Sunday, February 03, 2008

Parshat Terumah 1

For my translation of selections from Tosefet Bracha click the link.

D'var Torah on Pershat Terumah by Rabbi David Sedley

Last week’s Torah reading ended with Moshe ascending Mount Sinai to receive the entirety of the Torah from G-d. Chronologically, the next thing that should occur in the Torah is the building of the Golden Calf. This takes place forty days later, and forces Moshe to make a hasty descent with the two tablets of stone, and smash them. But the Torah makes us wait another two weeks, until Ki Tissa, before continuing with the plot. In between we have what seems like a digression, detailing the plans for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and all of its ornaments and utensils. Obviously the Torah was not compiled in a haphazard, random fashion, so why did G-d feel that it was most appropriate to place these two portions here?

Three of the pieces of furniture in the Mishkan - the Ark containing the stone tablets, the altar, and the table - share a common feature. They each have rings at their sides, into which the poles used for carrying them are placed. But the poles of the Ark are unique, in that there is an explicit prohibition in ever removing them from their rings. Even after the Temple was built in Jerusalem, these poles remained in place. Why should our holiest object require portability as part of its design? Clearly it was not simply for the sake of portability. Furthermore, the total weight of the Ark must have been several tons, far more than four people could carry on their shoulders. In fact, the Levites who were carrying the Ark gave the appearance of bearing the weight of the poles on their shoulders, but were actually holding on as the Ark miraculously transported them. Although it appeared that the Ark was being carried, actually it was doing the carrying!

We have a principle that G-d always presents us, as a nation, with the cure, before afflicting us with the disease. One example of this is the story of Esther. The Megilla first relates how Esther came to be queen and how Mordechai saved the life of Ahasuerus, and only then begins with Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews. Thus the mechanism for our salvation was in place before its need actually arose.

So too in our parsha. Had the Jews not built the Golden Calf, they would have remained on the tremendously high spiritual level that they attained at Mount Sinai. There would have been no need for all of the trials and tribulations which we have had to face since then, the purpose of which is to bring us back to G-d. When Moshe goes back up Mount Sinai to plead with G-d not to destroy the nation, he is actually creating Jewish history. He beseeches G-d to be merciful and to spread out our punishment over time, instead of wiping us out on the spot. To this day we are still paying back part of that debt.

The need for a history of anti-Semitism, hatred and pogroms, was caused by the building of the Golden Calf. Our exile from the Holy Land was decreed then. But in order to be able to survive this harsh decree, we could not be tied to a Temple, or to a city. G-d, and the Torah, must be accessible anywhere that we may find ourselves; otherwise we could never continue to exist as a nation in exile.

Therefore G-d decreed that we should build ourselves a Mishkan, a portable Sanctuary, which will follow us wherever we go. And the Ark containing the two tablets, the embodiment of Torah, must be ready to go at any moment. The need for portability and mobility is not because G-d has no other means of transportation available to Him, but rather to teach us that at all times and places the Torah is available to us. If we are prepared to carry its burden, which may appear cumbersome and heavy, it will in fact carry and sustain us throughout our journeys.

There were two Temples in Jerusalem. The first was destroyed by the Babylonians, the second by the Romans. We cannot depend upon them for long lasting security. But the Mishkan was never destroyed. It was buried, and remains hidden to this day, somewhere on the Temple Mount. It is indestructible, and is a metaphor for our continued existence, and connection to G-d. The Ark is portable, and accompanies us through our long and difficult exile.

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