year they realized their goal and completed one full daf.
The father wanted to make a siyum to celebrate, but the son explained that one must complete an entire tractate to make a siyum. The father persisted with his request, and the son agreed to ask Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the leading legal authority of the generation. Rabbi Feinstein ruled that under the circumstances it was permissible to make a siyum, and even insisted on attending.
The night after the siyum, the boxer died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rabbi Feinstein commented that just as the Talmud states that some people acquire their portion in the World to Come through one deed, this man acquired it through one daf.
In light of this story, we can appreciate an answer to our question given by many commentators. The Aron, with the Torah scroll and Tablets inside, represents the study of Torah. Just as every Jew has his portion in Torah study, every Jew contributed to the building of the holy ark.
Every one of us has his own unique share in the Torah. It may be completing the entire Talmud, it may be finishing one daf, and it may be studying on the phone for one hour a week. The key is to remember Rabbi Frand’s message: “whatever we do, it’s never too little, it’s never too late, and it’s never enough.”
The Beauty Within
ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת
“And you shall make two golden cherubim; you shall make them of hammered work, from the two ends of the ark cover” (Shemot 25:18).
Many of the vessels required for service in the Tabernacle were made with engravings, including the Holy Ark. Engraved on the lid of the Ark were the two cherubim, which represented the love between G-d and the Jews. When the Jews expressed their love of G-d by following His laws and ways, the cherubim would face each other; when they were not acting in a loving way to G-d, the cherubim would face away from each other.
The Torah stipulates that the cherubim couldn’t be made separately and then attached to the lid; rather they had to be engraved together with the lid out of one huge block of gold. Why couldn’t the work be done in a simpler fashion by just adding the engraved pieces to the small lid?
The Torah is teaching us a powerful lesson: All the tools required for a loving relationship with G-d are already inside us. We do not need to build something onto ourselves; rather, we need to uncover something that is presently internal.
For this reason the Torah stipulates that the symbols of G-d’s loving relationship with the Jews be engraved from one solid block of gold. By doing so, the beauty is revealed, not fashioned separately and then attached.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells the story of a young Jewish boy in the 1970s. He found no warmth in Jewish life in the big city, but he loved the outdoors. He headed out West and found himself drawn to the open lifestyles of the Blackfoot Indians and joined them on a reservation. He lived there for years, living in a teepee, participating in all their religious powwows, working in the fields, and becoming fluent in the Sioux language. He thought he’d found what his heart had always desired.
But eventually, he once again began to yearn for meaning, and found himself pondering the big existential questions that drove him away in the first place. His mentor, Whitecalf, told him of Elva Onefeather, a seer living in the higher elevations of Ogallala, South Dakota, who was was known for her legendary insight. She lived in such a remote place that there were no roads to approach her, so this young man traveled through the wilderness for a number of days accompanied by nothing but his faithful dog, Chika. He finally came to the remote outpost where Elva lived and after three days of waiting was allowed to meet with her privately. Her message was, “You are not one of us. Go back to where you belong and study your roots. That’s where you will find your meaning.”
Although initially he was devastated, eventually he did return to his roots, and through an equally incredible story found his way back to a rich, meaningful life, embracing Judaism with love and passion.
This young man learned the lesson of the cherubim: He didn’t need to find an external source of fulfillment; he only needed to discover and enhance the beauty that had always been there inside.
Many of the vessels required for service in the Tabernacle were made with engravings, including the Holy Ark. Engraved on the lid of the Ark were the two cherubim, which represented the love between G-d and the Jews. When the Jews expressed their love of G-d by following His laws and ways, the cherubim would face each other; when they were not acting in a loving way to G-d, the cherubim would face away from each other. The Torah stipulates that the cherubim couldn’t be made separately and then attached to the lid; rather they had to be engraved together with the lid out of one huge block of gold. Why couldn’t the work be done in a simpler fashion by just adding the engraved pieces to the small lid? The Torah is teaching us a powerful lesson: All the tools required for a loving relationship with G-d are already inside us. We do not need to build something onto ourselves; rather, we need to uncover something that is presently internal. For this reason the Torah stipulates that the symbols of G-d’s loving relationship with the Jews be engraved from one solid block of gold. By doing so, the beauty is revealed, not fashioned separately and then attached. Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells the story of a young Jewish boy in the 1970s. He found no warmth in Jewish life in the big city, but he loved the outdoors. He headed out West and found himself drawn to the open lifestyles of the Blackfoot Indians and joined them on a reservation. He lived there for years, living in a teepee, participating in all their religious powwows, working in the fields, and becoming fluent in the Sioux language. He thought he’d found what his heart had always desired. But eventually, he once again began to yearn for meaning, and found himself pondering the big existential questions that drove him away in the first place. His mentor, Whitecalf, told him of Elva Onefeather, a seer living in the higher elevations of Ogallala, South Dakota, who was was known for her legendary insight. She lived in such a remote place that there were no roads to approach her, so this young man traveled through the wilderness for a number of days accompanied by nothing but his faithful dog, Chika. He finally came to the remote outpost where Elva lived and after three days of waiting was allowed to meet with her privately. Her message was, “You are not one of us. Go back to where you belong and study your roots. That’s where you will find your meaning.” Although initially he was devastated, eventually he did return to his roots, and through an equally incredible story found his way back to a rich, meaningful life, embracing Judaism with love and passion. This young man learned the lesson of the cherubim: He didn’t need to find an external source of fulfillment; he only needed to discover and enhance the beauty that had always been there inside.
