Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Terumah


V’yikchu li terumah me’eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu es terumasi (25:2)

In the 1920s, the yeshivos of Poland were so strapped for cash that they were unable to pay for even the most basic necessities. A meeting of leading Rabbis was called in Warsaw to discuss the issue. In order to publicize the dire straits, representatives of a number of leading newspapers were also invited.

After Rav Zalman Sorotzkin finished his speech detailing the financial difficulties and appealing for emergency aid, one of the reporters cynically asked how Rav Meir Shapiro had recently succeeded in collecting so much money to build a new magnificent building to house his yeshiva in Lublin, and why that money hadn’t been used to sustain the struggling existing yeshivos.

Rav Sorotzkin responded by questioning why with regards to the construction of the Mishkan no donations were mandatory and Hashem relied on the generosity of the Jews to supply the necessary materials, while with respect to the communal sacrifices He obligated every Jew to contribute and wasn’t willing to trust that voluntary contributions would suffice. The opposite would have seemed more logical, as everybody recognizes that the sacrifices brought in the Mishkan were more precious to Hashem than its physical structure, as the former represents its purpose while the latter is merely the means to this end.

Rav Sorotzkin explained that Hashem recognized that when it comes to collecting funds for the building of impressive edifices, people are quick to donate. Unfortunately, when additional funds are needed to maintain the buildings and help them accomplish their objectives, the money supply suddenly dries up. When it came to building the Mishkan, so much gold and silver were voluntarily donated within a few days that Moshe was forced to proclaim that they should stop bringing more (36:5-6). Nevertheless, without the requirement that every Jew donate money for the purchase of communal sacrifices, Hashem recognized that the donations wouldn’t be sufficient to maintain the daily functioning of the Mishkan.

Similarly, the function of yeshivos is the study of Torah. The buildings merely serve as a means to enable this learning to occur. Nevertheless, people are quick to contribute money to dedicate rooms and entrances to create the physical structure, especially when that donation can be immortalized with a plaque. Sadly, few are those who are interested in giving money to pay for the ephemeral needs such as food and utilities, which are necessary to keep the building running and enable it to serve its true purpose.

Rav Sorotzkin concluded that with this psychological insight, we now understand that Rav Meir Shapiro was so successful in his fundraising campaign because the money was going toward his beautiful new building. In a few short years, when the structure will be finished, he will unfortunately have the same difficulties covering his daily operating expenses that the other yeshivos are currently experiencing and with which they so desperately need help.

V’tzipisa oso Zahav tahor mibayis umichutz t’tzapenu (25:11)

Rav Chaim Volozhiner once asked his teacher, the Vilna Gaon, to help him understand a difficult passage in the Zohar HaKadosh. The Gaon responded by noting that with regard to the Aron, which was made of wood, the Torah writes that it should be covered with gold on the inside and on the outside.

However, Rashi explains that first the wooden box was placed inside the larger golden box, and the smaller golden box was then placed inside of both of them. According to Rashi, the Aron was first covered on the outside (by the larger golden box) and only afterward on the inside (by the smaller golden box). If so, why did the Torah reverse the order, instructing that it should be covered first on the inside?

Rather, we must reinterpret our verse as referring not to the wooden Aron but to the golden coverings. With respect to the golden boxes, the covering occurred in the order prescribed by the Torah, as the wooden Aron first covered the inner walls of the larger outer box and subsequently covered the outer walls of smaller inner box. However, we now must understand why the Torah chose to write the instructions in such a convoluted manner.

The Vilna Gaon proceeded to explain that the wooden Aron symbolizes man, who is compared to a tree (ki ha’adam eitz ha’sadeh), and the two golden boxes represent the Torah (ha’nechemadim mi’zahav), the outer one corresponding to the revealed Torah and the inner one to the mystical secrets of Kabbalah. The Torah wrote our verse in this confusing way to hint to us that just as the revealed Torah is covered by the Aron (representing man) on its inside, so too are we able to penetrate to its deepest depths of understanding.

