Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

February 5, 2011 – 1 Adar I 5771

Annual: Ex. 25:1 – 27:19 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Triennial: Ex. 25:1 – 25:40 (Etz Hayim p 485; Hertz p. 326)
Maftir Numbers 28:9-15 (Etz Hayim p 930; Hertz p. 694)
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24 (Etz Hayim, p. 1220; Hertz p. 944)

Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
Baldwin, New York

Torah Portion Summary

Parashat Terumah opens with a call for Israelites whose hearts so move them to contribute gifts for the construction and upkeep of the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself is described in detail, along many of the accoutrements and ritual objects used there. Among the items used in construction and decoration of the Tabernacle are a variety of exotic materials: dolphin skins and lapis lazuli, for example. According to gemologist Jane Herzig, lapis may have been chosen because strictly speaking it is a rock, not a gem, and therefore becomes valuable in proportion to its composite minerals. Lapis thus is a reflection of the composite nature of the people Israel, which is enhanced by its various tribal constituents and diverse individual members. Among the appurtenances of the sanctuary described in our parashah are the ephod and breastplate used by the priest; the ark, together with its cover adorned with cherubim; and the sanctuary table. Gold bowls, ladles, and jugs were for use on the table, which is where the bread offering was placed. The seven-branch menorah that stood in the tabernacle now serves as the symbol and the official seal of the state of Israel. The brass altar and its implements also are described.

The construction of the tabernacle itself, which was based on the design revealed to Moses atop Mount Sinai, is described with attention to fine details. Every loop, plank, peg, socket, and hook is specified. Curtains and screens separate the Holy of Holies from the surrounding sanctuary and courtyard.

According to Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor emeritus of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, "The design for the tabernacle came from above, but the wherewithal came from below, freely tendered without a trace of compulsion. The creation of sacred space required the consent of those to be served by it. Holiness cannot be fabricated and foisted in the face of massive dissent. The key to drawing God into the midst of a faith community is the personal engagement of its members... The popular voluntarism that enabled Moses to erect Israel's mobile sanctuary is the operative paradigm for the American Jewish community."

Theme #1: "To Thine Own Self Be Terumah"

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.'" (Exodus 25:1)

Derash: Study

"In regard to prayer, we say: Better a little with proper intention than much without the proper intention. With tzedakah, however, giving much but without the proper intention is also an estimable act! With tzedakah, the determining factor is the aid and relief that can be effected, the good and the kindness that can be achieved with the funds. With more money, more good can be accomplished." (Baal ha-Tanya)

"'Bring Me gifts.' That is, according to Rashi, 'For My sake.' It is said: 'Silver is Mine and gold is Mine, says the Lord of Hosts' (Haggai 2:8). Are only silver and gold the possessions of the Holy One? Isn't everything God's? The intent of the verse is that the Holy One tells Israel: Your duty is this – to elevate the silver and gold you acquire 'to Me' – that is, to use it for mitzvot and acts of goodness. That is the meaning of the verse: 'This is the offering you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze.' As for 'You shall accept gifts for Me' – 'Me' means 'for My purposes' – to devote your money to holy works." (Sefat Emet)

"Each individual is to contribute the specific goodness that is in his heart. For the sanctuary is built of goodness. From each individual it is to be determined whether that be 'gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen…' Each person brings a unique expression of goodness, that person's own, individual hue." (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav)

"Surprisingly, the contribution mandated at the outset is entirely voluntary, to be made only by those whose hearts move them to do so… God tells Israel to make their contributions 'for Me.' Individuals may choose whether to satisfy their personal aspirations through a donation to the Divine dwelling-place – but the purpose of the donation…is to serve God, not themselves." Edward L. Greenstein "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." (Thomas Jefferson)

Questions for Discussion:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a voluntary or "freewill" approach to funding a religious institution? How is a congregation to strike a fair balance between its collective needs and the good will and diverse resources of its constituents? Is it fair, as the Baal Ha-Tanya seems to say, to ascribe a greater good to those who contribute large sums, and more commonly to bestow honor and influence upon them, as opposed to those who give less, but according to or exceeding, their means? And what of those who give with the proper spirit?

