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Parashat 02/02/2011

Parashat Terumah

by Robert Rabinoff

You shall make two Cherubim of gold – hammered out shall you make them – from both ends of the Cover.  (25:18)

Rashi: You shouldn’t make them separately and attach them…

You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made, its base, its shaft, it cups, its knobs and its blossoms shall be hammered from it.  (25:31)

Rashi: … you should not make it in sections and afterwards stick them together …

You shall make the Tabernacle of ten curtains … with a woven design of Cherubim shall you make them. (26:1)

Rashi:  The forms of the Cherubim were woven into [the curtains], and not through embroidery, that is, needlework …

If it seems to you like hammering out very complex artifacts from a lump of gold would be difficult, you would not be alone.  The Midrash tells us that even after having been shown (on Mt. Sinai) how the Menorah was supposed to look, Moshe himself couldn’t figure out how to create it.  Finally Gd tells him simply to throw the block of gold into the fire, and miraculously the Menorah came out.  (Incidentally, in two weeks Aharon will explain that when the people panicked and demanded a “god,” he too threw a block of gold into the fire, and out came the calf – this time through the power of impure forces.)

Why would Torah specifically demand this kind of construction for two of the central features of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)?  Ramban and other commentators all note that the structure of the Mishkan is reflective of the structure of the universe on the macro scale, and the structure of the human being on the micro scale.  I believe that the three instances I cited (including the woven-work of the Tabernacle curtains) give us an insight into the way creation is manifested from its infinite source.

When we look at an ocean rising in waves we see the waves, but we say “ah, the ocean.”  Why is this?  We recognize that the waves are not independent entities, separate and distinct from the ocean.  Instead, they are simply expressions of the ocean moving within itself.  Waves on the ocean are the result of the ocean’s internal dynamics.  Now in the case of the ocean, we know that there are outside forces that act on it – the wind and the sun and the moon, as well as the rotation of the earth.  That is because the ocean itself is a finite piece of the creation.

We can understand that the waves and the ocean are an analogy for the relationship between the infinite, unmanifest basis of creation, and all the variegated manifestations of creation that we see in the world around us.  From our point of view – the point of view of a finite creature – all the different manifestations are well, different from one another.  In most cases we do not see the connection between object A and object B, or between ourselves and our environment.  We know from physics however, that all objects in the universe are in fact connected with one another in a vast web of interaction.  I don’t believe it is possible to understand this result unless we understand that our common perception of separateness is a limited perspective.  Since we are finite creatures our senses will always attach themselves to finite manifestations, but our minds are certainly capable of transcending these limitations.  We may always see the waves, but we can always exclaim “Ah, the ocean”!

Perhaps this is what Torah is teaching us with the Ark-Cover and the Menorah.  We look at these very intricate creations, with very detailed design, but we come to understand that what we are seeing is nothing but pure gold.  We look at the beautiful designs woven into the fabric of the curtains, and we realize that the design and the background are, ultimately, one and the same.

Ultimately, the purpose of our life is not to understand physics, or architecture – it is to understand Gd as best we can.  If the Mishkan is a reflection of the nature of creation, perhaps the message of the “hammered-out work” is that just as the Menorah and the Ark-Cover are expressions of the underlying, undifferentiated block of gold, and just as it is prohibited to assemble them out of parts, so all creatures are simply expressions of Gd, Who, as Rambam explains (see the second of the thirteen Principles of the Faith) is a Unity that is not constructed of parts.  Just as the waves are the expressions of the internal dynamics of the ocean, maybe we can say that all creation is the “internal dynamics” of Gd.

When the Temple stood we were able to go up and experience Gd’s nearness to us in the structure of the buildings and the implements.  Now we are no longer privileged to have the Temple in our midst.  Our Sages tell us that prayer and learning Torah are now the means that our generations must use to bring our individual existences in consonance with the structure and functioning of creation.  It’s up to us to grasp that opportunity so that we can refine our perception and our behavior to see the ocean of infinity in every wave.