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God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to donate materials and to make a sanctuary – a Mishkan – in order that God may dwell amongst the people as they journey. The parasha then outlines extensive details about how the Mishkan is to be built.

Another voice

Terumah by Eliot Kaye :: 5768

Eliot Kaye co-chaired Limmud Conference 2003 and then served on the Limmud Executive for three years. He co-founded and is a current trustee of Alei Tzion, a new modern-orthodox community in Hendon. Eliot learned at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat, Israel and is an investment banker with Shore Capital.

This week's parsha launches into the intricate description of the construction of the various furnishings and accoutrements of the Mishkan (Sanctuary), the forerunner to the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem. One by one, Hashem instructs Moshe and, as you would expect, in each case the verb is in the second person singular: ve-tzipita, ve-asita, ve-yatzakta, ve-natata, ve-heveta, "you shall cover . . . you shall make . . . you shall pour . . . you shall place . . . you shall bring."

However, in relation to the creation of the Mishkan itself, the verb is in the third person plural: "ve-asu li mikdash ve-shachanti betochum", - "They shall make me a Sanctuary so that I can dwell among them." Why "they" not "you"? Why the shift from the singular to the plural?

In good Jewish fashion, let's respond to this question by asking another question: what is the real purpose of the Mishkan and its ultimate successor, the Holy Temple, and its significance to Judaism and the Jewish people?

The Ramban (Nachmanides), noting that the commandment to build the Mishkan directly follows the Revelation at Sinai (the portion of Mishpatim is a continuation of the Ten Commandments, according to the Midrash), maintains that the very function of the Mishkan was to continue the Revelation, to build a central Temple from which the Divine Voice would continue to emanate and direct Bnei Yisrael. Even Moshe himself reiterates this notion of an ongoing Revelation when he repeats the historical event at Sinai in his farewell speech to Bnei Yisrael: "Hashem spoke these words to your entire assembly from on the mountain amidst the fire, the cloud and the fog, a great voice which never stops" (Devarim 5:19 - according to the Targum Onkelos).

It therefore is quite logical that the Great Sanhedrin, interpreters of Hashem's word for every generation, sat within the Holy Temple in the Court of the Hewn Stone. It is after all the function of the Oral Torah to keep Hashem's word alive and relevant in every time and in every situation. Apparently the Ramban would insist that the main purpose of the Mishkan was to teach and inspire Israel and humanity with the eternal word of the Divine. From this perspective, after the destruction of the Second Temple, it is the synagogues and the study houses - our central institutions of Torah reading, learning and interpretation - which are the legitimate heirs to the Mishkan.

The mystical and Hassidic interpretations see, in the Mishkan, another purpose altogether: the building of a home in which Hashem and Israel (ultimately all of humanity) will dwell together. The Revelation at Sinai symbolised the betrothal between Hashem and Israel - with the marriage contract being the tablets of stone, the Biblical laws. The commandment to erect a Mishkan enjoins us to build the nuptial house in which the Almighty "bridegroom" unites with His bride-Israel.

Hence, the accoutrements of the Mishkan are an ark (a "cupboard" for the Tablets), a menorah-candelabrum, a table for the show-bread - the usual furnishings of a home - as well as an altar; everyone knows that it is impossible to establish a family without willingness to sacrifice one for the other. And if the Almighty created a world - albeit an incomplete, imperfect one - in which humanity can dwell, we Jews must create a more-perfect Mishkan so that Hashem will feel more comfortable with us and be enabled to dwell in our midst here on Earth.

From this perspective, the heir to the destroyed Holy Temples is the Jewish home, wherever it may be. It is because Judaism sees the home as the mother of all religious institutions that home-centered family ritual celebrations bear a striking parallel to the religious ritual of the Temple even to this day. The most obvious example of this is that mystical and magical evening known as Seder Night, modeled upon the eating of the Korban Pesach (Passover Sacrifice) in Jerusalem during Temple times, when every parent becomes a teacher whose primary task is to convey - through songs, stories and special foods - the most seminal experience in Jewish history: the exodus from Egypt.

And every Shabbat and Yom Tov meal is a mini Pesach Seder. Even before the Friday sun begins to set, the Shabbat lights are lit, reminiscent of the priests' first task each day: to light the Menorah. The blessing over the kiddush wine reminds us of the wine libations, the carefully braided challot symbolise the twelve loaves of show-bread which were changed in the Temple every Friday just before dusk, and the salt in which we dip the challah is based upon the biblical decree, "You shall place salt on all of your sacrifices" (Vayikra 2:13), since salt, which is an external preservative, is symbolic of the indestructibility of Hashem's covenant with Israel.

Indeed, the Torah even guides us on to how to build such a home. Normally, when constructing a building, one begins with the outer edifice and, only once that is complete, does one begin to construct the interior. But the Torah's instructions on how to construct the Mishkan are completely reversed. Starting with the ark (the symbol of Torah) and working through the various vessels until concluding with the walls and framework. The lesson is poignantly simple: when building a home, we must place Torah, our Judaism, in the centre and build around it - if we build everything else first, there may not be any room left for Torah.

I believe that both views, the Mishkan as continuing Revelation, and the Mishkan as the nuptial home between Hashem and Israel together express the fundamental significance of our Holy Temple. That is, perhaps, why the command is expressed in that rather unusual third person - ve-asu li mikdash ve-shachanti betochum, "They shall make me a Sanctuary so that I can dwell among them." Every single Jew is a partner in the construction of the Mishkan/Temple - every time that Jew learns Torah, every time he or she builds a Jewish home. May we each merit to see the third and final Temple built speedily in our days.


More by Eliot Kaye

Another voice by Taste of Limmud Team

This week's parsha, Terumah, contains detailed instructions as to how the Israelites were to construct the Tabernacle. But why so much detail? Is it really necessary to know the precise measurements and material of every aspect? Why is it so important to know exactly how they built the Tabernacle?

By engaging in the practicalities of building a home for God, the Jewish people came together - each contributing their time or possessions. Collective action in building the Tabernacle, enabled them to build a sustainable nation; by engaging in common task and goal they became one people.

The same principle applies to Limmud. Limmud is created by disparate volunteers who come together to build Limmud events. By engaging in collective action together, Limmud volunteers - of all backgrounds and ages - come together to create the Limmud Community. They create a community united around a common goal - expanding Jewish horizons.


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Other Divrei Torah on Terumah

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  • 5769 (Fiona Brodie)
  • 5769 (Steve Kay Kupietzky)
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  • 5771 (Jacqueline Nicholls)
  • 5772 (Dina Pinner)
  • 5773 (Shaiya Rothberg)
  • 5773 (Daniel Vulkan)
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  • 5775 (Daniel Lichman)