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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 Adam Overlander-Kaye :: 5771

Adam Overlander-Kaye is the Director of Fundraising for the Movement of Reform Judaism and has worked around the UK for the UJIA, Jewish Agency, Bnei Akiva and UJS-Hillel. He is a Fellow of the Brandeis Institute of Informal Jewish Education and holds an MA in Jewish Studies from Leeds University. He first came to Limmud Conference seventeen years ago and got bitten by the Limmud bug, becoming a regular presenter ever since.

It has always struck me how the biblical account of the six days of creation, lasting billions of years gets crammed into just 31 p’sukim or sentences in the first chapter of Bereishit. Yet 90 pages later (at least according to the Koren tanach) the style changes and we have 86 detailed p’sukim written on how to build the tabernacle/mishkan (Shemot 25:10-27:19). Following this in next weeks Parasha we have 38 psukim describing the clothes that Aaron the high priest and his sons had to wear when he was ‘on duty’. I am struck by the disparity between the amount of space given to Creation and the Tabernacle stories and feel that there must be a link. Then my eye is drawn to the start of the parasha (Shemot 25:1-7) when God tells Moses to: "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts… gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen… spices for the anointing oil… lapis lazuli (avnei miluim) and other stones for setting in the ephod and for the breastpiece…"

"Lapis Lazuli has timeless associations with deities in general. Carrying it, its possessor bore the potent magical power of a deity, for the stone contained the force behind all divinity. Lapis Lazuli is an uplifting, spiritual stone, its deep blue color reflects its peaceful vibrations." Scott Cunningham, Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic

However if we believe what Walter Schumann wrote in Gemstones of the World pp 102 (trans. Annette Englander & Daniel Shea), "in antiquity and as late as the Middle Ages, the name sapphire was understood to mean what is today described as lapis lazuli" then perhaps we can link this list of gifts to Creation or at least to God. A few lines earlier at the end of parashat Mishpatim we read that "Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders arose. They saw the Lord of Israel and beneath God’s feet was a pavement of sapphire (hasapir)..." (Exodus 24:9-10). If this beautiful blue precious stone is what God ‘walks’ on then perhaps it has some special intrinsic holiness. Furthermore, if we read read Psalms/Tehillim 19:2, ha-shamayim m’sapprim kavod el, as “The heavens shine like sapphire for the Glory God,” rather then the more conventional translation of “The heavens declare/recount the Glory of God" then perhaps we find an even closer link between sapphire and God. Rabbi Geoff Dennis, author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism takes this theme further: "Zohar 1:8a elaborates on the same verse, declaring sapphire signifies the union of masculine and feminine principles of divinity and it is the “radiance” (zahir) that fills the universe: “m’sapprim signifies that they [the divine groom and bride] radiate a brilliance (zoharah) like that of a sapphire, sparkling and scintillating from one end of the world to the other."

"This theme of sapphire as a visible signifier of divine entities extends to other sacred narratives, such as the Midrashic tradition that the tablets of the heavenly words, the Ten Commandments, were tablets of sapphire cut from the Throne of Glory (Midrash Lekakh Tov, Ex. 31.18). It also appears in the Hebrew magical tradition that the angelic book given by Raziel to Noah was in the form of an engraved sapphire stone (Sefer ha-Razim)."

Finally he quotes the Sefer Bahir, a mystical text attributed to a 1st century rabbinic sage R. Nehunya ben ha-Kanah whom I think brings together lapis lazuli and Creation. He writes in section 125: "What is the material that from which everything is engraved? And from it is engraved the heavens? It is the Throne of the Blessed Holy One. It is the precious stone and the sea of wisdom … Rabbi Meir said, Why is blue chosen from among all types colors [for the tzitzit]? Blue resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory. Thus it is written … under God’s feet was like a pavement of sapphire…(Ex. 24:10)" http://ejmmm2007.blogspot.com/2007/04/sapphire-heaven.html


More by Adam Overlander-Kaye

Another voice by Jacqueline Nicholls

Jacqueline Nicholls is a visual artist and Jewish educator. She uses her art to explore traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways. She teaches Tanach at the London School of Jewish Studies.

At the heart of the place of connection to God, at the centre of the Mishkan, God’s dwelling place amongst the people, is a box. A box of wood and gold, containing the luchot, the tablets. On top of the box are 2 winged figures, the Keruvim, facing each other with the tips of their wings touching. But the box isn’t there.

The box, aron, has dimensions. In the parsha of Terumah it is described as being two and half cubits long, cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. But there is a problem. It is to be housed in the Kodesh Kodeshim. We learn from R. Levi in Megillah 10b that the ark took up no room when adding up the dimensions of the box to the dimensions of the Kodesh Kodeshim. There simply is no there for the box to be. More later.

What is this box made from? Not magical non-matter but acacia wood covered with gold, with carrying poles. And golden keruvim on top. All quantified and described in Terumah. A parsha that describes all the things that are to be made for the Mishkan. This box is different from the other furnishings. The other objects, the menorah, altars etc, are given the command v’asitah, and YOU will make. The box is described v’aisihu, and THEY will make. Rambam interprets this beautifully - the box contains the witness to the people’s connection to God. And that is something that all the people have a stake in creating and containing. An unmediated connection to God, not dominated by hierarchy or leadership power structures. But this box, it isn’t there.

Covering this witness to the connection to God are two figures locked in eternal face-to-face conversation. A chavrutah. We’re taught ‘chavrutah v’metutah’ - friendship or death. Find a connection with an other or face nothingness. Truth, Torah, is only revealed in a conversation with an Other. God’s face is hard to find. But we can find a friend, an other to reach out to, through them glimpse what it means to be in relationship with An Other. But it is a relationship that cannot be defined in dimensions, be made to be only in one place. Through these intangible relationships we build friendships, communities. A people. A people who finds connections with the Eternal. Unmediated and open. The box is just not there (and for those looking for the 'more later' - sometimes it isn't going to be there).


More by Jacqueline Nicholls

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