Friday, February 23, 2007

Parshat Terumah

Fire of Sinai

Having completed the narrative of Mount Sinai and receiving the Torah we now begin the description of the mishkan (Tabernacle) and its construction. Four of the next five parshiot deal primarily with the mishkan, so let us investigate its purpose and reason.
There is a famous conflict of opinion between Rashi and Ramban. Rashi holds that the mishkan was built only as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelites had demonstrated that they were not satisfied with a direct relationship with G-d but wanted some kind of intermediary. Therefore G-d gave them what they were looking for, and instructed them to build a physical representation of their relationship with G-d. This approach is similar to the Rambam’s description of the reason for Mitzvot – in the third section of Moreh Nevuchim he explains almost all of the Mitzvot, including the sacrifices and temple rituals, as an antidote to the idolatry which the Israelites were gradually being weaned from.
The Ramban understands that the Mishkan was not the result of sin, but rather the goal of the exodus. He writes in his introduction to Shemot that the whole book is describing how the nation returned to the level of the patriarchs. Just as the tent of the first fathers and mothers had the Divine Presence resting within it, and had daily miracles which were a clear expression of G-d, so too the mishkan was the resting place of the Shechina and the same daily miracles were recreated within.
In our parsha he is more explicit and explains that the mishkan is designed to recreate the Sinaitic experience. He writes (Shemot 25; 1):
The secret of the mishkan is that the Glory of G-d which rested on Mount Sinai now rests hidden within the mishkan. Just as it says (24; 16) “The Glory of G-d rested upon Mount Sinai”. It also states “Behold The L-rd your G-d has shown you His Glory and His Greatness”. Similarly it says in regard to the mishkan “The Glory of G-d filled the mishkan”. The Torah states twice that “The Glory of G-d filled the mishkan” corresponding to “His Glory” and “His Greatness”. The glory that appeared to them at Mount Sinai remained constantly with Israel in the mishkan. When Moshe entered into the Mishkan the speech came to him which was the same speech that spoke to him at Mount Sinai. The verse states (Devarim 4; 36) “From the Heavens I caused you to hear the Voice, to test you. And on the Earth He showed you his great fire”. Regarding the mishkan it states (Bamidbar 7; 89) “And he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the kaporet, between the two cherubs, and He spoke to him”.
The fire of Sinai which represented the covenant between G-d and his chosen people was encapsulated in the mishkan which not only had constant fire (on the altar) but had the two golden cherubs in the Holy of Holies from where G-d spoke to Moshe throughout their time in the desert. The kabbalists explain that gold represents the fire descending from Heaven.
The Ramban explains that the fire of Sinai was represented not only while the mishkan stood, but even after it was replaced with the Beit Hamikdash. The Shechina was ever present even in the second Temple, even when the Aron (Ark) with its cherubs were no longer in the Holy of Holies (having been buried by King Chizkiya).
However after the destruction of the second Temple the Shechina and the Divine Fire found a new locus for interaction with the world. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 31a) tells us:
The Shechina made ten journeys, all of which are recorded in the Scriptures. From the kaporet to the cherub, from one cherub to the other cherub, from the cherub to the lintel, from the lintel to the courtyard, from the courtyard to the altar, from the altar to the roof, from the roof to the wall, from the wall to the city, from the city to the mountain, from the mountain to the desert. From the desert it ascended and returned to its place, as the verse states “I will go and return to my place” (Hosea 5)
The Divine Presence returned to its place. However it is still accessible through learning Torah. It is the Torah scholars who now bring the Shechina into the world along with the fire that represents the Sinaitic covenant. This is the simple meaning of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3; 7):
Rabbi Chalaphtha ben Dosa of the village of Chananiah said: "When ten sit and are occupied in words of Law the Shekhina is among them, as it is written (Tehillim 82; 1): 'G-d stands in the Congregation of God.' And from where is it proved of even five? It is written (Amos, 9. 6): 'And has founded his bundle on the earth' (and a bundle is at least of five). And from where do we see even three? It is written (Tehillim 82; 1): 'In the midst of judges does He judge' (and the number of judges is generally three). And from where even two? It is written (Malachi 3; 16): 'Then they that favored the L-rd spoke often one to another.' (The least number of persons who can speak to each other is two.) And where is the source for even one? It is written (Shemot 20; 21): 'In every place where I shall permit my name to be mentioned, I will come unto you (singular) and will bless you.'
It is now the judges and the scholars who become the foundation of the Holy Chariot and the place where G-d’s Shechina rests in the world. The Yerushalmi (Chagiga 2; 1) brings this idea out very clearly when it gives an account of the events that transpired at the Brit Milah of Elisha ben Avuyia (who later became one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnaic period before he became an Apikorus and henceforth was known as Acher).
Avuyia, the father of Elisha (Acher) was one of the great men of Yerushalayim. On the day of Elisha’s brit he invited all the dignitaries of Yerushalayim and seated them in one room, and seated Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua in another room. The people ate and drank, sang and began to clap and dance. Rabbi Eliezer said to Rabbi Yehoshua, as long as they are doing their thing, let us learn Torah. They sat and began with Torah. From the Torah they moved on to the Prophets and from there to the Writings. A fire came down from Heaven and surrounded them. Avuhia said to them, “My Rabbis! Have you come to burn down my house?” They replied, “Heaven forfend! Rather, we were learning Torah which led to the Prophets which led to the Writings. The matters were so happy like the day that they were given on Sinai, and the fire came down to lick them like the fire of Sinai. The main giving of the Torah at Sinai was only through fire, as the verse states “The mountain was burning with fire to the heart of the Heaven”.” Avuyia said to them, “My Rabbis, if this is the power of Torah, and if G-d will allow my son to live, I will dedicate him to learning Torah.”
When learning Torah one has the potential ability to recreate the experience of Sinai when we heard the voice of G-d. This voice and the accompanying fire moved from Mount Sinai to the mishkan and later to the two Temples. Finally the Shechina became accessible only through learning Torah. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple speedily and once again have direct access to the fire of Sinai and experience the miracles of the Shechina first hand.

Shabbat Shalom

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