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Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Terumah

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

One of the blessings commonly given to a newly-engaged couple is “Der zivug zohl oleh yafeh zein.” While it may be customary to rapidly rattle off the words, an examination of the English translation – the match should be one that “goes up well” – reveals that the wording is awkward and the deeper meaning is difficult to grasp. What is the underlying intention behind this curiously-worded blessing?

The Satmar Rebbe Rav Yoel Teitelbaum brilliantly explains that the word “oleh” is often used to connote the numerical value of a phrase. If so, we may re-interpret the blessing as stating that the new match should have the numerical value of the word “yafeh,” which comes to 95, but what is the significance of this seemingly arbitrary number?

The Sefer HaChinuch discusses the laws and reasons for the 613 mitzvos, listing them in the order of their mention in the Torah. He counts the 95th mitzvah as the commandment “V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’socham” – and they shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amongst them. This is a most appropriate blessing to give a new couple embarking on the establishment of their own personal Mikdash Me’at (miniature Sanctuary).

V’asu Aron atzei shitim amasayim vacheitzi arko (25:10)

The Gemora in Sanhedrin (29a) seeks a source for the claim that “whoever adds to something actually takes away from it.” One opinion claims that this statement may be derived from our verse, which states that the Holy Ark was to be made of acacia wood and should be 2.5 cubits long. However, the Gemora is cryptically terse; how does one sees from here that something which was added had the net effect of detracting from the original amount?

Rashi explains that the Torah requires the Ark to be “amasayim vacheitzi arko” – 2.5 cubits in length. However, if the letter aleph wasn’t present, the Ark would need to be “masayim vacheitzi arko” – 200.5 cubits – significantly longer. Therefore, by adding the letter “aleph,” the overall size of the Ark was actually reduced.

However, the Maharsha challenges Rashi’s explanation by pointing out that if the letter aleph is removed, the Torah no longer specifies to which units of measurement it refers. The verse would require the Ark to be 200.5 long, but there would be no way of knowing with which units this should be measured. It would be quite possible that it would be measured using a smaller unit than cubits, such that 200.5 of the smaller units would actually be less than 2.5 cubits. In this case, adding the letter aleph would have the effect of increasing the size of the Ark, and the Gemora’s claim couldn’t be derived from here.

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly suggests an alternative understanding of the Gemora’s derivation. Unlike Rashi, he explains that the Gemora refers to the addition of the letter vov at the beginning of the word “vacheitzi.” In the absence of this letter, the verse would read “amasayim chetzi arko” – two cubits is half of the length of the Ark. In other words, the Ark would have been four cubits long, but by adding the letter vov, its length was reduced to 2.5 cubits, thereby providing an ideal source for the Gemora’s claim that adding on to something actually takes away from it.

V’asisa Shulchan atzei shitim (25:23)

The Torah specifies that the Table in the Mishkan was to be made specifically from “atzei shitim” – acacia wood. Why was this specific type of wood chosen for this purpose?

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the letters spelling the word “shitim” are short for the words “Shalom, Tovah, Yeshuah, Mechilah” – peace, goodness, salvation, and forgiveness. This type of wood was also used in the Ark and the Altar, hinting that the Divine Service performed through these vessels was the source of bringing all of these blessings to the world.

In our day, however, when we unfortunately lack these vessels, what do we have in their stead through which we may merit the rewards and bounty that they brought? The Gemora in Chagigah (27a) derives from a verse in Yechezkel that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, the generous opening up of a person’s table to serve the poor and other guests serves in lieu of the Altar. The Gemora in Berachos (54b) adds that doing so is a merit for long life.

Rabbeinu Bechaye mentions the fascinating custom of the pious men of France who had their burial caskets built from the wood of their tables. This symbolizes their recognition that upon dying, none of their earthly possessions would be accompanying them. The only item they could take with them was the merit of the charity and hosting of guests that they performed in their lifetimes. In fact, the Minchas Cohen suggests that the letters in the word Shulchan (Table) are abbreviations for “Shomer li’kevurah chesed nedivosayich” – preserving for burial the kindness of your giving!

V’asisa paroches techeiles v’argaman v’tola’as shani v’sheis mashzar ma’aseh chosheiv (26:31)

The Mishnah in Shekalim (8:5) teaches that the Paroches (Partition) was 40 cubits long and 20 cubits wide. It required 82,000 women to weave it and 300 Kohanim to immerse it in the mikvah if it became ritually impure. Why did it require so many Kohanim to submerge it in the mikvah?

The Vilna Gaon calculates that if it was 40 cubits by 20 cubits, its total perimeter was 120 cubits. The Mishnah in Keilim (17:10) teaches that the cubit which was used to measure items in the Beis HaMikdash was five hands-breadths long, which means that 120 cubits was 600 hands-breadths.

As every Kohen would want to take part in the mitzvah of immersing the Paroches to purify it, it is reasonable to assume that the entire perimeter was covered by the hands of the Kohanim. As each Kohen had two hands, the 600 hands-breadths of the perimeter required precisely 300 Kohanim to carry it and immerse it.

As brilliant as the Vilna Gaon’s calculation is, the Tiferes Yisroel notes that it seems to be completely unnecessary. The Gemora in Chullin (90b) teaches that there are three numbers mentioned throughout the Gemora which are exaggerations, and names this Mishnah as one of the three.

Although there are those who answer that the exaggeration in the Mishnah is the number of women needed to weave the Paroches (82,000), this explanation is difficult in light of the fact that the other two exaggerations mentioned by the Gemora both involve the number 300.

Some suggest that while the Vilna Gaon’s calculation is valid, the exaggeration lies in the fact that there weren’t always 300 Kohanim involved in the immersion of the Paroches. However, the Ein Yaakov suggests that the Gaon’s line of reasoning is correct, yet it still represents an exaggeration. According to his calculation, the corners of the Paroches would be covered by two hands, one from each Kohen at the end of each of the sides which meet at the corner. These four extra and unneeded hands translate into two additional people, which means that only 298 were needed to immerse it and 300 is clearly an exaggeration.

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

1) Why is Parshas Mishpatim, which contains the Torah’s code of civil law, juxtaposed to Parshas Terumah, which discusses the Mishkan and its utensils? (Maharsha Kesuvos 67, Beis HaLevi, Oznayim L’Torah)

2) As gold is more precious and valuable than wood, why was the Aron made of wood instead of gold like its coverings (25:10-11), which would seem to give more honor to the Torah housed therein? (Daas Z’keinim, Chizkuni, Kol Dodi)

3) From where did the Jewish people obtain the wood for the middle bar (26:28) which miraculously turned (Shabbos 98b?) to run inside of the ÷øùéí (planks) along the lengths of all three of the walls of the Mishkan? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z’keinim 25:5, Rav Muller quoted in Peninim Vol. 3)

4) The Yerushalmi in Shabbos (12:3) derives from 26:30 that the planks for the Mishkan were labeled so that they would always be used in the same area of the Mishkan each time that it was reassembled. May one derive from here that a person should similarly label the boards of his sukkah so that each of them should always be in the same place? (Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 630:6, Bikkurei Yaakov 630:16, Bishvilei HaParsha, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

© 2012 by Oizer Alport.

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