והיו הכרובים פורשי כנפיים למעלה… ופניהם איש אל אחיו
“The cherubim shall be with wings spread upward… with their faces toward one another…” (Shemot 25:20).
The Talmud in Bava Batra (99a) points to a contradictory verse in Chronicles 2 (3:13) which states that the faces of the cherubim were “toward the walls” [of the Holy of Holies]. The Talmud resolves this contradiction by stating, “At a time when the people of Israel are doing the will of G-d [the cherubim] face one another, but when they are not, they face the walls.” Thus, the status of the cherubim was an expression of G-d’s level of satisfaction with His people.
If a sculptor were to attempt to represent the expression of the Jewish people performing G-d’s will, he would probably fashion a statue of a person piously facing the heavens in respectful obedience to the will of G-d. Likewise, the expression of transgressing G-d’s will would likely be a shameful, ashen-faced pauper. Yet the cherubim in the Holy of Holies were two human figures who faced each other when Israel was doing G-d’s will and who turned away from each other when they were not doing G-d’s will.
Rabbi Yitzchak Elchonon Spector explains that the cherubim were symbolic of the Jewish people. When Jews face each other, that is, when we look at each other with compassion and caring, when we support one another, we are being more than just good citizens; we are performing the will of the Creator in this world. Conversely, when people are shut inside their own walls, when we look only at ourselves and pursue only the fulfillment of our own needs, we are not only ignoring our responsibilities to our fellow man, but we are, in essence, violating the will of G-d.
This can also be seen from the beginning of the verse. We are told that while the cherubim faced each other, the wings were “spread upward.” It is no coincidence that when the Jewish people are united, our wings point towards the heavens. When instead of judging and looking down at each other we look toward one another for inspiration and growth, we can soar on a spiritual level and become even closer with G-d.
As parents, we know that nachat (pride and joy in one’s children) comes in many shapes and sizes. When a child succeeds in school or excels in some other way, we stand up and applaud. As good as that feels, we get much more nachat when we see our children looking out for one other, in the spirit of sharing and caring.
G-d is our Father. His truest pride comes not only when we pay attention to His commandments, but when we look out for our fellow Jews — our siblings — as well.
ועשית את הבדים עצי שטים וצפית אתם זהב ונשא בם את השלחן
“You shall make the staves of acacia wood and cover them with gold, and the Table shall be carried through them.” (Shemot 25:28)
In this week’s parsha, we learn about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The focus of the Tabernacle was the Ark which contained the two tablets that Moses brought down with him from Sinai. The Sages teach us that the Ark had a miraculous characteristic in that it carried those who carried it. This idea is derived from a subtle discrepancy between the Torah’s description of the staves that were placed in the Ark and the staves that were placed in the Table.
Concerning the Ark, the verse (Shemot 25:13-14) says, “You shall make staves of acacia wood and cover them with gold; and insert the staves in the rings on the sides of the Ark, with which to carry the Ark.” Regarding the Table, however, the verse (Ibid verse 28) says, “You shall make the staves of acacia wood and cover them with gold, and the Table shall be carried through them.” Why does the Torah write that the staves of the Ark are “with which to carry it,” implying that the Ark would not necessarily be carried, whereas regarding the Table the Torah states “and the Table shall be carried through them,” indicating that the Table would be carried?
Rabbi Yaacov Kranz (1740-1804), the famed itinerant lecturer known as the Maggid of Dubna, derives a valuable lesson from this unique feature of the Ark. He presented the following parable during one of his inspirational talks at a community synagogue. A man was once walking along a dirt road, practically dragging his feet while carrying a heavy load on his shoulder. To his great fortune, a wealthy Jew passed by in a wagon and was kind enough to offer him a ride. The exhausted hiker graciously accepted, climbed aboard, and quickly sat down, bringing much needed rest to his weary feet. Surprisingly, he kept the heavy sack he was carrying perched upon his shoulders. “Sir,” said the wagon owner, “why do you not put down your load?”
“I would not want to be even more trouble to you,” the man responded. “You were kind enough to have taken me aboard! I wouldn’t want to burden your horses with the additional weight of my sack.”
The wealthy man was bewildered by the man’s response. “Even if you carry the load, my horses are still carrying you and your packages! You are not accomplishing anything by carrying the load on your shoulders. Throw them down and let my horses do the work!”
The audience, which was laughing at the traveler, quickly quieted down as the Dubner Maggid looked at them sternly, and asked, “Are we really so different than this traveler? King David says ‘Throw your load onto G-d, and He will take care of you’ (Psalms 55:23). We need to realize that G-d carries us – and doesn’t need our help. We need to be more aware of how much He does to provide for us.”
Regarding the Ark, the verse says, “with which to carry it.” There are instances in the Torah when the Hebrew letter lamed at the beginning of a word is interpreted to mean that the action was attempted but was not accomplished. [See, for example,Shemot 7:24: “All of the Egyptians dug roundabout the River for water to drink (lishtos)…” Rabbi Nechemia, as explained by Malbim, maintains that the Egyptians only attempted to drink, but they were not able to because the well-waters beneath the surface were also plagued.]
We can similarly explain that the staves were placed on the side of the Ark to carry it, but they did not actually function in that capacity. Rather, the Ark carried and sustained the people. Those who acknowledge G-d as their sole provider reflect the Talmudic dictum that the Ark carried those who carried it. The Table, however, represents people who feel the need to constantly carry their loads with them. Thus, regarding the Table, the verse says “and the Table shall be carried through them,” implying that the people actually carried the Table.