How are we to quantify the "individual hue of goodness" brought to a community by its various members and participants? What indispensible nonmaterial gifts do we contribute to the spirit, strength, and vibrancy of our congregations? Do these intangibles to some extense absolve us of financial obligations? Conversely, do those who are significant financial contributors have less of a duty to participate by giving of their time and presence as well?

In what situations do requests for charitable contributions or support become obligatory, rather than a matter of whether our hearts so move us?

Theme #2: "Ark Deco"

"Make two cherubim of gold – make them of hammered work – at the two ends of the cover... The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover. Place the cover on the top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the pact that I will give you. There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you – from above the cover, from between the cherubim that are on the top of the Ark of the Pact – all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people." (Exodus 25:18-22)

Derash: Study

"Cherubim. The Hebrew keruvim is derived from a root that suggests hybrid or composite and perhaps also 'steed.' These are fearsome winged beasts (compare the Egyptian sphinx) that figure in poetry as God's celestial steeds and that serve here as His celestial throne, 'enthroned upon cherubim' being an epithet for the deity." (Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses)

"The sages relate that the cherubim had the form of a child's face. Thus the two cherubim upon the ark were to remind those who would study the law that they must be like children in two respects: they must accept the authority of the law like an obedient child who has not yet begun to study, and must be pure and innocent of sin like a child." (Nahal Kedumim)

"The form ofa child's face. This shows that it is through the education of children that we maintain the Shechinah – God's Presence – in Israel. It is they, our children, who keep watch over the tablets of the Covenant, fulfillment of the Torah, and the eternal character of the nation." (Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik of Brisk)

"In seeking to do the will of the omnipresent God, 'the face of each must be turned to the other' – that is, individuals must think not only of themselves, but of their fellow Jews. We must take care that our neighbors should also remain true to Judaism, that their children, too, should be able to study Torah. If we think only of the spiritual needs of our own house, it is proof we are not doing the will of God." (Pardes Yosef)

"Rabbi Ketina taught: When Israel made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they would pull back the curtain in the Holy of Holies and show them the cherubim, which were entwined in loving embrace. They would tell them: 'See how beloved you are to the Holy One, like the love between a man and a woman. Resh Lakish said: When heathens entered the sanctuary, they saw the cherubim in their loving embrace. They took them out to the street and mocked: This people Israel, whose blessing is a blessing and whose curse is a curse – look at how they occupy themselves!" (Talmud Yoma 53A-B)

Questions for Discussion:

The space between the cherubim, atop the ark of the covenant in the Temple’s Holy of Holies, the very point from which God’s commanding voice emanated and imparted His divine will for the Jewish people – could there be a holier place?! The ultimate sanctity of this setting informs the various views of what form the cherubim took.

What does it mean for such unsurpassed holiness to be placed above the image of innocent children? What communal religious obligations to children does this imply?

What do we learn from the Talmud's assertion that the cherubim depicted a man and woman in intimate embrace, and that God's voice spoke to Israel from such an erotic image? How do we understand the assertion by Resh Lakish (as a former gladiator he is perhaps the sage most associated with physicality) that non-Jews misunderstood and mocked the Israelite view of love and sexuality? How does Resh Lakish's life story inform this text?

The Yoma text refers to the love of zachar and nekeivah – "male and female" (or, more elegantly, "man and woman") – rather than "husband and wife." Why? And to what effect?

What moral and programmatic lessons do we infer from the mutuality implied through the interpretation of the Pardes Yosef?

In the ancient Near East, the cherub was a fearsome hybrid, as Professor Alter explains. How might we understand the significance of such a sphinx-like beast – in combination with the prevalent view of cherubim with a young child's face – a hybrid design indeed!?

Historic Note

On March 5, 2011, we read in Parashat Terumah of offerings of gold, silver, and bronze. One year earlier, the Winter Olympics – with their much soughtafter gold, silver, and bronze – opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Halachah L'Maaseh

"We are obligated to be more meticulous about the mitzvah of tzedakah than any other prescriptive commandment, since tzedakah is the identifying characteristic of the descendents of our father Abraham" (Maimonides, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 10:1). Maimonides also rules that rabbinic authorities may coerce (or, in their absence, seize the property of) those who refuse to give tzedakah or to give at a level appropriate to their means (7:10). Ketzot ha- Choshen explains that this is because we have an actual financial obligation, not merely a religious duty, toward those in need, and financial obligations and debts are subject to coercion.

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016