Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Terumah


V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’socham (25:8)

In Shir HaShirim (3:11), Shlomo HaMelech refers to an event which occurred on the day of his wedding and on the day of his heart’s rejoicing. The Mishnah in Taanis (4:8) homiletically interprets “the wedding day” as referring to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which represents the marriage between Hashem and the Jewish people, and “the day of the heart’s happiness” as a reference to the building of the Beis HaMikdash.

Rav Shach explains the comparison by questioning how Shlomo could refer to the day of his heart’s gladness separately from his wedding day, implying that he didn’t rejoice at his own wedding. He answers that although Shlomo was certainly happy when he married, his joy was limited to the extent that he knew his bride and recognized her positive qualities. Many people get engaged after dating for a few short weeks or months and get married following an engagement of not much longer.

This may be a sufficient period of time to determine that one has found his life partner. However, this stage, due to its brevity and the unnatural relationship that exists, isn’t conducive to fully appreciating the greatness of one’s fiancé or forming a deep relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.

It is only through years of living together, raising a family, and jointly confronting life’s challenges that a person comes to a real awareness of the wonderful decision he made in choosing his spouse. While it is unlikely that any single event will ever bring the same joy that one felt at his wedding, Shlomo is hinting that the lasting period of deep inner happiness resulting from a genuine bond lies in the future.

Similarly, at Mount Sinai the Jewish people demonstrated great faith in their “Groom” (Hashem) by unanimously declaring (24:7) “na’aseh v’nishma” – we will do and we will listen. They committed themselves to doing His will without even knowing what it is and were rewarded by being selected as His chosen people for all time.

Nevertheless, there was a certain lacking in the closeness of the bond, as the bride hadn’t yet recognized the greatness of the Groom. It was only after the wedding, when Moshe taught them the mitzvos and they began performing them, that a deeper relationship began to develop.

The pinnacle of that closeness came when the bride built a magnificent dwelling place where she could come to draw near to her Groom. This allowed for a full recognition of her tremendous fortune in being selected as Hashem’s bride. As the Ramban writes in his introduction to Sefer Shemos, the Mishkan was the spiritual culmination of the Exodus from Egypt. The relationship which began centuries earlier with Avrohom and continued through the Exodus and the “marriage” at Mount Sinai was finally consummated with the event which brought true rejoicing to our hearts.

V’asu Aron atzei shittim (25:10)

            Parshas Terumah introduces us to the Mishkan which Hashem commanded the Jewish people to build as a resting place for the Divine Presence. Hashem instructed Moshe regarding all of the vessels for the Mishkan, relating to him their appearance, dimensions, and the material from which they should be made.

            For each of the vessels, Hashem gave the command to Moshe in the first-person singular: “You shall make a Menorah.” “You shall make an Altar.” “You shall make a Table.” The commentaries point out one curious exception. The commandment regarding the construction of the Aron which housed a Torah scroll and the Tablets which Moshe received at Mount Sinai was given in the third-person plural: “And they shall make an Ark.”

            As Moshe didn’t actually build any of the vessels himself, it was clear that in commanding him to do so Hashem intended for him to appoint others to do so on his behalf. If so, why was the Holy Ark any different? Why did Hashem emphasize that all of the Jewish people should be involved in its construction instead of simply allowing Moshe to delegate responsibility for it as he did for the other vessels?

            An insight into understanding this difficulty can be gleaned from a powerful story told by Rav Yissochar Frand at the most recent Siyum HaShas on March 1, 2005 in Madison Square Garden.

            There was once a Jewish boxer who was very far removed from Judaism. His son didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, but as he grew up, he became interested in learning more about his roots and found himself studying with great diligence in a local yeshiva. When he came home each night, he immersed himself in the review of that day’s Talmudic studies.

            His father, who was himself engrossed in watching television, couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating and enjoyable about the study of the Gemora. Eventually, the father began begging his son to teach him the Talmud. The son dismissed him, explaining that he didn’t even know Hebrew and certainly couldn’t understand a page of difficult Aramaic text.

