Parshat Terumah 5780: The Mishkan; Its Meaning, and as Forerunner to the Beit Hamikdash

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Terumah is being co-sponsored by Avraham and Elana Lewis and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated to all subscribers to this Parshat HaShevua and by Yossie and Ester Sussman and family, also from Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated l’zchut Deborah Ester bas Leah Pesha: May Hashem answer all her tefillot L’tovah. To the Lewis and Sussman families, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Terumah 5780: The Mishkan; Its Meaning, and as Forerunner to the Beit Hamikdash

by Moshe Burt

In detailing plans for the various utensils of the Mishkan service, Torah opens our Parshat Terumah:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the B’nei Yisrael and let them take for Me a Portion [Terumah], from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My Terumah, This is the Terumah that you shall take from them….” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 25, posukim 1-3 as rendered to English by The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (page 445) renders Terumah:

The true sense of the word has no English equivalent. It implies a separation of a portion of one’s resources to be set aside (Rashi) for a higher purpose. The root of the word is “room” [Reish, Vov, Mem Sofit], to uplift (R’ Hirsch). Thus, the effect of these contributions was to elevate the giver and his concept of the purpose of the wealth with which Hashem had blessed him.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (page 207) opens his analysis of Parshat Terumah with a summary of the Parsha:

Hashem lays the next foundation of the Jews’ thought and law at Sinai, as He moves the focus from the courtroom to the Sanctuary [the Mishkan].

Parshat Terumah opens as Hashem instructs Moshe to collect offerings of various materials for the creation of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert and the precursor of the Temples in Jerusalem.

With the dramatic commandment, “And they shall make for me a Mishkan so that I may dwell within them…,” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 25, posuk 8 as rendered to English by “The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary”) Hashem launches the plans for the Mishkan’s construction.

The Parsha… outlines in great detail the plans for the various utensils to be used in the Mishkan service…

Rabbi Goldin next explains the meaning of having a Mishkan which is forerunner to the eventual Beit Hamikdash as well as posing questions asked by commentators, such as the Abravanel and providing answers attributed to commentators such as Rashi, Sforno and others (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, pages 209-212):

The Jews stand rooted at Sinai, yet another major foundation of our eternal heritage is Divinely laid. Hashem turns to Moshe and commands, “And they shall make for Me a holy place, and I will dwell among them.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 25, posuk 8)

The construction of the Mishkan [Tent of Meeting], the portable sanctuary that will accompany the B’nei Yisrael…, is thus launched. This sanctuary serves as the precursor to the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, eventually erected in Jerusalem.

One can scarcely imagine Judaism without the concept of the Beit Hamikdash. No single symbol has been more fundamental to the Jews than the Beit Hamikdash, representing our eternal connection to Hashem.

Just as the Mishkan serves as a focal point of the Jews’ encampment during our desert wanderings, so too, the first and second Batei Mikdash each become the central feature of the corresponding commonwealth of the Jews in the Land of Israel. Twice destroyed, the Beit Hamikdash lives on in the hearts and minds of Jews throughout the world who pray daily for its rebuilding.

Why does Hashem command that the Mishkan be built in the first place?

Judaism introduces to the world the concept of a unified, omnipresent G’d Who can be related to and worshiped at any time and in any place. If Hashem is omnipresent, why then does He require a “central address”? Are we not limiting a limitless Lord by creating a Housing for His worship? To quote the objections of the Abravanel, “Why would Hashem command the creation of the Sanctuary, as if He were defined in corporeal terms and bounded by a specific location? This is the opposite of the truth!” (Rabbi Goldin citing the Abravanel on Sefer Shemos, Perek 25, posuk 8)

One position is that the creation of the Mishkan is a Divinely ordained response to the sin of the egel hazahav (the golden calf). This… possibility is first suggested in the Midrash and later adopted by numerous authorities including Rashi. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 31, posuk 18 and Perek 33, posuk 11)

The Torah, however, introduces the Mishkan a full two and a half Parshiyot before the narrative of the golden calf. The Midrashic approach to the Mishkan, therefore requires the reordering of the text through the application of the principle… the Torah text does not necessarily follow chronological order. The Midrash… suggests that, the textual flow of the Torah notwithstanding, Hashem did not command the construction of the Mishkan until after the sin of the egel hazahav.

