Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Torah Readings for Saturday, March 4, 2017 Terumah Gifts, Portion, Donation or Contribution

Torah Readings for Saturday, March 4, 2017

Terumah (Gifts, Portion, Donation or Contribution)
25:1-27:19 Shemot (Exodus)
Terumah is the seventh sedrah in the Book of Shemot (Exodus).  It takes its name from the seventh Hebrew word in the second sentence of the weekly reading.  “Speak to the children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion (Terumah) from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion (Terumah).”  According to one commentary, the Hebrew word Terumah lacks a true English equivalent.  The term is variously translated as “portion,” “gifts” or “heave-offering.”  The word Terumah has the same root as the word Hebrew Terumi which means noble, lofty or distinguished.  The word Terumah carries the connotation of things that are set aside for “sacred use” or “for a higher purpose.”  According to the Stone Commentary, the root of Terumah is the Hebrew word “to uplift.”  Hence these gifts, portions or offerings were meant to uplift the giver spiritually.  In this manner the mundane items of the material world would be infused with a sense of the spiritual world, a concept we have discussed many times.  At one level, Terumah is the most challenging sedrah we will encounter during the year.  The sedrah contains no narrative advancing the story of the Israelites.  It provides no compendium of commandments with obvious application in our modern world.  Rather, it addresses something that seems sterile and devoid of meaning in the 21st century.  Merely reading and absorbing a text such as this is difficult.  Yet it is necessary since it is every bit as much a part of the Torah as the Story of the Creation, The Exodus, or the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Terumah provides a detailed description for building the Tabernacle and the Ark.  The Tabernacle was a temporary edifice that would be built one time and one time only.  Yet the Tabernacle must have been of great importance since the description of it is given in great detail.  The Ark would have a longer lifetime.  Eventually, it would be taken to Jerusalem by King David and placed in the First Temple.  If one accepts this scenario, the Ark would have been destroyed in 586 BCE when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple.  Over time, different commentators have developed various lessons from the design and construction of these holy edifices.  For the modern reader, these may be of more interest than the text itself.  But we must still acquaint ourselves with the actual reading.  As with everything else in the Torah, God not only commanded that the Tabernacle be built, He provided detailed plans for it.  This blueprint is in the Torah, which means it is public knowledge.  This differs from the common practice of the time followed by other ancient religions of keeping such information secret.  The Tabernacle is a rectangular structure divided into three parts - an Outer Court, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  The Stone Chumash contains a sketch of the Mishkan (pg.463) as well as depictions of other items described in Terumah.  The Holy of Holies contains the Ark of the Covenant in which the Stone Tablets are stored.  The description of the Ark and its function is one of the reasons that some commentators think that Terumah is out of sequence from the point of view of literary narrative.  They contend that the instructions contained in Terumah actually came after the episode of the Golden Calf since that is when Moshe actually brought down the tablets from the top of Mt. Sinai.  Another reason for this contention has to do with answering the question “Why build the Tabernacle in the first place?”  Once the Israelites had experienced the Revelation at Sinai, they were going to leave the mountain and continue their journey to the Promised Land.  According to some, the Tabernacle served as an on-going symbol of the Revelation at Sinai and the sense of holiness the Israelites experienced there.  Since the whole universe belongs to God, He does not need a special dwelling place.  Rather, we need a special place where we can feel the intensity of His holy presence.
The division of the Mishkan into three parts has been the source of many lessons about the relationship between God and man and about our spiritual development.  Just as the Mishkan is divided into different parts of ascending Holiness, so do we experience God in ascending levels.  Also, we experience Teshuvah or “Returning to God” in ascending levels, rather than all in one fell swoop.  Last but not least, for those who are seeking to be more observant of the Commandments, the construction of the Mishkan provides a pattern of gradual approach as opposed to doing things all at once.  In looking for a universal message from this sedrah, consider the concept of Terumah, the giving of gifts described in 25:2.  The gifts are to be given willingly from the people to God.  Furthermore, in giving these “gifts” to God, the Israelites are merely sharing a portion of the material bounty He has given us.  In other words, all that we have belongs to God.  Material items only have value to the extent that they are used for His purpose.
The divisions of the sedrah provided in Etz Hayim listed below are not the only ones possible, but they are broad and functional and they do bring order to what some find is a challenging and chaotic reading.
1.      The directions for the Ark (25:10-16).
2.      The Kapporet and the Cherubim (25:17-22).
3.      The Table and Utensils (25:23-30).
4.      The Seven-Branched Menorah (25:31-40).
5.      The Four Layers of Covering for the Tabernacle (26:1-14).
6.      The Acacia Wood Structure (26:15-30).
7.      The Inner Curtain (26:31-35).
8.      The Outer Curtain (26:36-37).
9.      The Outer Altar (27:1-8).
10.   The Enclosure of “Hatzer” (9-19).
95.   The requirement that the people build a sanctuary for God (25:8).
96.   The commandment to leave in their rings the poles supporting the Ark (25:15).
97.   The requirement that the priests always display the Showbread at the sanctuary (25:30).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The Placement of the Poles
“The poles shall remain in the rings of the Ark:  they shall not be removed from it” (25:15).  The Ark contained the tablets on which were written the commandments (see 25:16).  The ancient Israelites were to leave the poles in the Ark so that the Ark would always be ready to go wherever and whenever they went.  For example, we know from later Biblical entries that the Ark was actually carried into battle.  Today we leave the poles in the rings of the Ark at all times so that we will always remember to take the letter and the spirit of the commandments into all aspects of our daily lives.
A Chasidic View of Why We Study the Construction of the Tabernacle
“The Three Kinds of Terumah
Terumah means a contribution for sacred purposes, something which the Israelites gave for the building and maintenance of the Sanctuary; and our sedrah, in detailing the plans for its construction describes the form that these contributions should take.  There were three kinds of Terumah:
1.      Shekalim:  the annual contribution of half-a-shekel that was to pay for the sacrifices;
2.      The once-only payment of a half-a-shekel to provide for the sockets (Adanim) of the sanctuary;
3.      The provision of the materials and the coverings of the Sanctuary, which again was a once-only contribution ceasing once it was built.
“The first in other words, was a perpetual offering, persisting all the while the Sanctuary and Temple existed, and still commemorated today in the donation of half of the common unit of currency, before Purim.  The second and third, however were limited in time to the actual period of construction.
“What interest, then, can they have for us today?  The answer is the Torah is eternal, meaning that its every detail has some relevant implication for all Jews at all times.  And especially so for the details of the Sanctuary, for we read of it, ‘And they shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell in them,’ whose meaning is that G-d’s presence will rest not only in the Sanctuary itself but also in the heart of each Jew.  Even if the physical building is destroyed, a Jew can construct his own sanctuary of the soul, as an inward correlate of the once-external place.  And each detail of its construction will mirror the precise practical directives contained in this and the subsequent Sidrot.”
Modern Reminders of Terumah
The seven-branched menorah is a common motif in Jewish art, decoration and construction.  Many synagogues use them in decorating their sanctuaries.  In many homes, a seven-branched menorah is used for kindling the Shabbat lights.  The Ark mentioned in the sedrah was built to house the Stone Tablets.  Today the Ark containing the Torah Scrolls is the center-point of the sanctuary.  The sedrah also mentions that there were two altars in the Tabernacle, the inner gold altar known as the incense altar and the copper altar in the courtyard of the Sanctuary.  In many Orthodox synagogues, you will see two lecterns.  One sits in the middle and the other is close to the ark.  One is used for reading the Torah.  The Chazan uses the other lectern when leading the other parts of the service.  It is not a one-to-one comparison, but the symbolism is there.