In our lives, we are faced with the challenge of striking the right balance between working to earn a livelihood and recognizing that it is G-d Who is really carrying our burden. At times, we mistakenly believe that we are the ones who must carry the burden. The message of the Ark carrying itself reminds us that, while we have the responsibility of carrying the burden, it is ultimately G-d Who provides.
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
…ועשית מנרת זהב טהור מקשה תיעשה המנורה ירכה
You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made… (Shemot 25:31)
Despite being the greatest prophet of all time, Moses had difficulty understanding how to construct the Menorah for the Tabernacle. According to the Medrash, it took three separate attempts before the Menorah was constructed. First, G-d spoke to Moses and described the details of the Menorah. When Moses had difficulty understanding the complexities involved, G-d showed Moses an image of the Menorah in fire. Finally, when this also proved to be beyond Moses’ ability, G-d instructed Moses to throw the gold into the fire and the Menorah miraculously emerged fully formed.
The process, however, presents a fundamental question: Surely, G-d understood the limits of Moses’ ability before He commanded him to make the Menorah. What was the purpose of compelling Moses to try and fail twice instead of simply creating the Menorah miraculously in the first place? Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, author of the Sfas Emes commentary, answers that the process of building the Menorah was teaching a fundamental lesson about the manner in which G-d interacts with people and their struggles. We are often faced with challenges which initially seem beyond our capacity. Only after much effort do we reach that moment of inspiration when things fall into place. That moment is a gift from G-d, who stepped in to lend us a helping hand. As with the Menorah, such moments only happen after we have pushed ourselves to the limits of our abilities. If we give up in frustration, we may miss out on that final bit of Heavenly assistance that helps us reach our goal.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the greatest Torah scholars of our generation, was once confronted by a frustrated father whose son simply could not understand his lessons. The boy was far below the rest of his class and rapidly losing interest. The father was also ready to give up. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky gave the father advice with the following story:
Many years ago, there was a boy with a similar problem, and his father took him to a prominent Rabbi. The Rabbi suggested that the boy learn just one Mishna, but to work really hard on it, and then come back to the Rabbi to be tested on it. The boy followed through, and upon doing well on the test, received effusive praise from the Rabbi who then said, “Now, go and study another mishna!”
This continued for weeks until the boy eventually graduated to learning on a more advanced level. Eventually, the young boy’s mind clicked in and he began to devour his lessons much faster than he previously imagined possible. With time, the boy grew up to become a very learned Rabbi in his own right.
“Do you know how I know that story is true?” Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky concluded. “I was that little boy!”
To live is to overcome the challenges sent to us by G-d. Initially, anything that resides outside our present comfort zone will appear to be impossibly difficult to achieve. Yet, this is exactly the formula that G-d has created for us. Confronting the struggle itself is something to be valued, even more than the results. The more we struggle, the more we learn to cope with frustration, and the more we learn to cope with frustration, the more resilient we become – to face our future struggles.
This principle applies not just to ourselves, but to the people we are in a position to influence as well – employees, friends, spouses, students, children. Everyone has challenges that first appear too difficult or impossible to overcome. We are often tempted to allow them to give up and sometimes even do it for them! Neither offers a long-term solution. Rather, we should calibrate the challenge according to the person’s abilities and let them know that you don’t expect perfection. As long as they know that we are there for them, and then cheer them on as they try, we send a powerful message that they have the means to rise to any challenge they may encounter in life.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
The book of Shemot is known as the Book of the Exodus, and revolves around the theme of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. Why then does it discuss the building of the Tabernacle and the garments of the Kohanim at such great length instead of ending after the splitting of the Red Sea or the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, leaving these subjects to be included in Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) together with the other laws of sacrifices and Kohanim? (Introduction of the Ramban to the book of Exodus)
“G-d spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion. This is the portion that you shall take from them… They shall make for Me a Sanctuary – so that I may dwell among them…’” [Shemot 25:1-3, 8]
Here Moses is commanded to collect the materials that would be needed to construct the Tabernacle, which would be a continual “meeting place” for G-d to interact with the Jewish People.
1) If the gifts are meant to express generosity (“from every man whose heart motivates him”) and not a mandatory tax, why does the verse say, “This is the portion that you shall take from them”? If it is not mandatory, why would Moses have to “take” it from them?
2) G-d obviously does not need a dwelling place. What then could it mean to “make for Me a Sanctuary”?
3) The Torah is a timeless guide for living, not a “historical” document. What relevance then is there to us today to learn all the details about the structure of a Tabernacle that is no longer with us?
Q: Rashi writes (Shemot 25:2) that with regards to the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), no donations were mandatory, as G-d relied on the generosity of the Jews to supply the necessary materials. However, with respect to the communal sacrifices, He obligated every single Jew to contribute. Why in the latter case wasn’t G-d willing to trust that voluntary contributions would suffice? Wouldn’t the reverse have been more logical, as everybody recognizes that the sacrifices brought in the Mishkan were more precious to G-d than its physical structure?
