This week’s Torah Portion is dedicated to Jewel M. Robertson Z"L

Her memory for a blessing




Torah Reading: TERUMAH Exodus 25:1-27:19 Haftorah I Kings 5:26-6:13.




From this week's parashat of TERUMAH onwards until the end of the book of Exodus -- five parashat’s -- the central theme is the Sanctuary built by the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. The Sanctuary is the prototype of the Set-apart Temple destined to stand eternally in Yerushalayim.


This week's parashat explains the design of the Sanctuary and its vessels, while next week's parashat of TETZAVEH explains the garments that were to be worn by those who were to minister in that Sanctuary -- Aaron and his sons. TETZAVEH also explains the sacrificial rituals that were to inaugurate the Sanctuary and its priests.


After TETZAVEH comes KI TISA, which continues the explanation of the form of the Sanctuary vessels and the sacrifices. When this explanation is complete, KI TISA goes on to narrate the sin of the Golden Calf and how Moses secured atonement for the people through the 13 Attributes of Mercy.


Then come the last two parashat’s of Exodus, VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY, which explain how Bezalel and the other craftsmen actually constructed the Sanctuary and made the priestly clothes. VAYAKHEL and PEKUDAY repeat practically word for word some of the corresponding passages in TERUMAH and TETZAVEH. PEKUDEY then concludes the book of Exodus with the account of the inauguration of the Sanctuary and the priests on the New Moon of the first Nissan after the Exodus. This was exactly one year to the day since Moses received the first commandments while still in Egypt: the law of the New Moon and the Pesach sacrifice, prototype of Temple sacrifice.


At the close of TETZAVEH and Exodus, we read how Yahweh's Cloud of Glory dwelled constantly over the Sanctuary. Leviticus opens immediately with the Voice of Yahweh emanating to Moses from between the mouths of the Cherubs in the Kadosh of Kadoshim, giving him the detailed laws of the Temple sacrifices.


From this overview of the remaining five parashat’s of Exodus, we see that the subject of the Sanctuary -- central to the Torah and to the whole world -- is introduced in "sandwich" form. TERUMAH and TETZAVEH explain the intended form of the Sanctuary and priestly garments BEFORE they were executed, when they were in the "mind" and will of Yahweh. In the middle of the "sandwich" is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf and it's atonement through the 13 Attributes of Mercy. Then on the other side of the "sandwich" come VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY, which tell how the Sanctuary IDEA was brought from POTENTIAL TO ACTUAL through the thirty-nine labors of the craftsmen who made it.


At the very center of this "sandwich" structure is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf -- which changed everything for the Children of Israel. In the heady days of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel were elevated to the greatest heights. Then suddenly, forty days after hearing the Voice of Yahweh at Sinai, in one single orgy they sank to the lowest depths of degradation. From then on they had to learn the terrible pain of retribution, suffering and contrition. This was a loss of innocence parallel to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.


But Yahweh had already prepared the remedy before the illness. Indeed, we might even say that the illness was sent with the very purpose of revealing the great power of the remedy. The remedy for sin is repentance, which saves man from himself and brings him back to the One Elohim, bringing him atonement -- AT-ONE-MENT. The penitential "system" of the Torah is contained within the Sanctuary and its sacrificial rituals, which are a teaching to mankind about how man draws close (KaRoV) to Yahweh through his KORBAN ("sacrifice") -- literally, his "coming close". As the way of repentance for having elevated wealth to the status of a god, man is commanded to take gold, silver, copper and the richest fabrics in order to glorify and magnify the One True Elohim. Man is taught how to configure the materials of this world so that instead of separating him from Yahweh through idolatrous uses and configurations, they will serve to draw him ever closer, until Yahweh Himself "dwells" with man.


TERUMAH and TETZAVEH present us the Sanctuary and sacrificial IDEA before we have even learned about sin. The lesson of the Golden Calf in KI TISA is harsh. But it is sweetened, because immediately after Moses secured atonement for Israel through the 13 Attributes of Mercy, the very next day he assembled the people and told them to bring gifts of materials and to get busy making the ACTUAL sanctuary, as told in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. Thus the bitterness of sin in KI TISA is "sandwiched" between the sweetness of TERUMAH & TETZAVEH (the Tshuvah IDEA in all its innocent purity) and VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY (the ACTUALIZATION of Tshuvah in the Sanctuary in this world.) [This "sandwich" is reminiscent of how in Temple times, Hillel would eat his Pesach sacrifice with the bitter herbs in a "sandwich" with his Matza.]


