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Parashat Terumah 5779 — 02/09/2019

Parashat Terumah 5779 — 02/09/2019

Shemot 25:1-27:19
Our parashah deals with the myriad, exacting details of the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that accompanied the Jewish people on their travels, until King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem about 4 centuries later. The next parashah will deal with the clothing worn by the priests, and will evince the same exactitude.

The common questions that arise when these matters are discussed is, “Does Gd really care about all these details?” “Is it that important that the Ark be exactly 1½ cubits high?” “Is it even possible for human beings to be 100% exact in constructing material objects?” (Note that according to modern physics, where materials, and their boundaries, are formed of molecules, atoms, electrons, the answer is a resounding “No!”)

Let me reduce this to a modern and still very relevant application. During a woman’s menses and for a period of 7 days after her flow ceases, marital relations with her husband (or anyone else!) are forbidden. After this time she goes to the ritual bath (mikveh) and immerses herself, after which relations are again permitted. The water of the mikveh must touch every part of the body, including the hair. If two strands of hair are accidentally still knotted, the water cannot penetrate the knot. Therefore, if two strands are knotted and the woman immerses and resumes relations with her husband, they are both guilty of a serious sin (albeit unwittingly).

Does Gd really care that this tiny little knot may not get suffused with water? For that matter, what difference does it make if the woman immerses at all – her flow has stopped for 7 days, hasn’t it? As Elihu tells Job (35:6-7) If you have sinned, how have you affected Him? If your transgressions multiply, what have you done to Him? If you were righteous, what have you given Him, or what has He taken from your hand? Gd is infinite, eternal, unbounded – we can’t touch Him or affect Him in any way. Proverbs (8:35-36) answers Elihu: For one who finds Me finds life and elicits favor from Hashem. But one who sins against me despoils his soul; all who hate me love death.

One simple answer is that Gd apparently does care, because he commanded us to do certain things that sometimes don’t appear to make much sense. The commentators offer varying reasons why we are so commanded.

Concerning laws that make good sense, like Thou shalt not murder, there is no problem. Concerning chukim, laws that don’t seem to have any good reason (like not mixing meat and milk), R. Goldin writes of the first group:

… Rashi boldly proclaims: “Chukim are edicts of the King which have no reason.” Chukim, says this scholar, must be viewed not only as laws beyond our comprehension, but as edicts which have no intrinsic purpose.
At the same time, however, by referring to chukim as “edicts of the King,” Rashi effectively grants these laws general purpose as a group. Chukim, he concludes, exist to develop man’s loyalty to Gd.

In other words, blind obedience to the King can only be demonstrated in cases where the law is not consonant with our intellect. If it is consonant with our intellect, we are just following our intellect. If it isn’t, we are following some other principle that overrides our intellect, namely obedience to a higher authority whose law we trust over our own intellect.

On the other side, R. Goldin writes:
The Ramban, commenting on the same passage in Vayikra as Rashi, strenuously objects to Rashi’s contention that “Chukim are edicts of the king which have no reason”: “The intent is not [that we should believe] that any edict of the King of Kings is without reason … ; rather, the chukim of the Heavenly One Blessed Be He are His secrets … ; all of them, however, are with good reason and full purpose.”
The Ramban and the many scholars who follow his lead are unwilling to consider the possibility that a perfect Gd would command a “reasonless” law even for the purpose of honing man’s loyalty. Man should, they maintain, make every effort to understand the fundamental reason behind each mitzvah in order to reach more complete understanding and observance of Gd’s will.

In other words, the chukim have reasons, but the fact that Gd keeps them hidden allows us to demonstrate our absolute trust in him, as our intellect still has to remain disengaged. Viewed in this light, the positions of the two camps are not really that far apart. After all, the fact that something is an “edict of the King” doesn’t necessarily mean it has no purpose. In fact, Artscroll’s translation of the Rashi passage to which R. Goldin refers adds the words “which man can see” to Rashi’s basic statement that chukim have no rationale.

Based on some of the principles we have been discussing recently I think we can take a fresh look at this conundrum. The Torah is the blueprint of creation, and we have speculated that the Torah we have is a kind of “projection” of what the Kabbalists call the “Supernal Torah” onto our material plane. If this is the case, then the specifications for the Mishkan and its appurtenances are actually reflections of subtle laws of nature on the material plane. Those laws of nature are what support our growth and evolution, both as individuals and as a community – indeed the Rabbis say that the Temple ritual supported the entire world: Had the nations of the world realized the importance of the Temple to their own progress, they would have mounted a guard around it instead of destroying it! This being the case, it behooves us to follow the specifications as exactly as we can, recognizing that there is, in principle, no exactitude on the material plane (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). And likewise with all mitzvot, we should perform them as Gd intended as exactly as possible in order to get the maximum benefit. On the other hand, making ourselves crazy trying to do the impossible is not a good formula for personal growth. Gd put us on this earth to improve ourselves and to improve the world. He gave us mitzvot to accomplish both. But as we say in the liturgy: He remembers that we are but dust. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, only that we be better tomorrow than we are today.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Terumah
“Terumah” means “gift” or “offering”. In this parshah, Gd asks our ancestors to give a gift of an offering from their heart and then He gives the Great Gift of detailed instructions for building a Sanctuary so that our ancestors will see Him dwelling within the Sanctuary, so that He “may dwell in their midst.” The detailed instructions make it clear that the Sanctuary is an expression of the same pattern that is present in the universe and in the human body. In the human body, for example, Gd created 248 limbs which correspond to the 248 positive commandments of the Bible—in the Sanctuary, there were 48 beams, 100 hooks and 100 loops.

Obviously, Gd is Everywhere, Omnipresent – He dwells everywhere so this statement “may dwell in their midst” means that the harmony between their open hearts and the Sanctuary created in part by their offerings will be so great it will resonate with the personalities and physiologies of all who enter, even our ancestors who just a few days before were terrified by the sound of the Lrd’s voice.

Neither modern synagogues – for example, Beth Shalom – nor modern homes seem to be built according to the plan of the Sanctuary so what can we do in order to be aware of Gd’s dwelling within our synagogues, our homes, our minds, feelings, egos, bodies?

The key seems to be in Gd’s command to Moses:
“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”

By behaving with generosity to all, we make offerings to Gd because “love thy neighbor as thyself – Self – “is inextricably intertwined with “love the Lrd, thy Gd, with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy might.”

Another way to make offerings to Gd and to be aware of Gd’s Presence is through the daily prayers of our religion: waking, morning, afternoon, evening and bedtime. These have the value of opening our hearts even though we may be fatigued or stressed and the Joy of Gd’s Presence enters into the words and to our awareness.

A third way is to come to our synagogue: personally, I feel magnetically drawn to our synagogue, especially to the Torah Scrolls and so I come regularly.

Whatever way we can offer to Gd, let us offer and let us be fully aware of Gd’s Presence dwelling within us and around us.

Baruch HaShem