A: Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin answered that G-d recognized that when it comes to collecting funds for the building of impressive edifices, people are quick to donate, but when additional funds are needed to maintain the buildings and help them accomplish their objectives, the money supply suddenly dries up. Indeed, when it came to building the Mishkan, so much gold and silver were voluntarily donated within a few short days that it was more than was necessary, and Moses was actually forced to proclaim that they should stop bringing more (Shemot 36:5-6). Nevertheless without the requirement that every Jew donate money for the purchase of communal sacrifices, G-d sadly recognized that the donations wouldn’t be sufficient to maintain the daily functioning of the Mishkan. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Our Rabbis teach (Shemot 25:8) that besides commanding the Jewish people to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), G-d also wants every individual Jew to build within himself a place for the Divine Presence to rest. This cannot simply mean that we should be holy, as this is taught elsewhere in the Torah. What could it mean to build a Mishkan within oneself?
They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8)
The Medrash cites a parable about a king who had an only child – a daughter. Another king married this daughter, and wanted to take her to his country. The first king said to him, “That daughter is my only child, and I am unable to separate from her. But alas, she is your wife and I cannot insist that you live nearby. But please do me a favor. Wherever you go, prepare a small area where I can live near you, because I cannot bear to be without my daughter. G-d said the same thing to the nation of Israel. “I have given you the Torah, but I cannot be separated from it. I cannot tell you not to take it, but rather every place you go, make Me a home that I can be there.” As it says, make me a Sanctuary. (Shemot Raba 33)
1) G-d created the entire world, and His many creations are all His children, so to speak. Why, then is the Torah compared to an only daughter?
2) As the Torah is not a physical object that can be given away, what could be meant by the idea that G-d would somehow “miss” the Torah after it was given to the Jewish nation?
3) As G-d is everywhere, why would having a special room make G-d more connected to the Torah?
The Torah details the instructions for assembling the Ark of the Covenant, which would hold the Tablets of the Law that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. The Ark was to measure one-and-a-half cubits high, one-and-a-half cubits wide, and two-and-a-half cubits long. It should be made of wood, yet must be plated in gold both outside and in. Like many of the utensils in the Tabernacle, the Ark was fitted with rings and carry-rods to enable the Levites to carry it (Shemot 25:10-22).
- Whole numbers have a symmetry and completeness that half numbers lack. And yet the Ark, which was to house G-d’s word, was specifically meant to be made up of half measurements. What could be the implications of such a specification?
- Once the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were placed into the Ark, it would stay closed forever, never to be reopened. Why bother with an inner gold plating that would never be seen?
- It is a prohibition to remove the carrying rods from the Ark. What message might the Torah have wanted to impress upon us by this?
Q: The Torah specifies (Shemot 25:23) that the table in the Mishkan was to be made specifically from עצי שטים – acacia wood. Why was this type of wood specifically chosen for this purpose?
A: Rabbeinu Bechaye notes that the letters spelling the word שטים are short for the words שלום ,טובה ,ישועה ,מחילה – peace, goodness, salvation, and forgiveness. This type of wood was also used in the Holy Ark and the altar, hinting to us that the Divine Service performed through these vessels was the source of bringing down all of these blessings to the world. In our day, however, when we unfortunately lack all of these items, what do we have in their stead through which we may merit the rewards and bounty that they brought? The Talmud (Chagigah 27a) derives from a verse in Ezekiel that in the absence of the Holy Temple, the generous opening up of a person’s table to serve the poor and other guests serves in lieu of the altar. The Talmud (Berachot 54b) adds that doing so is a merit for long life. Rabbeinu Bechaye mentions the fascinating custom of the pious men of France who had their burial caskets built from the wood of their tables. This symbolizes their recognition that upon dying, none of their earthly possessions would be accompanying them and the only item they could take with them was the merit of the charity and hosting of guests that they performed in their lifetimes. In fact, the Radomsker Rebbe, author of the Minchas Cohen, suggests that the letters in the word שלחן (table) are abbreviations for שומר לקבורה חסד נדיבותך – preserving for burial the kindness of your giving! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Rashi writes (Shemot 25:40) that because Moses had difficulty understanding the appearance of the menorah, G-d showed him a fiery illustration of how it should look. However, Rashi writes (Shemot 25:31) that even so, Moses had difficulty making the menorah. Ultimately, G-d told him to throw a block of gold into fire, and the menorah miraculously “made itself” and emerged complete. If G-d knew that in the end Moses would be unable to make it, why did He initially need to show him the fiery image and teach him all of the intricate laws regarding its appearance? (Ohr Gedalyahu by Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr, Mishmeres Ariel by Rabbi Shmaryahu Arieli)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
GIVE AND GET
“Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take for Me a tithe; from every man whose heart impels him to give, they shall take My tithe.” Shemot 25:2
And They Shall Take For Me – Moses should relate to the Jewish people that G-d’s desire is for them to appoint collectors who would gather the tithe from the people. Moses did just that, but the people refused to wait for the collectors to contact them and instead, rushed to donate a massive sum far in excess of their need. – Sforno (Rabbi Obadiah Sforno, 1475-1550)
Of all the challenges facing the Jewish people, donating to charity ranks near the bottom of the list. We’re a nation of givers, and hardly need encouragement in this realm. The greater challenge is learning to give in order to grow closer to G-d and not just to purchase “exemptions” from living a more meaningful lifestyle. This incident, the first recorded national charity drive, was a prime example of the ideal approach to charity. Using the monies collected, we constructed a Mishkan [tabernacle], and used it to deepen our connection and intensify our commitment to G-d and His Torah. Our willingness to give with an open hand was not just to satisfy a religious obligation, but also an expression of our inner desire to deepen our Jewish commitment.
SECLUDE OR INCLUDE?
“Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take for Me a separation/tithe; from every man whose heart impels him to give, they shall take My separation/tithe.” Shemot 25:2
Take for Me – The people shall contribute for the Tabernacle purely for the sake of G-d’s name, not due to social pressure or to gain honor. – Rashi
Approximately 200 years ago, there lived two pious and righteous Chassidic leaders, each of whom had many followers who revered him: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorkeh. Great as they were, the two could not have been more different in their approach to personal growth. Whereas the Kotzker Rebbe believed in total seclusion as a means of attaining piety and even did so for the last 25 years of his life, the Rebbe of Vorkeh frequently mingled among his followers, prayed alongside them, and greeted them with warmth and compassion. It happened that they once met each other during the week whose Torah portion was Terumah. The Rebbe of Vorkeh took the opportunity to inquire of Rabbi Menachem Mendel why he chose seclusion as his means of spiritual ascension, and Rabbi Mendel explained that a source for his behavior could be found in the first verse of that week’s parsha. “And they shall take” – A Jew who wishes to ascend; “for Me” – spiritually; “a separation” – He must separate himself from the masses. Not only from those who would lead him astray, but even “from every man whose heart impels him to give” – even those who are on a spiritual journey too; “they shall take My separation” – he shall separate himself from them as well. Only in this manner will he succeed in attaining the spiritual greatness to which he aspires.
The Rebbe of Vorkeh nodded his head and exclaimed, “I too, derive my approach from this verse. This, however, is how I understand the meaning of the verse: ‘And they shall take’ – A Jew who wishes to ascend, ‘for Me’ – spiritually, ‘a tithe’ – He must take a tithe from each and every person, i.e. He must be willing to mingle with the populace and learn from each person how to perfect his service of the Almighty. However, this is not a blanket permission to mingle with any and all. Rather, he must still maintain his distance from the evildoers and only maintain contact with ‘every man whose heart impels him to give.’ In this manner, he will succeed in ascending the spiritual heights of which he is capable
“And goat-skins that are dyed red, and Tachash skins and acacia wood.” Shemot 25:5
And acacia wood – From where would they have obtained acacia wood in the desert? Rabbi Tanchuma explains that the Patriarch Jacob envisioned through Divine Spirit that the Jewish people would one day have to construct a Tabernacle in the desert. Therefore, he brought acacias down to Egypt when he relocated and instructed his children to take them along when they left Egypt. – Rashi quoting Midrash Tanchumah
Ibn Ezra is troubled by this explanation, because our excuse for leaving was to worship our G-d for three days in the desert. How could we have justified taking enormous acacia planks out with us for this purpose? Therefore, Ibn Ezra suggests that perhaps there was a forest of acacia trees in the desert which they cut down to build huts for themselves, and later used that wood to construct the Tabernacle. (See also Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor, who cites additional support for Ibn Ezra and Gur Arye, resolving his questions on Rashi.)
Perhaps both opinions can be reconciled in the following manner: Jacob planted acacias in Egypt and left instructions for his children to take acacias along when they left. Indeed, they did take along a small number of them, because more than that would have proved suspicious in the eyes of the Egyptians. For larger quantities, however, they relied upon the forest of acacia trees that they found in the desert.
The question remains, however, if they could not remove sufficient quantities from Egypt, why bother altogether? Why not simply rely upon the acacia they would find later? Perhaps Jacob intended to impart to his children a very important message. He knew that they’d soon be enslaved and come perilously close to losing their Jewish identity altogether. Therefore he desired to leave them with a symbol of a brighter future, to which they would always be able to look forward. To this end, he planted acacia trees and instructed them to tend to them until they would leave and build a Tabernacle for the Almighty. The knowledge that this was in their future served to bolster their faith throughout the darkest moments of the Egyptian exile, for they always knew that one day they’d be free to serve G-d in a most exalted state. Similarly, as we travel through the long exile, we are comforted by the knowledge that one day we too, will merit to serve the Almighty in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem in total freedom from all our persecutors.
HIGH ARKING SCHOLAR
“And they shall fashion an Ark of cedar wood, two and a half cubits its length, one and a half cubits it width, and one and a half cubits its height.” Shemot 25:10
In total, the Ark measured 5 ½ cubits. The Five cubits represent the Five Books of the Torah, and the half-cubit represents the Oral Law which is only half of the story and requires the underpinning of the Five Books in order to be meaningful. – Midrash Talpiyos
Two and a half, one and a half, one and a half – Every measure of the Ark was an incomplete number (ending in a half ). The Ark contained the Two Tablets and represents those who retain the Torah; the Torah scholars. The lesson here is that a Torah scholar can never truly achieve perfection. All he can do is strive for it, but ultimately, the Torah is too esoteric to completely fathom and he will have to suffice with only a meager portion. – Rabbi Nosson Adler zt”l
Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) added in the name of his rebbe, Rabbi Nosson Adler, that the cover of the Ark featured two cherubs which faced each other. This symbolized the need for scholars to study together and aim purely for the sake of understanding that which is written in the Tablet contained within. A scholar whose intent is for self-gratification or honor, is a poor representation of the glory of Torah.