Through the eyes of the Midrashic scholars, the Mishkan is not an integral part of Hashem’s original plan for His newly formed nation, but rather a response to their weakness and failing…. Once the people demonstrate their inability to relate to Him directly, Hashem decrees the creation of the Mishkan as an act of remediation.

Some Midrashic authorities view the creation of the Mishkan as a healing gesture on Hashem’s part towards the nation. The people find themselves, as a result of the chet ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf), hopelessly distanced from their Creator. Hashem, therefore, reaches across the chasm [the divide which the sin caused] to show them the way back. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah, Shemos, Perek 33, posuk 3)

Other Midrashic sources consider the Mishkan public testimony to the world of the enduring connection between Hashem and His people, a connection that survives the tragedy of the golden calf. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Tanchuma Shemos, Terumah 8)

Most foundational, however is the approach, based on Midrashic chronology, which interprets the creation of the Mishkan as a Divinely designed response… to counteract the root causes of the chet ha’egel. At the core of this seminal sin lies the nation’s inability to worship Hashem directly, without the benefit of intervening tangible symbols. This inability drives the B’nei Yisrael, upon Moshe’s perceived disappearance, to create… a proposed intermediary between themselves and Hashem. Recognizing the people’s need for physical symbols, Hashem… decrees the creation of the Mishkan and all of its associated rituals and utensils. The fundamental concept of the Beit Hamikdash thus originally emerges as a concession to the Jews’ limitations. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sforno on Shemos, Perek 24, posuk 18)

Hashem… wants the people to learn from their own failure. Had Hashem initially commanded the erection of the Mishkan, the Midrash contends, the B’nei Yisrael would never have discovered the nature of their own limitations. Like a child, the infant nation must be allowed to stumble and fall, if only to learn to rise again.

But Rabbi Goldin now notes questions asked regarding the notion of the Mishkan having been decreed as a response to chet ha’egel (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, pages 212-213):

Hashem simply seems to substitute the symbolism of the Mishkan for the symbolism of the egel hazahav. In what way is this beneficial? Shouldn’t Hashem, instead, train the nation… that such symbols are unnecessary — that man is capable of establishing a direct relationship with the Divine?

On a basic level, …in contrast to the egel hazahav, the Mishkan and its rituals are Divinely ordained. Through difficult experience at Sinai, the nation is taught that symbolic worship is allowed in Judaism when, and omly when, the symbols involved flow from Hashem’s command.

In a deeper sense… the Mishkan is not a replacement for the egel hazahav at all but a true antidote for its root causes…. Properly understood, each and every detail of the Mishkan and its associated rituals and utensils carries the message of Hashem’s accessibility to man.

[Countering]… the Midrashic approach as a rationale for the creation of the Mishkan [are] numerous other scholars, such as the Ramban. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Shemos Perek 35, posuk 1 and Vayikra, Perek 8, posuk 2)

Unwilling to accept the notion that… the Beit Hamikdash could possibly have emerged after the fact, as a concession to the weakness of the B’nei Yisrael, these authorities maintain that Hashem intended all along to create a central location for his worship.

In the words of Nehama Leibowitz, these scholars “reject the idea that the Mishkan was in any way an afterthought, a cure for their [the Jews’] sickness, atonement for sin, or compromise between the idea of spirituality and the reality of man’s material conceptions, demanding a form of worship limited to a definite space-time dimension. On the contrary, the institution of the Mishkan was there from the beginning, a deliberate act of Divine grace and thoughtfulness designed to strengthen the immanence [adjective — remaining within; indwelling; inherent] of His Presence.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemos, page 467)

Rabbi Goldin concludes (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, pages 213-214):

The Ramban and his colleagues maintain that the Mishkan and, therefore, the… Beit Hamikdash are much too significant not to have been part of Hashem’s initial plan for His people. Far from being the source of the Mishkan, the chet ha’egel actually threatens its creation. Only Hashem’s forgiveness for that sin reinstates His full relationship with the B’nei Yisrael and enables the Mishkan to be built.

Those scholars who view the Mishkan as part of Hashem’s original blueprint for His chosen people also maintain that It is in no way meant to be perceived as an intermediary between the Jews and Hashem. Man’s ability to relate to his Creator directly is, after all, a hallmark of a Jew’s faith. The Mishkan, its symbols and its rituals are, instead, tools, carefully devised to assist the Jews in the enterprise of seeking the Divine.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when he is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.