Parshat Teruma by Rabbi Reuven Tradburks
Teruma has one theme: the instructions to build the Mishkan. Moshe calls for contributions of materials. Instructions are given for the construction of: the Aron to house the tablets of the 10 commandments, the table upon which the breads would be placed, the Menorah, the coverings over the Mishkan, the building of the Mishkan, the altar for offerings of the courtyard of the Mishkan, and the courtyard surrounding the Mishkan.
1st aliya (25:1-16) Moshe is instructed to tell the people to bring donations of materials: gold, silver, copper, woven material, animal skins, oil, incense, and jewels. And make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them. Make an Aron: wood overlaid with gold, poles with which to carry. And place into the Aron, the tablets that I will give you.
The Torah describes the Mishkan as a place for G-d to dwell amongst the Jewish people. How the Eternal, Infinite One dwells on earth is the stuff of philosophers. But it fits seamlessly in the flow of the narrative of the Torah. In G-d’s reach for man, He moves closer and closer. He creates a world. Initiates contact with Adam and Eve, with Cain and with Noah. But their sins bring exile from Him: Adam and Eve sent away from the Garden, Cain to wander the world, tower of Babel scatters the people. When He initiates contact with Avraham, it is to pull him close, promising the Land. Then He intervenes in nature to redeem the people from Egypt, splitting the Sea: He has gone well beyond merely speaking to man, rather now putting His arm around the entire Jewish people. Then, He pulls the veil away in speaking with the entire people at Sinai. A place to dwell consistently, not just sporadically on earth is the natural next step. It matches the relationship of a man and woman: initiate a conversation, make a promise and commitment, help and assist each other, close and intimate contact like Sinai and then a home.
2nd aliya (25:17-30) Cover the Aron with a gold cover, from which 2 angels, facing each other, with outstretched wings emerge. I will meet and speak with you there, from between the angels that are on the Aron. Make a table, of wood overlaid with gold, with poles with which to carry. The Lechem Hapanim shall be placed there permanently.
The immanence of G-d that is inherent in the Mishkan is tempered with excessive coverings. The tablets of the 10 Commandments are to be sealed in the Aron, covered and hidden in the Holy of Holies. Never to be seen. The luchot are the symbol of G-d’s communication with us. I would have taken them, propped them up high on a pedestal, displaying them in the most public of places. Yet, the opposite of a public display is done. Place them in the Aron, covered, placed within the Holy of Holies, which itself is hidden by a curtain and where no one but 1 Cohen Gadol, 1 time a year may enter. Only 1 person per year will ever see the Aron, though certainly not the luchot that are in it.
The immanence of G-d in the Mishkan is countered with the mystery of transcendence, the inability of man to grasp any understanding of Him: symbolized by covering the very thing that represents His intimacy, the tablets of the 10 Commandments. He is close; yet concealed. Dwelling in your midst; yet unattainable. Present; yet imperceptible.
3rd aliya (25:31-26:14) Fashion a Menorah from solid gold, decorated with cups, knobs and blossoms with 7 lights. Make it in the form you saw at Sinai. Fashion curtains woven of tchelet, purple and red with cherubim. These long curtains are to overlay the entire mishkan as both a roof and covering of the sides of the building. They are to be made in sections and then joined. On top of these, fashion curtains of goat hair. And on top of that a cover of red ram and tachash skins.
The Mishkan consists of a building that is covered with 3 coverings. Inside the building, in the inner most room of the Holy of Holies is the Aron, hidden by a curtain. Outside this curtain are the Table with the breads, the Menorah and an altar for incense. (Some of this will be described in the ensuing aliyot). This is all covered by 3 curtains. These curtains form the roof of the building. The 1st set of curtains are made of woven colored wool with a woven design of angels. These multiple curtains are draped all the way from the ground on one side of the building, up over the top and down on the other side, reaching almost all the way to the ground. The 2nd set of draped curtains are made of goat hair. These were placed on top of the first, completely covering them, reaching closer to the ground. The beautifully woven 1st set of curtains were not seen at all to those on the outside of the Mishkan. They would only be seen by the Cohanim who entered the Mishkan. The 3rd set of leather or fur curtains lay on top of the black goat hair curtains.
These curtains reinforce the privacy, the sequestered nature of the Mishkan.
4th aliya (26:15-37) Make panels of wood overlaid with gold. These will sit in silver sockets. The series of gold overlaid panels will be 30 amot, in total, along the sides. One end will have 10 amot of these panels.
The Cohanim were permitted to enter this Mishkan. They would see gold walls and peering up would see the colored woven curtain with the angel design.
5th aliya (27:1-8) Then, make a parochet, a curtain of woven colored wool with the design of an angel. This will divide the Holy of Holies from the outer area. The Aron will be in the Holy of Holies. The Table and Menorah will be outside of this curtain. The entrance at the opposite end of this building from the Holy of Holies shall have a woven curtain as its wall.
The Aron was not visible to the Cohanim; it is hidden behind a colored woven curtain with the angel design. They would see the Menorah and Table with breads as well as an incense altar (not yet described).
One could view this as a minimalist home: light, food, table. And the inner private place where He dwells.
This parochet, or curtain, is made of colored wool, woven with a pattern of Cherubim or angels. This same design, of wool woven with cherubim or angels, is used for the curtain hanging at the entrance to the Mishkan. And this same material with the cherubim design is used for the curtains or drapings that cover the entire Mishkan, visible from the inside. What did these cherubim in the design look like?
The cover over the entire Mishkan and the Parochet in front of the Holy of Holies had a different design on the 2 sides of the curtain. On one side was a winged angel that looked like an eagle. The other was a winged angel that looked like a lion. The curtain that hung at the entrance to the Mishkan had only a lion angel design on both sides.
6th aliya (27:9-19) Make an altar of 5 square amot with horns at its corners, overlaid with copper. All the utensils, the pots, shovels, pans, and forks shall be of copper. Poles of wood overlaid with copper are placed in rings to carry the altar.
An ama, or cubit, is the length from the elbow to your finger tips. Which would be about a foot and a half, or a half meter. 5 amot would be 7 ½ feet by 7 ½ feet. This altar is quite a bit larger than any of the other objects in the Mishkan.
This altar is placed outside of the Mishkan building that held the Menorah, the table, the incense altar and the Holy of Holies with the aron. The altar is in the large courtyard described in the next aliya. While the Mishkan building was covered entirely, this altar and courtyard area is open to the sky.
7th aliya (27:9-19) Make curtains of fine white linen for the Courtyard surrounding the Mishkan. The curtains shall hang from poles. The Courtyard shall be 100 amot long by 50 amot wide. The curtain at the entrance of the courtyard shall be of colorful woven wool.
The structure, the static structure of the Mishkan is complete. There is rich symbolism in the Aron, the Table, the Menorah, the Altar, none of which we discussed. Our emphasis was on the tension inherent in an earthly place of contact between man and G-d. And that this tension is conveyed through the coverings, a symbolic way to convey a message of the sublime, mysterious, hidden, ineffable experience of the Divine contact with the earthly.
Rabbi Reuven Tradburks is the director of Machon Milton, our English Language Conversion Course in Jerusalem.