TABLE FOR TWO
“You shall make a table out of acacia wood, two cubits its length, one cubit its width, and one and one-half cubits its height.” Shemot 25:23
A table out of acacia wood – The Table held special Show Bread and was the conduit through which the Almighty inspired blessing into the material aspects of the universe. – Rabbeinu Bachya
A table out of acacia wood – A table is compared to an altar because through one’s table, one merits forgiveness if he uses it to convey Torah thoughts and feed the hungry. There was a custom among pious men in France to construct their funeral casket of the planks of their table to symbolize the idea that all a person takes with him to the next world is the charity and kindness that he dispensed through his table. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Daas Sofrim writes that the idea that spiritual blessing was channeled into the universe through the Show Bread contains a powerful message for us all. The Almighty is lofty, ascetic, and far beyond human comprehension. Yet, even He, so removed from all material matters, will deign to rest His presence on material bread, if it is produced with sanctity and purity. His holiness and separateness from material matters is not a factor when we endow our physical actions with sanctity.
MOLDING ONE’S CHARACTER
“You shall make a table out of acacia wood…You shall cover it with pure gold and you shall make for it a gold crown all around. You shall make for it a molding of one handbreadth all around and you shall make a gold crown on the molding all around.” Shemot 25:23-25
A molding…a gold crown Some maintain that the molding was above the tabletop, while others maintain that it was below the tabletop. All agree that the crown mentioned in this verse was above the molding. – Rashi
Kli Yakar explains that the molding represented a barrier between the person and the bread, as if to set down a boundary beyond which one may not cross when partaking of the material world. On top of the molding was a crown, symbolizing that one who respects the barrier between his physical desires and himself, is truly a king and ruler, as opposed to one who crosses the barrier and acts in gluttonous fashion. Such a person is impoverished, unworthy of respect, and unfit to don a crown of royalty.
“You shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah must be made by hammering its form out of a solid piece of gold. Its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs, and its flowers shall be of it.” Shemot 25:31
And They Shall Take For Me The Menorah was primarily comprised of the following five sets of components:
1) 7 branches
2) 11 knobs [apple-shaped]
3) 22 cups
4) 1 shaft which was 18 handbreadth high
5) 9 flowers.
“The opening of Your words enlighten the heart…” – Psalms 129:130.
The number of words in the opening verses of the Five Books of the Torah allude to these five aspects of the Menorah:
Bereishit[Genesis] – 7 = 7 branches
Shemot [Exodus] – 11 = 11 knobs
Vayikra [Leviticus] 9 = 9 flowers
Bamidbar [Numbers] 18 letters = 18 handbreadth height of the Menorah
Devarim [Deuteronomy] 22 = 22 cups
The Menorah represents the light of the Torah and every portion of the Five Books of Moses was represented in the Menorah which was prominently displayed in the Tabernacle and Holy Temples. – Siach Yitzcak Siyum Al HaTorah
Siach Yitzchak adds that in total, all the parts of the menorah totaled 49 [7+11+22+9=49], which correspond to the 49 levels of Binah [insight into G-d’s essence] which Moses merited to comprehend. The shaft [i.e. the body of the menorah] represents the 50th level of insight which is not given to human comprehension and even Moses could not grasp. This is why Moses had such a difficult time envisioning the Menorah and needed assistance in creating it, according to our sages.
“And the Mishkan [tabernacle] you shall make out of ten tapestries…” Shemot 26:1
These ten tapestries comprised the bottom layer of the covering of the Mishkan and they were referred to as “Mishkan” because they covered the Tablets, the Ark, and the holy vessels, upon which the Divine Presence rested. Chizkuni (Rabbeinu Chezkiah Bar Manoach, circa 1250)
Ten Tapestries The number ten symbolized the Ten Commandments. Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov son of the Rosh, biblical commentator, c. 1275-c.1340)
Wouldn’t it have been sufficient merely to have the holy vessels in the Tabernacle? What was added by symbolizing the Ten Commandments as well? This teaches us that in order for a temple or synagogue to be a repository for the Divine Presence, the presence of holy vessels like an Ark and Torah Scroll alone, is insufficient. The over-arching philosophy of the sanctuary must also be an embodiment of each and every one of the Ten Commandments. A house of worship that inadequately fulfills this mandate is not a place where G-d feels welcome.
“And they shall construct an Altar of acacia wood, five cubits its length, and five cubits its width, the Altar shall be square, and three cubits its height.” Shemot 27:1
The Altar brought atonement for the sins of the Jewish people just as G-d had promised Abraham many years earlier. The Hebrew word for Altar is “Mizbeiach,” and it’s letters symbolize many of the wonderful benefits it provided on behalf of the nation:
“Mem” = Mechilah [forgiveness]
“Zayin” = Z’chut [merit]
“Bet” = Brachah [blessing]
“Chet” = Chaim [life]
The Altar was made of “Shittim” [acacia wood] which symbolized:
“Shin” – Shalom [peace]
“Tet” – Tovah [goodness]
“Yud” – Yeshuah [salvation]
“Mem” – Mechilah [forgiveness]
Medrash Tanchumah, Terumah 10
Although the Ark received the lion’s share of the Torah’s attention, the effects of the Altar cannot be understated. When Abraham wondered how we would maintain our special status as the Chosen People, in light of our inevitable sins, G-d reassured him that the Altar, and it’s offerings, would offset our sins and enable us to survive. As the Midrash points out, everything about the Altar was positive, and a significant portion of the daily prayer service is devoted toward asking for its return, along with the Third Temple. If modern sensibilities portray its use as barbaric or senseless, that is only because the long years of exile have succeeded in dulling our collective memory of the benefits it offered, and the sanctity it imbued within the people.
