Monday, February 19, 2007

Parshas Terumah

ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם (25:8)

One of the blessings commonly given to a newly-engaged couple is that דער זיווג זאל עולה יפה זיין. However, while it may be customary to rapidly rattle off the words, a quick attempt to understand the basic meaning by checking the English translation – the match should be one that “goes up well” – reveals that the wording is a bit awkward and the deeper meaning is difficult to grasp. What is the true underlying intention behind this curiously-worded blessing?

The late Satmar Rebbe, known for his sharp and ingenious mind, brilliantly answered that we often find (e.g. Tosefos Megilla 13b) that the word עולה is used to connote the gematria (numerical value) of a phrase. If so, we may re-interpret the blessing as one that the new match should have the numerical value of the word יפה, which comes to 95, but what is the significance of this seemingly random number?

The Sefer HaChinuch discusses the reasons and laws for the 613 mitzvos, listing them in the order of their mention in the Torah. He lists the 95th mitzvah as the command ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם – and they shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them, which is indeed a most appropriate blessing to give to the new couple embarking on the establishment of their own personal מקדש מעט (miniature Sanctuary)!


ועשו ארון עצי שטים (25:10)

Parshas Terumah introduces us to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which Hashem commanded the Jewish people to build as a resting place for the Shechinah (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 actual 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 (Holy Ark) 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.” Why was the Holy Ark different? Why did Hashem emphasize that all of the Jewish people should be involved in its construction?

Perhaps an insight into understanding this difficulty can be gleaned from a powerful story told by Rabbi Yissochar Frand about a Jewish boxer at the most recent Siyum HaShas (celebration of the completion of the study of the entire Talmud) on March 1, 2005 in Madison Square Garden.

As the boxer’s son 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 engrossed himself in the review of that day’s Talmudic studies.

His father couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating and enjoyable about the study of the Talmud. Eventually, the father begged his son to teach it him, but 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 Talmud. The son relented, but it was a long, arduous project. Line by line they continued, plodding forward until after one year they realized their goal and completed one full daf.

The father wanted to make a siyum to celebrate, 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 ruled that under the circumstances it was permissible to make a siyum and insisted that he would attend.

The night after the siyum, the boxer died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rav Moshe commented that just as the Talmud states 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 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 single Jew to study on his own unique level. The Aron couldn’t be made by one person 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 Talmud, it may be finishing one daf, and it may be studying on the phone one hour weekly. The key is to remember Rav Frand’s message: “whatever we do, it’s never too little, it’s never too late, and it’s never enough.”


ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו (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 אמתים וחצי ארכו – 2.5 cubits in length. However, if the letter א weren’t present, the Ark would then need to be מתים וחצי ארכו – 200.5 cubits, significantly longer. Therefore, by adding the letter א, the overall size of the Ark was actually reduced!

However, the Maharsha points out that if the letter א 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 א 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 another understanding of the Gemora’s derivation. Unlike Rashi, he explains that the Gemora refers to the addition of the letter ו at the beginning of the word וחצי. In the absence of this letter, the verse would read אמתים חצי ארכו – 2 cubits is half of the length of the Ark. In other words, the Ark would have been 4 cubits long, but by adding the letter ו, its length was actually reduced to 2.5 cubits, thereby providing an ideal source for the Gemora’s statement that adding on to something actually takes away from it!


ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת (25:18)

Although the Torah specifies that the various utensils used in the Mishkan are to be made from gold, the Mechilta rules that this isn’t an absolute requirement but rather the preferable way for them to be made. If for any reason they have already been made from a different metal, they don’t become disqualified and it is permissible to use them, with one exception. With respect to the Cherubim which rest on top of the Holy Ark, the obligation to make them from gold is absolute, and should they be formed from any other material for any reason, they are invalid for use in the Mishkan. Why should this law regarding the Cherubim be different than that regarding all of the other holy vessels?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains that the Cherubim symbolize Jewish children, as Rashi writes here that they had the faces of young children, and their placement on top of the Holy Ark represents their Torah learning and upbringing. Should there be a time in the future when money is scarce and gold cannot be attained due to financial constraints, Hashem is willing to overlook His honor and glory with respect to the construction of the utensils used to serve Him even in His Holy dwelling place, but when it comes to educating our children, who represent the future of the Jewish people, second-best is completely unacceptable as there can be no possible excuse for sacrificing the quality of their education!


ועשית שלחן עצי שטים (25:23)

The Torah specifies (25:23) that the table in the Mishkan was to be made specifically from עצי שטים – acacia wood. Why was this type of wood specifically chosen for this purpose?

Rabbeinu Bechaye notes that the letters spelling the word שטים are short for the words שלום, טובה, ישועה, מחילה – peace, goodness, salvation, and forgiveness. This type of wood was also used in the Holy Ark and the altar, hinting to us that the Divine Service performed through these vessels was the source of brining down all of these blessings to the world.

In our day, however, when we unfortunately lack all of these items, what do we have in their stead through which we may merit the rewards and bounty that they brought? The Gemora in Chagiga (27a) derives from a verse in Yechezkel that in the absence of the Holy Temple, 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 and 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 שלחן are abbreviations for שומר לקבורה חסד נדיבותיך – preserving for burial the kindness of your giving!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Hashem specified (25:3-6) that those who wished to donate to the Mishkan must contribute one of the 15 items from which the Mishkan and its vessels were built. Why weren’t people given an option to donate whatever they desired to give, which Moshe could sell and use the proceeds to purchase the necessary items for the Mishkan? (Malbim, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

2) After the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Talmud teaches that the Jewish people were on such a high spiritual level that they returned to the level of Adam before he sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit. Although they unfortunately lost this level when they sinned by making the golden calf, what was the purpose at this time – before that sin – in commanding them to make a Mishkan in which the Divine Presence could dwell (25:8) when they were on such a high level that the Divine Presence dwelled throughout the entire Jewish camp?

3) Our Rabbis teach that everything which is written in the Torah is relevant to every person in every generation. What is the significance of the intricate laws of the vessels which were made thousands of years ago for the Mishkan in today’s day and age?

4) What is the significance of the fact that all of the measurements of the Ark – its length, width, and height – are fractions (25:10) instead of whole numbers? Why are the length and width of the table whole numbers (25:23) but its height is a fraction? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Baal HaTurim, Shelah HaKadosh, Kli Yakar, Me’am Loez, K’sav Sofer)

5) 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? (Maharil quoted in Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 530:6, Bikkurei Yaakov 530:16, Bishvilei HaParsha, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6) Why didn’t the fire of the copper altar melt its metal covering (27:2) over time, and how were the Kohanim able to walk on top of it without burning their bare feet? (Tanchuma 11, Tosefos Chagigah 27a d.h. she’ein, Rabbeinu Bechaye)


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