Terumah, 2017

Posted on Updated on

Why a d’var torah?
If our Bible were simply a history book…then one reading would be sufficient.
There may be some history telling, but also memoir, short stories, laws and poetry.

It’s all about interpretation!

We are in dialogue (Author and Reader…God and humankind)
This parsha seems to be mostly a blueprint with a list of building materials…a detailed manual and yet quite unclear. It is wide open to interpretation…and that is why I am here today to offer some insights… but also lots of questions.

Here are 3 very loosely related topics:


1. “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them” Exod 25:8

The Israelites prayed everywhere…by the sea, in their tents, on mountains…why a sanctuary now? The physical place is not the essential, but rather the involvement of the community. Joining together to MAKE! The men and the women, everyone. This is the only biblical example of an active female role in the official cult.

The verb “to Make” is found 200 times in the building of the sanctuary.(I didn’t count)

The people are transformed from passive recipients into active partners with God.

A partnership to bring holiness: God & us. The Temple is gone.

How do we feel about our synagogues today? Is there a lesson here for us? How do you feel about Jews who have not joined us? Those who come occasionally but don’t join? And those who pay up but never show up? What makes a partnership, a holy community kehila kedosha? (point out congregants who participate at various levels in the community.)

Another thought about the tabernacle—about temporariness and permanence. The Mishkan that was described today is a temporary tent structure.. Tent dwellers are always moving, always taking down their tents and setting them back up. Change was the constant and the tent mechanics were incredibly repetitive. A tent dweller is loosely attached to this world. Back then, it was God who decided when they moved and where to. Consider the alternative: King Solomon built the first Temple. It certainly was meant to be permanent…so was the second temple. Yet when these structures were destroyed by enemies it was a cataclysm. When the permanent is torn down it means defeat, subjugation and exile.

Why did we need a huge grandiose structure? What did it provide that we did not have with the Ohel Mo’ed Tent of Meeting?


2. Kaporet/Parochet & Cherubim

A few years ago I gave a d’var torah on the rituals of the High Priest on Yom Kippur when -alone- he presses past the parochet (the curtain before the Holy of Holies) to perform his secret rituals over the kaporet (the gold cover over the aron which contains the Tablets of the Law). 

A permutation of the letters pey, resh, kaf, tav to kaf, pey, resh, tav mirrors a Priestly act that is transformational and redemptive: A spiritual reversal.

Three parshas ago, I spoke about the aron containing Joseph’s bones versus the aron designed by God for the Tablets of the Law. Today I want to explore a few other ideas:

Aron & Kaporet
The rabbis discuss whether the aron and it’s cover, the kaporet are one thing or two. I thought what a curious question to ponder! But I so liked the argument for two separate items that I wanted to share it with you. The aron has the honor of holding the Tablets with God’s Laws. The Kaporet with it’s embracing sheltering cherubim who form God’s throne and between whom God’s presence can appear …that is where we can return, atone and climb into God’s sheltering embrace. These are the two legitimate ways to be with God: by following His mitzvot or by returning through atonement. I think that is quite beautiful and despite some reservations based on logic, I am prepared to accept the two items as separate.

a) In Terumah cherubim are winged beings with human faces that sit on the kaporet facing each other with extended wings forming a protective throne or sheltering embrace.

But our texts are not all agreed what they are, what they look like and what they do.
Here is a verse in Psalms 18. “God mounted a cherub and flew. He flew on the wings of the wind”

Cherubim were clearly also living chariots. In Babylon, cherubim symbolized the wind.

These creatures, in some form, can be found in all the surrounding cultures (the Greeks use wings on their mythological beings, many are found on Egyptians monuments; Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, etc) all have winged creatures or gods.
And here is a line in Psalms 17 “Hide me in the shadow of thy wings.”

b) Consider this: God set cherubim at the eastern gate of the Garden of Eden to prevent the expelled Adam and Eve from returning. They exited eastward. The cherubim on the aron and kaporet are in the Holy of Holies which is in the most westerly space in the Tabernacle (tent or Temple). In the plans for the Temple in Jerusalem, one entered into the sanctuary from the east into the women’s court and passed through various spaces until one entered the Holy of Holies. There was no west entry or exit. Further west, conceptually would be Eden. The cherubim were right there like border patrol….in both cases. I think that is interesting. Remember also that Jacob meets angels or some representative of God as he leaves to land and when he returns. I call them border patrol agents…

c) The varied and distant descendants of paired cherubim are pairs of birds, eagles, deer and lions. They are everywhere in Jewish ritual and folk art. They stand guard on the aron kodesh of countless synagogues, Torah covers, ketubahs, mizrachs, even tapestries.

3. Moses the Mechokek (the lawgiver, the engraver, and the engraved, incomplete)

Read the Torah text ending with Exodus 25:40

See and Make” What is God telling Moses to see? This calls for a midrash…Tanchuma Yashan Shimini. READ translation.

Design instructions are incomprehensible! 4 color fire explanation?
So God engraved the Menorah design on Moses’ palm.

Also…. The order of events. The amount of gold. Tabernacle full of hidden gold vs. Golden calf incident.
The Menorah is the symbol that remains exclusively Jewish.
Becomes the “coat of arms” for Judaism. And the emblem for the modern State of Israel.

End with…
Tree/palm/menorah shape
Moses’ hands in other stories. Open hands of blessing and teaching versus hands grasping a staff.