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Torah Sparks

February 28, 2009 – 4 Adar 5769

Annual: Ex. 25:1 – 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Triennial: Ex. 26:1 – 26:30 (Etz Hayim p 491; Hertz p. 330)
Haftarah: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13 (Etz Hayim, p. 500; Hertz p. 336)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to bring gifts – precious metals, fine fabrics, skins, wood, oil, spices, and jewels – to build the mishkan, the portable sanctuary, and to make its furnishings. God says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

God then provides detailed instructions for the ark and its cover, the table, and the menorah. Next, there are the instructions for making the mishkan’s coverings – layers of cloth, goats’ hair, and skins, from inside to outside. Next, the wooden structure of planks and silver and gold fittings is described.

The mishkan also was to have a curtain to partition off the Holy of Holies and a screen for its entrance. The altar of wood overlaid with bronze was to be placed outside the screen. The entire mishkan was to be surrounded by an enclosure made of linen curtains supported by wooden planks with bronze and silver fittings.

1. If You've Got It, Flaunt It?

You shall then make cloths of goats’ hair for a tent over the Tabernacle; make the cloths eleven in number. (Exodus 26:7)

  1. All the beauty of the Tabernacle was on the inside: the beams were gold-covered, the curtains blue and scarlet, the vessels gold with precious stones, and so on. Yet on the outside it was covered with a simple covering of goats’ hair. This teaches us that a person’s primary beauty should remain on the inside, and that people should not ostentatiously display their wealth, so as not to rouse jealousy and hatred. (Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenboim, cited in Itturei Torah, Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
  2. Our rabbis taught: Formerly, they would bring food to the house of mourners in following manner: to the rich in baskets of gold and silver and to the poor in wicker baskets made of peeled willows. And the poor people were ashamed. The sages therefore instituted that all should be provided with food in wicker baskets made of peeled willows out of deference of the poor.

    Our rabbis taught: Formerly, they would provide drinks to the house of mourners in the following manner: to the rich in white glass [which was very expensive] and to the poor in colored glass. And the poor people were ashamed. The sages therefore instituted that all should be provided with drinks in colored glass out of deference to the poor.

    Formerly, they would uncover the face of the rich [corpse] and cover the face of the poor because their face became blackened by famine. And the poor people were ashamed. The sages therefore instituted that all faces should be covered out of deference to the poor.

    Formerly, they would carry out the rich [corpse] in a state bed and the poor on a common bier. And the poor people were ashamed. The sages therefore instituted that all should be carried out on a common bier out of deference to the poor...

    Formerly, the expense of carrying out the dead was harder on the family than the death itself; the family therefore abandoned the corpse and fled. Until Rabban Gamliel [president of the Sanhedrin] disregarded his own dignity, and had his body carried out in linen shrouds. Afterwards, all the people followed his lead and had themselves carried out in linen shrouds. Rabbi Papa stated: And nowadays, all follow the practice of being carried out even in a canvas shroud that costs but a zuz. (Moed Katan 27a-b)
  3. Our sages, blessed are they, have said: “'Who is wise man? One who sees the consequences of his actions.” Therefore, a person, even if he is in a strong situation, must always understand that because of the turbulence of our times, which is prevalent because of our many sins, one should behave when it comes to personal expenditures in the middle way, according to the individual and place. And even if God has been kind to him and given him great wealth, he should not wear very expensive embroidered clothing since that will damage his soul because it brings a person to arrogance and also incites the evil inclination. In addition, it causes others, who do not have the means, to look at him and desire to emulate him. In the end, they will borrow and not repay their loans or rob and cheat. And because of these extravagances, the expenses in our times for clothing for weddings have increased so that many of our daughters are humiliated when it comes time for them to get married. Fathers and mothers cry and wail and no one can help them. (Hafetz Hayim (Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen), 1835-1933, Poland)
  4. The British retailing magnate Philip Green is known as a tough executive. Last week he showed he is also an aggressive host. To celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah, Mr. Green had a temporary synagogue built on the lawn of the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera. Then he flew in several hundred guests, including the “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell and the British pornographer turned newspaper publisher Richard Desmond, for the three-day party. Beyonce Knowles sang “Bootylicious” and Andrea Bocelli performed something heard even less often at bar mitzvahs, “Ave Maria.” British papers estimated the cost at $7 million. (The New York Times, May 22, 2005)

Sparks for Discussion

Few would deny that wealth is a good thing, but what about flaunting your wealth? In the Middle Ages, some Jewish communities enacted sumptuary laws restricting what could be spent on clothing, jewelry, and celebrations so that Jews would not provoke envy (and possible persecution) from non-Jews. Do you think displays of wealth (or connections to famous people or other signs of success) should be avoided? Why? Why were the rabbis concerned about how funeral practices affected the poor? Were they simply worried about hurt feelings or was there a more practical concern?

Does your shul, school, or community advise families about appropriate types of life-cycle celebrations and levels of spending? Should they? How do you feel when you read media reports about outrageously over-the-top b’nai mitzvah parties?

2. Save the Trees

You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright. The length of each plank shall be ten cubits and the width of each plank a cubit and a half. (Exodus 26:15-16)

  1. Where did the boards come from? Jacob our father planted them. When he came down to Egypt, he said to his sons: My sons! You are destined to be redeemed from here, and when you are redeemed, the Holy One will tell you that you are to make a Tabernacle for Him. Rise up and plant cedars now, so that when He tells you to make a Tabernacle for Him, these cedars will be on hand. So Jacob’s sons set to planting cedars, doing just what he told them. Hence Scripture speaks of “the planks,” the boards their father had arranged should be on hand. (Tanhuma Terumah 9)
  2. One day, as he was walking on the road, Honi the Circle Maker saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him, “How long will it take this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” He asked, “Are you quite sure you will live another seventy years to eat its fruit?” The man replied, “I myself found fully grown carob trees in the world; as my forebears planted for me, so am I planting for my children.” (Taanit 23a)
  3. Why of acacia wood? God set an example for all time, that when a man is about to build his house from a fruit-producing tree, he should be reminded: If, when the supreme King of kings commanded the Tabernacle to be erected, His instructions were to use only such trees as are not fruit-bearing – even though all things belong to Him; how much more should this be so in your case! (Shemot Rabbah 35:2)
  4. Not only one who cuts down food trees, but also one who [purposely and impulsively] smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys food violates the command “You must not destroy...” (Devarim 20:19) (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Malachim 6:10 (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), 1135-1209, Spain and Egypt)

Sparks for Discussion

The Biblical cubit is about 18 inches, so the planks mentioned here would measure some 15 feet by a little more than two feet. Where would the Israelites have found them? Why does the Tanhuma explain their origin in the way it does?

Shemot Rabbah uses our verse to teach an environmental lesson. What does it add to the concept of bal tashchit (do not destroy) as codified by Rambam? What are you doing to incorporate bal tashchit into your life? The passages from Tanhuma and Taanit remind us that concern for the environment means making long-term commitments. Do you think this is realistic? How can we encourage people to think in terms of generations rather than weeks or months?

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