However, when it comes to the hidden areas of the Torah, the Aron only covers the external side to teach that it is impossible to completely plumb its innermost secrets, and we sometimes must content ourselves with whatever superficial understanding we are able to attain. With that, the Vilna Gaon dismissed his student to reflect upon this unexpected “answer” to his question regarding the Zohar.

V’asisa shnayim Keruvim zahav miksheh ta’aseh osam mishnei ketzos hakapores (25:18)

Hashem commanded Moshe to make two Cherubim on top of the Holy Ark in the Mishkan, one on each end. Rashi explains that they had the faces of small children. However, this imagery is difficult to reconcile with an earlier comment of Rashi. After the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, Hashem exiled Adam and Chava from the Garden of Eden. In order to ensure that they wouldn’t attempt reentry, the Torah relates (Bereishis 3:24) that Hashem placed Cherubim wielding fiery swords at the gate. Rashi explains that these Cherubim were angels of destruction. If so, how could Rashi maintain that the Cherubim mentioned in our parsha had the appearance of infants, the paragons of innocence and purity?

The following amusing story will help us appreciate the answer to our question. One year on the first day of classes, an elementary Hebrew school teacher wanted to assess the background and skills of the children in her new class. She began by asking, “Who knows the translation of ‘Baruch Atah Hashem’?” Every hand went up, and the student upon whom she called correctly answered, “Blessed are You, Hashem.” The teacher then asked, “Who knows the translation of ‘Shema Yisroel’?” Most of the hands went up again, and she called on a student who properly responded, “Hear, O Israel.”

Satisfied and impressed with their knowledge, the teacher asked one more question. “Who knows the translation of ‘Amen’?” This time, she was met with bewildered expressions. Only one hand went up. The teacher called on the student, who proudly declared, “I know that one. The translation of ‘Amen’ is ‘Cong’!” After getting over her initial confusion, the teacher couldn’t help but chuckle to herself when she realized the student’s innocent mistake. The word “Cong” is short for “Congregation” and is often printed in the Siddur next to the word “Amen” to indicate that at this point the congregation should respond “Amen,” which led the student to erroneously assume that this was the translation of the word.

In light of this entertaining anecdote about the innocence of children, we can appreciate the answer given to our original question by Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of Aruch HaShulchan. The resolution of the apparent contradiction about the appearance of the Cherubim lies in the fact that our parsha is discussing the Cherubim in the Mishkan, where they were placed on top of the Aron.

By attaching them to the Ark and the Torah scroll and Tablets contained therein, they remained wholesome cherubs resembling innocent babies, as was demonstrated by the story involving the naïve schoolchild. However, the moment that we separate our children from the Torah, they immediately become sword-wielding forces of devastation, as any parent can testify all too well.

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

1)     The Gemora in Shavuos (15b) rules that the Temple may only be built (25:8) during the day. Is this merely a requirement regarding the preferable way to build it, or does it actually invalidate any portion which is built at night? (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1, Tosefos Sukkah 41a, Minchas Chinuch 95:5, Mikdash Dovid 1:1, Kehillas Yaakov Shavuos 10, Ma’adanei Asher 5769)

2)     The Torah prohibits (25:15) the removal of the poles which were used to carry the Ark. Does a person who removes them violate the prohibition only once – at the moment that he removes them – or does he transgress continuously for every second that he fails to return them to their proper location? (Ritva, Aruch L’Ner, and Likutei Halachos Makkos 22a)

3)     Rashi writes (25:40) that because Moshe had difficulty understanding the appearance of the Menorah, Hashem showed him a fiery illustration of how it should look. However, Rashi writes (25:31) that even so, Moshe had difficulty making the Menorah. Ultimately, Hashem told him to throw a block of gold into fire, and the Menorah miraculously “made itself” and emerged complete. If Hashem knew that in the end Moshe would be unable to make it, why did He initially need to show him the fiery image and teach him all of the intricate laws regarding its appearance? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, Ohr Gedalyahu, Mishmeres Ariel)

© 2010 by Oizer Alport.