Where Does God Live?
On the one hand we are taught that God is everywhere.  Yet the TaNaCh describes two edifices which are to be His dwelling places - the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem.  This week’s portion reads, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  As the Shlah points out, the Hebrew word that is translated “among them” is בְּתוֹכָם or B’toe-cham which literally means “within them.”  So the verse could read “And they shall make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them.”  Yes, God lives in the entire universe.  Yes, people can find God anywhere.  But by building a special place where God “dwells” our thoughts and souls will be drawn more closely to Him.  As we draw closer to Him, we will allow Him to dwell within our own personal sanctuary (think of the term “The Body is a Temple”).  When God truly dwells within each of us, then we will truly know God.  The person whose note started this thought is Rabbi Isaiah ben Avraham Ha-Levi Horowitz, also known as the “Shlah.”  Shlah is an acronym from one of his most famous works, Shnei Luchos Ha-Bris.  Born in Prague in 1656, he lived in Poland before becoming a Rabbinic Judge in Frankfurt.  After the Jews were expelled from Frankfurt in 1614, he eventually moved to Jerusalem where he was part of the Ashkenazi Community.  He died in 1625 and he was such a significant leader that he was buried in Tiberias near the grave of Maimonides.  In his many Kabbalistic, homiletic and halachic works, he stressed the joy in every action, and how one should convert the evil inclination into good, two concepts that had an impact on Jewish thought through to the eighteenth-century, and greatly influenced the development of the Chassidic movement.

