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Parashat Terumah 5777 — 03/04/2017

Parashat Terumah 5777 — 03/04/2017

Shemot 25:1-27:19

Take for me a donation, from every man whose heart moves him take My donation … And make me a Mikdash and I will dwell among them. (25: 2, 8)

Ramchal comments that at the end of Parashat Mishpatim the Israelites saw a vision of the glory of Hashem and were so overwhelmed that they despaired of being able to support Hashem’s dwelling among them. Therefore our parashah begins by providing a solution – build a physical structure to “house” Gd’s Presence. This physical structure would function in a way similar to the way our bodies “house” our souls – it would provide a mechanism by which Gd’s Presence, which is purely spiritual, can interact with the physical world. (Note that Mikdash, “holy place” and Mishkan, “place of [Gd’s] dwelling” are both used to describe the Tabernacle in the desert. When King Solomon built the Temple, only the term Mikdash was used, although Gd’s presence certainly did dwell there.)

Now in point of fact, Gd has no need of anything to intermediate between Himself and His creation. I think the thrust of the analogy is that having a Mikdash provides a mechanism by which we can interact with the purely spiritual, since we have an aspect of physicality along with our inner, spiritual nature. It is a commonplace that Gd is everywhere, since Gd transcends time and space, and yet most of us find that there are some places where we can feel the holiness of Gd’s presence much more than in others, for example, in a synagogue during services. R. Chaim Friedlander, basing himself on the Ramchal, states that the Shechinah (Gd’s immanent presence) actually refers to our relationship with Gd; it is not some aspect of Gd that can localize itself. Therefore in a place set aside for enhancing our relationship with Gd, we naturally have a stronger sense of Gd’s Presence. If this is true for a synagogue today, how much more so for the Mikdash and at the time when Gd had just revealed himself at Mt. Sinai!

Ramchal goes on to point out that the structure of the Mikdash parallels the structure of the human body:

The four colored materials donated to the mishkan: turquoise, purple, scarlet, and linen correspond to the four colors of fluids found in the body blood, phlegm, yellow (green) bile and black bile [RAR: i.e. the four “humors” of contemporary medicine.]. Just as a person is comprised of skin, flesh, sinews and bones, the mishkan was comprised of wooden boards corresponding to bones and three lower coverings corresponding to sinews, flesh and skin. The fourth and final covering corresponds to the clothing which is placed over the body. All of the donations mentioned formed the mishkan which served as the physical “body” in which the Shechina, the neshama [soul] of the world, resided after descending to this physical world.

In another passage, Ramchal goes on to liken the menorah, which was one of the appurtenances of the mishkan, to the head:

The mishkan was to be the “body” in which the Shechina would reside in this world, but even the most beautiful body cannot function without a head. The mind enlightens man and guides him through all his actions and endeavors.

He goes on to point out that the seven branches of the menorah correspond to the seven “gates” in the head: Eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth. The menorah is placed inside the mikdash (both the Tabernacle and the Temple), but not in the holy of holies. Why?

If the menorah is so lofty, representing the head and mind of the mishkan, why was it placed in the heichal “the holy” and not in the “holy of holies”? While the menorah represented the intellect, placing it in place where only the Kohen Gadol entered and only on Yom Kippur, would not have allowed it to fulfill its purpose of spreading its “light”‘ to the entire world.

It is possible to understand the menorah’s not being placed in the “holy of holies” on a deeper level as well. The Aron Kodesh [holy ark] placed in the “holy of holies” represented the intellect as well. The Aron Kodesh, however, represented the intellect in its essence which needed to be concealed, while the menorah represented the illumination of the intellect.

I think we can take this a step further. We all have, at the center of our personality, a level of awareness that is unbounded, unlimited by space and time. It is pure awareness itself, with the object of awareness abstracted away as it were. It is universal, yet it is at the basis of every individual. The Aron Kodesh, which housed the two tablets, was placed in the Holy of Holies. Now the Ark looked like it was physical, but in fact it was purely spiritual. For example, according to Rabbinic tradition, the tablets were each a cubit cubed and made of sapphire. Taking 1 cubit = 50 cm, and noting that the specific gravity of sapphire is just about 4, the tablets alone weighed a tonne. Along with the weight of the box and the golden cover, it would have been well-nigh impossible for 4 men to bear it on poles. The Rabbis say that the Ark “bore its bearers” – it floated! And if one calculates the dimensions of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, one sees that the Ark took up no space at all, despite having the dimensions specified in our parashah. On this reading, the Ark/Holy of Holies truly represents the innermost transcendental value.

Carrying this a step further, the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the mikdash by a curtain. This too is emblematic of the relationship between the inner, transcendental value and our outer values – mind, body, emotions. The transcendental value is always there, but our individual selves are always directed outward towards the material world. Our bodies act as a curtain, hiding our inner nature. Similarly, the physical world acts as a curtain, hiding Gd behind a veil of the laws of nature. In the mikdash, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, and only on Yom Kippur. We are under no such restrictions. We have only to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the reality that Gd alone is (ayn od milvado) and to establish our awareness on the transcendental level. We can live life in the Holy of Holies and thereby infuse the rest of creation with holiness.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Terumah

Terumah” means “offerings”: these are offerings to Gd who can raise them up so they are suffused with Gd and lose the limitations of their material nature and we who make the offerings are similarly raised.

This parshah describes in detail the offerings Gd commands Moses to request of the Children of Israel of which the portable Ark, the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, should be built so that Gd may dwell within. The Haftarah describes the building, by Solomon, of the Temple.

Obviously, Gd is Omnipresent, so the meaning that Gd can dwell within really is: so He can be apparent to the Children of Israel; the Mishkan is to serve as an amplifier so Gd can be perceived by those whose perception is too crude to perceive Him (generally: He could be heard at Mt. Sinai and seen there in fire and cloud).

The extensive detail that Gd gives Moses about the offerings and what is to be made of them strongly suggests to practically everyone that the Mishkan was a precise replica of some Divine structure – perhaps something that parallels the “creating of Man in Gd’s Image”, something that represents the structure of the Cosmos, the structure of human physiology, the Indescribable Structure of Gd.

The detail given in building the Temple, not just the portable Mishkan, is given in the Haftarah, Kings 1 5:26-6:13. This detail is much smaller but the parshah begins with “And the Lrd gave Solomon wisdom, as He promised him”. Gd had early given Betzalel, the builder of the Mishkan, wisdom, the wisdom to combine the letters of Hebrew with which Gd made Heaven and Earth and with this wisdom to build the Mishkan.

This wisdom is obviously something which requires a considerable amount of Teshuvah, return to Primordial Oneness. Perhaps it requires total Teshuvah.

Certainly it is something which we in Beth Shalom would like to have.

Wwhat can we offer that would raise us up fully to this level, or at least more and more each day?

The Ten Commandments, Ten Utterances, and the elaboration of them in Parshat Mishpatim, suggest the kind of behavior we need to engage in: to sincerely do our best to align ourselves with Gd, Oneness, and to relate to our fellow humans in a loving, grateful, kind way.

From my experience of people in our Congregation and in Fairfield generally, we seem to be doing well at this: there is great joy and happiness and kindness in most people I meet.

So let’s keep it up! and innocently get better at it till we are fully wise, fully One.

Baruch HaShem