Skip to content

Parashat Terumah 5773 — 02/13/2013

Parashat Terumah 5773 — 02/13/2013

Make me a holy place, and I shall dwell among/within them.  (25:8)

There is a dispute between Rashi and Ramban as to when the instructions to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) were given.  The dispute is actually related to a deeper dispute regarding the purpose of the Mishkan.  Rashi holds that the Mishkan only arose after the sin of the golden calf (related in two weeks – Parashat Ki Tisa), and was a concession to the less-than-ideal state of the people after the incident of the calf.  Rashi invokes the well-known principle that the Torah is not necessarily written in chronological order, but rather sometimes in thematic order, to explain why the text appears out of sequence.

Ramban on the other hand, holds that building the Mishkan was part of Gd’s original plan, and that the purpose of the Mishkan was to continue the experience of the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.  Thus, rather than having to go to Mt. Sinai to approach Gd, the nation would, as it were, “take Gd with them” on their trek to the Land of Israel (a trek, remember, that was originally not supposed to take 40 years).  We actually discussed this four years ago on this parashah, but I want to try another approach, one that may tie in with our discussion of the past two weeks.  Also, for those of you reading this electronically, I found a marvelous shiur (lecture) of the entire topic at  It’s helpful if you can read Hebrew, but not necessary, as the discussion is very clear.  Incidentally, the site contains shiurim on most, if not all of the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) as well as related topics – a very worthwhile resource.

We discussed in the past two parshiyot that the Torah appears to be presenting us with a kind of “spiritual sandwich” (obviously not a BLT!).  “Spiritual” passages, in particular the Revelation at Mt. Sinai and the vision of Gd that the elders beheld, are separated by a long list of rather mundane mitzvot, which are basically monetary in nature (dinei mamonot).  We speculated that Torah was giving us a picture of the mechanics of creation, which starts from Gd, infinite and eternal and completely divorced from material existence.  Gd then creates the material world, which eventually, through the medium of human consciousness, comes to approach Gd, to identify in some (limited) sense with Gd, bringing the process full circle, or full sandwich if you will.  In this approach, the “mundane” mitzvot are representative of the material world, but they are also steps on the ladder of spiritual progress, for performance of these mitzvot creates a more orderly society which then promotes the growth of the individual.

I might add that we express this structure every time we say the Sh’ma – we have the ineffable Name (Y-K-V-K) sandwiching the Name Elokim.  The Name is associated with pure Being (it is actually a form of the verb havah = to be), while Elokim is associated with nature and natural law (the numerical value of that Name [86] is equal to the numerical value of hateva = nature).  Again, we find the transcendent sandwiching the material world of nature.  The fact that this structure is modeled in the central declaration of our faith indicates how fundamental a structure it must be.

Now let us return to the Mishkan.  It appears that according to both Rashi and Ramban the Mishkan is meant to be a physical vehicle by which individual Jews and the Jewish people as a whole can draw closer to Gd, to the infinite.  According to Ramban, the structure of the Mishkan itself lends itself to such growth, as do the activities (the offerings = karbanot, from the root k-r-v meaning “close”) that are performed in it.  That is, the structure and function of the Mishkan is somehow reflective of the virtual structure of the infinite, and participating in the activities of the Mishkan allows us to align our hearts and minds with this virtual structure.  Perhaps the underlying idea is that when this process is repeated over the course of time, the repeated impression of the ideal structure upon our minds gradually imprints that structure into the structure of our personality.  When this restructuring is complete, the individual completely identifies with his ultimate, infinite basis.  He is, as it were, detached from his individuality (body, mind, emotions), viewing it as part and parcel of finite creation, which he has transcended.  And Ramban argues that this remarkable tool for self-development is something that Gd planned to give us from the beginning – that’s why it is written (in quite some detail) in the Torah, which our tradition tells us is the blueprint for creation itself.

Rashi’s view is subtly different.  He regards the Mishkan as an accommodation to the lowered level of the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf.  The focus of the Mishkan is on rectification of sins, both that of Adam and that of the golden calf, as well as all the other sins we commit daily.  In one sense this view does not actually differ from that of Ramban, as in both cases we have the finite “separating” from the infinite and requiring a method by which it can reintegrate with the infinite.  Perhaps Rashi’s view is a bit more pessimistic, approaching the matter from the standpoint of sin/separation and rectification/t’shuvah/reintegration.  Ramban on the other hand can perhaps be characterized as having a more positive view of the situation, regarding the separation as an intrinsic part of creation, and regarding the mechanism for reintegration as intrinsic as well.

In Ramban’s view the parshiot describing the Mishkan and its appurtenances are an integral part of Torah and have been from before Day One.  I think that Rashi must take the view that the Torah must have been revealed in stages, with adjustments being made according to the needs and deeds of the people, since we all have free will.  Had we not made the golden calf, it would seem that not only would the description of that particular incident not been in the Torah, but all the description of the Mishkan would have been unnecessary as well.  If this seems to remind one of the “collapse of the wave function” in quantum mechanics, I would certainly agree, but that is a discussion for another day.

The upshot of both views is this: for a finite creation to exist it must, in some way, be separate from its infinite source.  In order for a finite creation to be worthwhile, there must be a mechanism for this separation to be reduced, until the finite fully reflects the glory of the infinite.  From the day that Moshe Rabbeinu erected the Mishkan (~1300 BCE) until the time the Romans destroyed the Second Temple (70 AD), we had the structure and the service of the Mishkan/Temples, centered around offerings to Gd.  Nowadays, because of our sins, the Temples are no more.  Gd has given us prayer to replace the service in the Temple, as Hosea says “Let [the prayers] our lips substitute for bulls.”  Prayer and mitzvot are now the structures that reflect the virtual structure of infinity rather than a building in Jerusalem.  The better we use the techniques at our disposal the sooner the Redemption will come, may it be speedily in our days!