Summary: Parshat Terumah is the 7th in the Book of Exodus comprising Chapters 25:1-27:19. Following immediately after Moshe’s cloistering at the top of Mt Sinai for ‘40 days and 40 nights’, this week’s parasha details G-d’s instructions to Moshe to build a Tabernacle and its vessels – to provide ‘a dwelling place for the Divine in your midst’.
Included are; the Golden Ark and its Cherubs, the Showbread Table, Menorah, Inner Curtains, Beams and Sockets, Parokhet Drape, Copper Altar and Outer Courtyard. (Please look here for an Aliyah-by-aliyah summary.)
Comment: In David Fromkin’s biopic ‘In the Time of the Americans’ – a retrospective look at key decision makers in WWI & WWII – he notes following the unprecedented Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, other important historic American documents and the Magna Carta were sent from Washington DC to the underground vaults of Fort Knox, Tennessee for safe keeping. Seemingly great effort was exerted to protect these ‘mere pieces of paper’.
Each year when we begin the 7 chapters describing the construction of the Mishkan, questions arise – why is the Torah’s chronology interrupted and why is G-d’s initial order of building the Mishkan out of sequence?
For we know that immediately following Moshe’s ascent to Sinai and 40-day sojourn there, a segment of the people built and worshipped a Golden Calf. That perfidy lead G-d to send Moshe down from the mountain where, seeing the idolatrous merrymaking, Moshe smashed the Tablets he’d only recently been given by G-d.
And, for those who follow the view of the Ramban (Nachmonides – d 1270 Acco) that this portion of the Torah is not out of sequence and that while Moshe was on Sinai G-d taught him details of the Mishkan and all its accessories, it is still odd to start with the Ark first before the actual structure was described.
An explanation for the order of the vessels in Parshat Terumah is that they draw attention to the ultimate purpose of the Mishkan – as a place where humanity could meet and interact with the Divine. By placing the Ark first – where the Tablets of Stone were stored – the Almighty demonstrated to Moshe that the central focus of the Mishkan was to be the 10 Commandments.
Essential to the national identity of the Jewish people wasn’t the food they ate, the clothing they wore, the occupations they held or the memberships they enjoyed, but the value system and laws that enlivened them and uniquely set them apart from among other peoples of the world.
Just as Americans in December 1941 feared the loss of their foundational documents and the potential that might have had to demoralise the nation, perhaps, similarly, the Divine intention in instructing Moshe to build a Mishkan, was to sanctify those tablets which served as the fundamental artefacts for the coalescence of the Jewish nation.
A message for us today, living in very testing times, is to not lose focus on our founding principles and to ensure we protect them and live by them – for through them we’re still granted opportunity to experience the life-sustaining warmth and vigour of the Divine Presence.