Hey, I Never Knew That
There was a table in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and later in the Temple that was built to hold the showbread (the twelve loaves of bread placed there every Friday). The loaves symbolized the physical blessings of the twelve tribes of Israel. The shape of the bread, however, was very unusual; it was baked in the form of a receptacle open at the top and the ends, seen end on, looking like this:[_____]. As the verse states, “Not by bread alone does man live, but by all that proceeds from the mouth of G-d” (Devarim 8:3). This shape teaches us that the physical nourishment of bread is really a receptacle for the life-sustaining Divine blessing; hence, the bread is open at the top in order to receive the blessings from Heaven. It is open at the ends to teach us that the blessing should not stop at the receiver but should spill over and be shared with others; hence the openings for the horizontal connection of the blessing to other people (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings Vol. III, Symbolism of the Sanctuary).
The Torah gives complete plans and descriptions of the Tabernacle and its contents. It is interesting to note that with only two exceptions, all the dimensions of both the structure and implements were whole numbers. The exceptions are the dimensions of the Holy Ark, which were 2.5 by 2.5 by 1.5 cubits, and the height of the Table of Show-Bread which was 1.5 cubits. The commentaries explain that since the Ark represents Torah knowledge (it contains the Two Tablets), its dimensions teach us that one can only obtain Torah knowledge if one views oneself as incomplete and not whole, in every dimension. The Table symbolizes wealth (the Show-Bread) and royalty (the royal Table) and hence teaches the wealthy and powerful that their greatest challenges are arrogance and ego, symbolized by height. The height of the table is not a whole number to teach them the importance of humility (Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen, Machshevet Charutz, 7).
Word of the Week
“And this is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver… skins of תחשים—techashim” (Shemot 25:5). One opinion in the Talmud (Shabbat 28b) maintains that the תחש, translated by Onkelos as sasgavna, meaning “rejoices in its colors,” was a multi-colored creature created by G-d specifically for the building of the Tabernacle. Another opinion believes the tachash to be a one-horned creature, possibly a narwhal (Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah). The Jerusalem Talmud cites one view that it means “blue dyed skins,” referring to a process, not to a particular animal, and another view that it is an ermine; which is a small, weasel-like creature with a beautiful pelt (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 2:3).
One of the materials used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was wool dyed the color תכלת — techeilet. In the Torah portion this week, Rashi translates it as “wool died blue with the ‘blood’ [actually a mucus excretion] of the chilazon” [a marine animal that, according to most opinions, is the murex trunculus snail]. Rashi explains (Bamidbar 15:38) that the word תכלת is actually related to the word, שכלה — shichlah — bereavement, a reference to the midnight blue of the sky during the plague of the first-born, when all of Egypt was bereaved. Avraham Ibn Ezra (Shemot 25:4) maintains that the word is related to תכלית meaning “end” or “goal,” since the color is a dark blue close to black, indicating the end, or the last of all colors, blackness. Rabbi David Kimchi translates the word as sky-blue, or azure (Sefer Hashorashim).
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
I’ve been studying the Book of Exodus and I am amazed that almost half of it is dedicated to a discussion of the details of the Tabernacle. The comprehensive and minute descriptions of its architecture and furnishings seem to be inconsistent with the style of the narrative of the other parts of the Torah. Am I right, and if so, why is this so?
Thank you for your help,
I’m very impressed that you have managed to track the Torah’s style at the same time you are amassing an understanding of its content. Your observation is clearly correct and an explanation is certainly in order.
There are actually two instances of construction recorded in the Torah. The first was the Ark that Noah was commanded to build. The second was the Tabernacle that the entire Jewish people were enjoined to construct. The Torah’s description of the Ark is minimal in comparison to its description of the Tabernacle. In a brief passage, the Torah tells us its dimensions, its shape, and the number of floors. Minute details are omitted, unlike the description of the Tabernacle, which spans 5 Torah portions.
I believe the difference between the two descriptions is linked to the purpose of each structure. The purpose of the Ark was to protect its occupants from the ravages of the eroding world around them, but the purpose of the Tabernacle was to imbue the world with greater sanctity.
In the times of Noah, mankind sunk to the lowest levels of immorality and G-d decided that the world was irredeemable. Before He destroyed the world to make another in its place, He summoned Noah to build an Ark to house his family and a small sampling of the world’s fauna. The Ark’s purpose was protective. Its external skin shielded its passengers and cargo from the voluminous rain and rising water level. Essentially, the Ark warded off harm from coming to Noah’s family and the animals. Details such as the number of nails in each board were not significant—as long as Noah remained safe, the Ark fulfilled its function.
However, the Tabernacle served an entirely different purpose. The great commentator Nachmanides (Ramban) explains that the sanctity that came to the world at the time G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai was not to be a momentary experience. That sanctity was to remain with the Jews even after they left Mt. Sinai and it was to be contained in the Tabernacle. The architecture of the Tabernacle’s structure together with its appurtenances formed a symbolic world—a microcosm. For example, the Table with its Showbreads represented the food supply which the earth produces and the Menorah represented the spiritual influence of the Torah upon the world.
We know that if you take a tuning fork pitched to the key of C and strike it, it will produce a sound. If you place a second tuning fork (also pitched to the key of C) in the vicinity of the first, it too will emit the same sound, even though it was not physically struck. This is the phenomenon of sympathetic resonance. The sound waves from the first travel through the air and cause the second to vibrate, since they are both tuned to the same pitch. If the second tuning fork is just slightly out of tune with the first, it will not emit a sound. Similarly, the “waves” of sanctity that came to the world when the Torah was given found their correct “pitch” in the furnishings and structure of the Tabernacle. Thus, the sanctity of Mt. Sinai was preserved, but only in furnishings and structure that were fashioned according to the exact specifications which would allow for sympathetic resonance.