5:26-6:13 I Kings

The Book:  Kings is the Fourth Book in the second section of the TaNaCh (Bible).  The division into Kings I and II is first found in the Septuagint.  Kings covers the period of Jewish history stretching from the end of King David’s reign to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple.  I Kings covers the period from the death of David to the reign of Ahab and the fall of the House of Omri, these being part of the royal houses of the Northern Kingdom.

The Message:  Solomon is now King of Israel.  God has granted him great wisdom.  He has carried out David’s deathbed commands.  He is firmly in control of the situation and is ready to rule in his own right.  Solomon’s reign is marked by a massive amount of construction.  It begins in this sedrah with the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  It will continue with the building of palaces in Jerusalem and the rebuilding of a variety of towns including Hazor, Meggido and Gezer.  All three of these have been sites of great archeological activity.  The reading opens with a statement relating to a treaty between King Solomon and his fellow monarch King Hiram of Tyre.  This is real history.  Tyre was a city-state on the Mediterranean coast, part of what would later be called Phoenicia.  Solomon sent large levies of workers, on a rotating basis, to the land of King Hiram.  There they would quarry stone and chop down cedars to be used in building the Temple.  The haftarah goes on to provide a description of the three chambers of the Temple including dimensions and furnishings.  The author stresses that only dressed stones were used so that no iron instrument was used in Jerusalem in building the Temple.  This is in keeping with the commandment not to use an instrument of iron when building an altar.  Iron was synonymous with weapons of war.  You cannot build a House of Peace with weapons of war.  God has the last word on the construction of the Temple.  It will only be of value as long as the people follow His rules and commandments.

Theme-Link:  The Sedrah describes the Tabernacle.  The haftarah describes the building of the Temple.  Both are dwelling places for God, but that is where the similarity stops.  Terumah starts out with God speaking.  The people are to give willingly for the construction of the Tabernacle.  There is no levying of a tax to pay for the dwelling place of the Lord.  In the haftarah we do not hear the voice of God speaking to the people, but we do hear the sound of the taxman.  “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel.”  He taxed the people by requiring them to work on the project one out of every three months until it was completed.  The Tabernacle was a portable structure designed only to be used in the Wilderness.  It was intended to help the people overcome the Sin of the Golden Calf and help them take a sense of the Holy with them as they left Sinai and moved toward Canaan.  The Temple was to be a permanent structure.  From a practical point of view, it was designed to replace all of the other cultic centers that existed throughout the Promised Land.  Furthermore, by building it at Jerusalem, Solomon was furthering attempts to strengthen the Davidic Dynasty.  At least three times a year, people would come from all over the kingdom to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  In so doing, they would be reminded of the central role of Jerusalem and the House of David when it came to fulfilling the commandments of the Lord.  We must not lose sight of the fact that in building the Temple Solomon was fulfilling a prophecy that had been made to David by Nathan i.e., that the son of David would build the Temple in Jerusalem.  All cynicism aside, the building of the Temple in Jerusalem was part of the Divine Plan.  In the end, neither the Tabernacle nor the Temple survived.  However, the Tabernacle provided us with a motif for spiritual survival after the exile.  In effect, the Torah became our Tabernacle - the portable spiritual home that reminds of the eternal presence of God.  At the same time, the yearning for the rebuilt Temple has animated the Jew for centuries.  Whether one is a secular Zionist or a bearded, black-coated Yeshiva student (or someone in between), Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are the North Star of our existence thanks in no small measure to the public works projects of King Solomon.  At the same time, the current effort by one sect of Judaism to control the Temple Mount and the Israeli government’s willingness to use its power to enforce their “rules” should be something that would bother anybody who cares about the concept of the whole house of Israel and the holiness of one of our holiest site.

Hiram and Solomon were active trading partners.  They built a fleet, which sailed down the Gulf of Aqaba, across the Red Sea and may have even entered the Indian Ocean.  They developed a thriving trade with other parts of Asia and east Africa.  Apparently Hiram did better than Solomon in their various trading relationships.  For in the end, Solomon was forced to cede a section of the Promised Land along the coast near the city of Acco to Hiram.  It is the only time that I know of where Israelites were forced to become part of another kingdom by a Jewish king.  Interestingly enough, Solomon is never reprimanded for doing this.  At the risk of mixing Torah with modern politics, it would seem that those in Israel, who resist giving up any of the territory on the so-called West Bank, must have missed reading about King Solomon.  Or are they going to accuse him of being a foolish appeaser as well?  As I have said, the TaNaCh has survived because of its timeless quality.

Copyright; February 2017; Mitchell A Levin

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