The Torah never wastes a word or a single letter. It is therefore a great wonder that many of the passages about the Sanctuary, its vessels and the priestly garments that we read this week and next in TERUMAH and TEZTAVEH are, as mentioned, repeated almost word for word in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. The "mirroring" of the explanation of the IDEA in the account of its ACTUALIZATION comes to communicate something that is at the very core of the Temple-Sanctuary idea. The Temple or Sanctuary are a "replica" and "mirror" of the Heavenly Sanctuary, which is in the "mind" or will of Yahweh. They are a "replica" in which the materials of this world -- metals, wood, fabrics, etc. -- are used to bring a "reflection" of heaven into the minds and consciousness of ordinary people.


In this way, what is "above" -- "in heaven" -- actually dwells and exists in material form in this world "below". And through this, "below" becomes "above". "And they will take for Me an offering. And they will make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell WITHIN THEM" (Ex. 25 vv. 2, 8).




"And you shall make THE boards for the Sanctuary from the wood of cedar trees STANDING upright" (Ex. 26:15). On this, Rashi comments: "It should have simply said, 'you shall make boards' in the same way as was said of everything else. What are 'THE boards'? These were boards from those that were STANDING ready for this. Jacob our father planted cedars in Egypt and before he died, he instructed his sons to take them up with them when they left Egypt, and he said that the Set-apart One was going to command them to build a Sanctuary in the wilderness" (Rashi ad loc.)


In the Midrash which Rashi here brings about the wood of the standing boards or beams of the Sanctuary -- the "bones" that enable the entire structure to stand up -- he underlines the conceptual connection between the Sanctuary idea and Jacob.


As discussed in UNIVERSAL TORAH commentaries on the parashat’s in Genesis dealing with Jacob, it was he who made synthesis, order and structure out of the opposing polar tendencies of the two fathers and teachers in whose tents he sat -- Abraham (CHESSED, kindness and expansiveness) and Isaac (GEVURAH, power and restraint).


Jacob was the house-builder who built the House of Israel. And Jacob was a genius house-builder precisely because he understood domestic life perfectly. In his first appearance in the Torah (at the beginning of TOLDOS, Gen. 25:29) he is cooking lentil soup -- using the round lentils as a hint to his father Isaac (who was in mourning for the loss of Abraham, see Rashi) that life and death go in cycles. Jacob's grip on the heel of Esau indicates that Jacob possessed the power to take the simple things of this world (ASIYAH, Esau) and transform them into communicators of Piousness.


Thus the components of the Sanctuary-Temple are the same as those of a home. It exists within a defined space, a court-yard, where curtains of modesty separate between what is outside (profane) and what is inside (Kadosh).


The Sanctuary contains different areas. Its very heart is the hearth, the "kitchen". This is where the food is prepared (slaughter of animals) and cooked (on the "oven", the Altar). Within the "domestic quarters" of the House itself, there is a secluded, intimate living area with a lamp (the Menorah) and a table (the Show-bread Table), and a pleasant aroma (from the Incense Altar). Most secluded and intimate of all is the "bedroom", to which no-one except the most trusted has access. This is the Kadosh of Kadoshim, where the "faithful of His house" may come "face to face" with the King in the height of prophecy.


The Sanctuary and Temple are replete with messages to us about how we must try to build our private homes and structure the lives we lead in them in ways that "reflect" Piousness and enable Yahweh to dwell with us here in this world. This is how we lift up and elevate this world.




The sin of the Golden Calf pulled the Children of Israel down to the depths of degradation. But the remedy existed already from before: TERUMAH -- the elevation of mundane objects and materials, gold, silver, wood, fabrics -- through the service of Yahweh in "homely" ways.


The great beauty of the way of repentance that Yahweh has provided is that it enables man to repent with honor. Despite having sinned, man is invited to become a contributor. He is asked to give a TERUMAH -- to take the gold and silver that he has, the very thing with which sinned, and "contribute" and "elevate" it so that now it too has its proper place in what becomes a Sanctuary. Then the proper order is restored, and everything sings out the glory of Yahweh.


One of the ways we "contribute" is through the words of our daily prayers and blessings. For in essence, the Sanctuary is a House of Prayer. So too our homes should be filled with our blessings and thanks for all the good things of life that we enjoy and with our prayers for all of our needs.