Today, we no longer have the Tabernacle. However, our Sages tell us that a synagogue has ability to function, albeit on a diminished basis, as the Tabernacle. It is for that reason one often feels transformed when entering a synagogue and it is for that reason that a synagogue is so favorable for prayer.
I wish you continued success with your careful study of the Torah.
After building a Sukkah for the first time a man asked if he should mark the boards so as to always assemble the Sukkah in the same way, or could he move them around and change the position of the boards each year. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 630:29) maintains that it is appropriate to mark the boards of the Sukkah in order to ensure that each board is in the same place each year. He cites the verse in the Torah portion this week which states, “You should set up the Tabernacle in the proper manner” (Shemot 26:30), alluding to the idea that there was a specific position designated for each board which was remembered by marking each board with a letter (Shabbat 103a).
G-d commanded the Jewish people to “Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them” (Shemot 25:8). Maimonides understands that there is an obligation for all time to build a permanent Temple (Mishneh Torah, Avodah 1:1). The prophet Ezekiel (11:16) says, “Thus said the L-rd, G-d: Although I have cast them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, I have been to them a little sanctuary in the countries where they have come.” According to the Talmud (Megilah 29a) the phrase “a little sanctuary” refers to synagogues, which are considered “minor temples.” In fact, just as the Torah portion this week obligates the Jews to contribute to and build the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, the sages also obligated everyone in the community to contribute to the building of a synagogue (Tosefta, Bava Batra 1). The Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 150:1) writes that the Jewish courts and the community may force everyone to contribute to the building of the synagogue. Rabbi Chaim Shabtai, Chief Rabbi of Salonika, Greece in the 18th century, maintains that because the synagogue is called a “temple,” there is an obligation to build one, and that is why the members of the community may be forced to contribute, just like the Temple in Jerusalem and the Tabernacle.
Parsha at a Glance
Terumah marks the beginning of the construction of the Tabernacle. Rashi states that the commandment to build the tabernacle actually took place after the Sin of the Golden Calf, despite the fact that the Torah presents it first. Placing the laws of the building the Tabernacle immediately after the civil laws in Mishpatim further emphasizes the fact that G-d places equal importance on the “ritualistic” and “legalistic” aspects of Judaism.
Terumah begins a call for donations. The donations, two half-shekel gifts of silver, were meant to be voluntary, presented by those whose “hearts inspired” them to give. The construction of the Tabernacle required the following materials: Gold, silver and copper; turquoise, purple and scarlet wool; linen, goat hair, red-dyed ram skins and tachash skins; acacia wood; oil for illumination; spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings on the Cohen’s Ephod garment and Breastplate. The remainder of the portion lists the instructions for the various parts that of the Tabernacle:
Ark: (Aron) 2.5 cubits long (a cubit is roughly 2 ft.), 1.5 cubits wide, 1.5 cubits high. The Ark held the Tablets. It was covered in gold and included a gold crown around the top. Four rings were placed on the sides to fit staves of acacia wood, also covered in gold, which were used to carry the ark. The staves were to remain in place permanently.
Cover for the Ark: (Kaporet) 2. 5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide. Two golden Cherubim, winged sculptures with the faces of children, were fashioned above the Kaporet. G-d spoke to Moses from atop the cover and between the Cherubim.
Table: (Shulchan) 2 cubits long, 2 cubit wide, 1.5 cubits high. The Table was made of gold-covered acacia wood, and included a golden crown. The table also included four golden rings and staves to carry it. The Table also required the creation of golden dishes, spoons, shelving, tubes and pillars. Show breads were present at the Table continuously.
Menorah: The Menorah required one talent of pure gold (approximately, 2400 ounces). The menorah was fashioned out of a single ingot. Not to be confused with the Chanukah menorah, the Menorah in the Tabernacle included seven lamps: three branches on one side, three on the other, and a central pillar in the middle. It was decorated with cups, knobs and flowers, also fashioned out of the same original ingot.
Covers of the Tabernacle: (Yeriot) Ten curtains made of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool, and linen. They were woven with the design of Cherubim. The size of each curtain was 28 cubits long, 4 cubits wide. They were attached in two sets of five, making each section 28 cubits by 20 cubits wide, and drawn around the Tabernacle. A second set of curtains made of goat hair, 30 cubits long, 4 cubits wide, and attached in two sets, one of five and one of six, was placed over the first set. A third set of ram and tachash skins was placed over this.
Planks: (Kerashim) Made of acacia wood and covered in gold, each plank was 10 cubits long (height) and 1.5 cubits wide. Each plank included two tenons at the bottom. Twenty planks are placed on the south; 20 on the north, 8 on the west.
Partition: (Parochet) to divide between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. The Ark was placed inside the Holy of Holies, and surrounded by the Partition. The partition was made of Turquoise, purple and scarlet wool, and linen, woven with designs of the Cherubim.
Altar: (Mizbeiach) A Courtyard (Chatzer) surrounded the Tabernacle. The Courtyard, 100 cubits long by 50 cubits wide, included an Altar constructed of copper-covered acacia wood. The Altar was 5 cubits long, 5 cubits wide, and 3 cubits high; it required the fashioning of copper pots, shovels, basins, forks and fire pan.