Parashat Terumah
March 3-4, 2017 – 6 Adar 5777
Annual (Exodus 25:1-27:19): Etz Hayim p. 485-498; Hertz p. 325-336
Triennial (Exodus 25:1-25:40): Etz Hayim p. 485-491; Hertz p. 325-330
Haftarah (1 Kings 5:26-6:13): Etz Hayim p. 499-502; Hertz p. 336-338

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From Ethics to Objects
Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva, the Conservative Yeshiva

Exodus Chapter 25:1. And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, 2. Speak to the people of Israel, that they bring me an offering; from every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering. 3. And this is the offering which you shall take from them; gold, and silver, and bronze, 4. And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, 5. And rams’ skins dyed red, and goats’ skins, and shittim wood, 6. Oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil, and for sweet incense, 7. Onyx stones, and stones to be set on the ephod, and on the breastplate. 8. And let them make me a Mikdash (sanctuary); V’Shachanti B’tocham – that I may dwell among them.

In the last two Parshiot we were getting on beautifully with the revelation on Mount Sinai; we had the Ten Commandments in Parshat Yitro and some very sensible and practical ethical-legal instructions in Parshat Mishpatim. Now suddenly, in Parshat Terumah, we are thrown into the weird and wonderful world of ornate ritual objects. In this parashah we begin to be told about God’s detailed requirements for the building of a Mishkan (Tabernacle) so that God might dwell in the middle of the camp. God says that the Mishkan must be built – “V’Shachanti B’tocham” – “that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The rules for the construction of this astonishingly complicated edifice fill chapters and chapters of the Torah up to the end of the book of Exodus.

How might we read this sudden wrenching switch from ethical revelation on a barren mountaintop to reams of material about arcane ritual objects? It appears that once-in-a-lifetime ecstatic experiences of God, like the one on Mount Sinai, are insufficient to sustain an ongoing relationship between humans and God. The Israelites were treated to the biggest and most impressive religious sound and light show in history, but ultimately a people’s commitments cannot be sustained by an isolated spiritual high. Even while Moshe stood at the top of the mountain, God told him that the memory of Sinai would not suffice to keep them going on the covenantal path. There would need to be some more permanent and tangible evidence of God’s continued presence in the community in order for the high ethical principles of the previous two Parshiot to be properly realized by this nation. The elaborately constructed Mishkan, incorporating many of the strange trappings of sovereignty that the people were familiar with from Egypt, would help them to feel that their relationship with God had been placed on a permanent footing.

There is a price to be paid when a culture embraces a complex life of ritual and religious objects. We are still reaping the benefits and paying the price for that choice now. We gain a sense of permanence and solidarity when the regularity of a life of ritual takes priority over unpredictably fleeting religious experiences. On the flip side we can very easily get lost in the ornate silliness of organized religion, and when the bells and smells of our religious institutions fail to induce any sense of V’Shachanti B’tocham, we are left with an absurd husk of ritual on which to pin our religious identities. Only when, sometimes to our astonishment, our ritual life evokes a whiff of Sinai, can we forget its absurdity and find ourselves yearning for its sanctity.

A Vort for Parashat Terumah
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Exodus 26:7 commands that “curtains of goats’ hair be made for a tent over the tabernacle,” covering the gold-plated boards and bars, the gold rings, and the colorful curtains of fine twisted linen. The Kinyanei Kedem (R’ Yitzhak Nisenbaum, 1868-1942, Russia/Poland, died in the Warsaw ghetto) said that these simple outer curtains, connected with copper clasps (v. 11); come to teach the children of Israel how to deal with wealth.  A rich person should conduct himself outwardly in a simple and modest manner, so as not to be “showy” or to make others jealous.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The story of the Exodus pauses to focus on another story:  The building of the Mishkan (literary ‘a dwelling place) – the Tabernacle.  This week we get the instructions for making a portable temple.
This week the questions focus on the interior of the Mishkan.

  1. Mishkan’ means a dwelling place. What do you think is supposed to be inside a dwelling place of God? Why?
  2. The first of the furnishings of the Mishkan that we are told about is the Ark (25:10-16). What will it be made of? How will it be carried? Why do you think that the ‘carrying tools’ should never be removed from the Ark? What will be placed in it?
  3. On top of the Ark there will be a cover. What will be on top of the cover (25:17-22)? How do you understand their role? What will come forth from between these things?
  4. Two more items of the interior of the Mishkan are described immediately following the Ark (25:23-30, 31-39). What are the items? What materials are they made of? Of these 3 items (including the Ark), which one is unique in its material(s)? In your opinion, which would be the most difficult to make?  Why?
  5. In II Kings 4:10 we have a description of the furnishings of a room/dwelling in the biblical period. How does that compare with the furnishings of the Mishkan? What might this tell us about how the Torah answers question #1?
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