            The father pressed his son to at least give him a taste by teaching him just one daf (page) of the Gemora. The son relented, but it was a long, arduous project. Line by line they continued, forgetting, reviewing, and plodding forward until after one full year they finally realized their goal and completed the study of an entire page of the Talmud.

            The father asked his son to make a siyum to celebrate their accomplishment, but the son explained that one must complete an entire tractate to make a siyum. The father persisted with his request, and the son agreed to ask Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe not only ruled that under the circumstances was it permissible to make a siyum, but insisted that he himself would attend.

The night after the siyum, the boxer died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rav Moshe commented that just as the Gemora teaches (Avodah Zara 17a) that some people acquire their portion in the World to Come through one deed, this man acquired it through one daf.

            In light of this story, we can appreciate the answer to our question given by many of the commentators. The Aron, with the Torah scroll and Tablets inside, represents the study of Torah. Although Hashem was able to individually command Moshe to make the other vessels, the Torah belongs to every one of the Jewish people to study on his individual level. The Aron could not be made by one man because the Torah cannot be learned by one man.

Every one of us has his own unique portion in the Torah. It may be completing the entire Shas, it may be finishing one daf, and it may be studying on the phone one hour weekly. The key is to always remember Rav Frand’s message: “Whatever we do, it’s never too little, it’s never too late, and it’s never enough.”

 V’nasata el ha’Aron es ha’Eidus asher etein eilecha (25:16)

Hashem commanded Moshe to place in the Ark the “testimony” which Hashem would give him. Rashi explains that this is a reference to the Torah and the Tablets which bear witness to the fact that Hashem commanded us regarding the mitzvos which are contained therein. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin questions the value of having a Sefer Torah placed in the Aron in the Kodesh Kodashim, a place where it would never be used or even seen as nobody but the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur was allowed to enter there.

The Medrash explains (Devorim Rabbah 9:9) that the public awareness that hidden deep in the inner recesses of the Beis HaMikdash was a 100% authentic Sefer Torah written by Moshe himself acted as a powerful deterrent to any would-be forger. Anybody who entertained the possibility of denying some of the mitzvos and supporting his claims by writing a falsified Sefer Torah which omits them would refrain due to the recognition that if he did so, it would be possible to bring out Moshe’s authentic Torah from the Aron to compare, thereby proving him wrong and exposing his malicious intent.

In a eulogy on the great Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, Rav Sorotzkin suggested that the Brisker Rav had similarly isolated himself from most of the world, confining himself all day to the learning and teaching of Torah to a few select students in his house. Although he eschewed a public and social role, his value as the last remaining vestige of the Torah-true Judaism of Brisk was inestimable. As long as the Brisker Rav was alive, anybody who dared question the smallest custom and attempted to alter the mesorah (tradition) from Europe knew that his claims would be immediately and sharply rebuffed by the Brisker Rav, the authentic Sefer Torah who was no longer.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     As the book of Shemos is known as the Book of the Exodus and revolves around the theme of the redemption from Egypt, why does it discuss the building of the Mishkan and the garments of the Kohanim at such great length instead of ending after the splitting of the Red Sea or the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, leaving these subjects to be included in Sefer Vayikra together with the other laws of sacrifices and Kohanim? (Introduction of the Ramban to Sefer Shemos)

2)     Why is Parshas Mishpatim, which contains the Torah’s code of civil law, juxtaposed to Parshas Terumah, which discusses the Mishkan and its utensils? (Beis HaLevi, Oznayim L’Torah)

3)     Hashem commanded Moshe to collect donations for the Mishkan from every individual whose heart desired to contribute (25:1-2). Were women also permitted to give donations toward the building of the Mishkan? (Meshech Chochmah, Mishmeres Ariel)

4)     Rashi writes (25:5) that the tachash was a beautiful, multi-colored animal which Hashem created at the time of the construction of the Mishkan and which then became extinct. How can this be reconciled with the verse in Koheles (1:9) which teaches that there is nothing new beneath the sun – which the Gemora in Sanhedrin (110a) understands to mean that Hashem doesn’t make new creations after the original six days of Creation? (Ayeles HaShachar)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.