Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Parsha Terumah

Torah Reading Shemot 25:1 - 27:19
Haftorah - I Kings 5:26 - 6:13

Once again in this week's Parsha we find the concept of "Ayn Mukdam U'mi'uchar Batorah" (there is no chronological order to the Torah). Our Parsha (chapters 25-27) deals with the construction of the Tabernacle, the vestments of the Priests and the various tools and vessels of the Tabernacle. Most commentators agree that the commandment to build the Tabernacle (and later the Temple), was given as an atonement for the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf. And yet, it is at the end of chapter 31 that Moshe remained on Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights and only in chapter 32 that the Israelites constructed and worshipped the Golden Calf!

In addition to atonement, the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) served another purpose. The Ramban, in his commentary on the Parsha states that each component of the Mishkan served as a reminder of the revelation of the Torah. I cannot even begin to do justice to the symbolism in just one Parsha sheet. There is, however, one particular question that was asked by Reb Yonatan Eybeshutz (1690 - 1764, noted Talmudist and Kabbalist) that must be understood and answered. If the Children of Israel were on such a high level of spirituality that each one was considered a prophet after receiving the Torah, then why did they have to attempt to duplicate the Sinai experience through the service of the Mishkan?

He answers that the acceptance of the Torah on Mt. Sinai was not absolute, and could only be completed through the newly commanded service. He supports this argument with a Midrash that teaches that Hashem was annoyed at the B'nai Yisrael for the sin of the Golden Calf and said to them: "You seduced Me into giving you the Torah!" The Israelites had pretended that they were ready to accept the Torah when they said "Na'aseh V'nishma (we will do and obey)." But when the first opportunity came for backsliding, they took it.

What went wrong at Mt. Sinai? According to Reb Yonatan Eybeshutz, the B'nai Yisrael had everything handed to them. Hashem punished Egypt with the ten plagues; Hashem took the B'nai Yisrael out of bondage; Hashem parted the Reed Sea; He provided them with water, manna from heaven, protection from the elements and He gave them the Torah. By not having to work for their freedom, for their existence or for the Torah, the B'nai Yisrael didn't appreciate Him. It was as though Hashem had said that from now on, there would be no more "open air performances," that the B'nai Yisrael would have to work for their divine service, and that each would have to make a personal contribution, not a fixed tax, but something "from the heart" (Shemot 25:2).

This lesson is still being taught to those of us living in the 20th century. Sometimes we wonder what we can get out of this or that Mitzvah. Or, to put it in today's vernacular, "What's in it for me?" The answer is that you "get out" of a Mitzvah, what you put into it. When you use a Lulav and Etrog (the four species used on Sukkot), or a Challah cover (on Shabbat and holidays), or a Menorah (on Chanukah), the experience is greater when the ritual items you use belong to you. Of course we can perform many Mitzvot by using some community property or by borrowing someone else's. But, choosing the best and nicest Lulav and Etrog that you can afford, or picking the most beautifully designed Challah cover, or finding the Menorah that is just your style makes the Mitzvah so much more meaningful.

Let us take this idea one step further. We all know that the Mishkan was replaced by the Bayt Hamikdash (the Temple) in Jerusalem, and after the Bayt Hamikdash's destruction, it was replaced by the synagogue. Suppose in a town somewhere a small group of people organized a Minyan (a prayer quorum) to meet each day, or each Shabbat, in someone's home. What a wonderful concept. But the minyan will be a temporary one until it is housed in a proper Shul (synagogue). And, a Shul will only prosper if, in addition to annual dues, members contribute beyond their dues to the Shul's financial welfare. Only then is the commitment cherished by the community of individuals.

That is why the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) was erected. After the sin of the Golden Calf, EACH Jew had to contribute money and gifts of gold, silver and copper, and make contributions of skins and wool and various other materials (Shemot 25:3-7) as he was able. The B'nai Yisrael had to make their willful contribution to the Mishkan as the atonement for willfully contributing to the Golden Calf. The personal attachment through voluntarily giving to the Mishkan (and later to the Bait Hamikdash and even later still to our local synagogues) was, and still is the ongoing atonement for our backsliding back then.

Our personal investment was desired by Hashem in His words:

"Speak to the B'nai Yisrael and let them take for Me a portion...everyone whose heart motivates them, you shall take My portion." (Shemot 25:3-7)

You get out of Judaism what you put in to it.

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