Parashat Terumah: A time of joy

Moshe’s entire 40-day sojourn atop Mount Sinai had one theme only – building the Mikdash.

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Daniel Pinner,

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D. Pinner
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Parashat Terumah opens with G-d instructing Moshe to tell the Children of Israel to begin collecting the materials to build the Mikdash – the Sanctuary – and its accoutrements: “They shall make a Mikdash for Me, and I will reside in their midst” (Exodus 25:8). Moshe’s entire 40-day sojourn atop Mount Sinai had one theme only – building the Mikdash.

We pause briefly for a note on the terminology: the Torah calls the structure by three different names:

The מִקְדָּשׁ, Mikdash, from the root קדש (holy), hence “Sanctuary”, that which sanctifies and has been sanctified. The מִשְׁכָּן, Mishkan, from the root שכן (dwell, reside), hence the place wherein G-d’s Presence (שְׁכִינָה, from the same root) resides. The אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, Ohel Moed, meaning the Tent of Meeting, by far the most frequent name for the structure [1], the place where G-d and the Children of Israel meet and interact with each other.

The rest of the Book of Exodus (except for the sorry incident of the golden calf) recounts the construction of the Mishkan.

Though we will only read of the episode of the golden calf in another two weeks in Parashat Ki Tissa (Exodus Chapters 32-34), it appears there out of its chronological sequence: according to the Midrash, it actually happened before the events of Parashat Terumah:

“‘They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will reside in their midst’: when was this section of the Mishkan told to Moshe? – On Yom Kippur itself, even though the section of the Mishkan is written before the events of the golden calf… How do we know that ‘They shall make a Sanctuary for Me’ was said to Moshe on Yom Kippur? – Because Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on the 6th of Sivan and remained there for forty days and forty nights ; then another forty days , and then another forty days , which comes to a total of 120 days. Thus you find that their sin [of the golden calf] was atoned for on Yom Kippur, and on that day G-d said to Moshe, ‘They shall make a Mikdash for Me, and I will reside in their midst’, so that all the nations would know that the episode of the calf was forgiven them” (Tanhuma, Terumah 8).

Half a millennium after the building of the Mishkan, King Solomon would beautifully and passionately allegorise the love between G-d and the Children of Israel as the sensual love between a man and a woman. “Go out, O daughters of Zion, and see King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding and on the day of the rejoicing of his heart” (Song of Songs 3:11).

The Midrash explains: “‘The day of his wedding’ – this is Mount Sinai; ‘and the day of the rejoicing of his heart’ – this is the Tent of Meeting” (Vayikra Rabbah 20:10, Bamidbar Rabbah 2:25, and Tanhuma, Acharei Mot 6).

Allegorically, following Rashi who in turn follows various Midrashim, Song of Songs 3:11 connotes: “Go out, O children who are distinguished [2] to G-d by circumcision, Tefillin, and Tzitzit, and see the King to Whom peace belongs [3], with the Tent of Meeting which is crowned with the glorious colours of sky-blue, purple, and scarlet , on the day of the Giving of the Torah, when they crowned Him as their King and accepted His yoke, and on the Eight Days of the Inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert ”.

However, according to another opinion in the Midrash, “‘the day of his wedding’ refers to the Mishkan, ‘and the day of the rejoicing of his heart’ refers to the Holy Temple” (Shemot Rabbah 52:5).

This Midrash is of course ambiguous: does it refer to the first Holy Temple, or to the second, or to the third which has yet to be built?

Other Midrashim are less ambiguous, applying it unequivocally to the third and final and eternal Holy Temple: “‘The day of his wedding’ – this is the Giving of the Torah; ‘and the day of the rejoicing of his heart’ – this is the building of the Holy Temple, may it be built speedily in our days, amen” (Ta’anit 4:8 and Eichah Rabbah, Introductions 33).

Alternatively: “‘The day of his wedding’ – this is the Tent of Meeting; ‘and the day of the rejoicing of his heart’ – this is the eternal Holy Temple” (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:8 and Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 3:2).

Hence different Midrashim understand “the day of the rejoicing of his heart” to refer variously to the Mishkan and to the third and final and eternal Holy Temple.

This is of course consistent with the notion that the Mishkan in the desert, intended from the start to be but a temporary structure, was the paradigm for the first Holy Temple built by King Solomon, which was in turn but a foretaste of the third and final and eternal Holy Temple which the prophet Ezekiel describes so vividly in the final eight chapters of his Book.

And what of “the day of his wedding”, which the above-quoted Midrashim explain to mean the day of the Giving of the Torah?

The Torah depicts the Children of Israel standing בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר, “at the bottom of the Mountain” (Exodus 19:17), which phrase is ambiguous: it could equally mean “under the Mountain”.

Hence the Talmudic sage Rav Avdimi bar Hama expounded: “This teaches that G-d overturned the mountain above them like a vat, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, then well and good; and if not – here will be your burial-place” (Shabbat 88a, Avodah Zarah 2b).

The Hassidic masters and the Kabbalists explain this to mean that with G-d’s Glory so physically manifest before them, they had no free will, they were compelled to accept the Torah. Confronted with the inexorable reality of G-d, they had no choice but to declaim נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע – “we will do it and we will hear it” (Exodus 24:7), pledging their obedience to G-d and His decrees before even knowing what those decrees would be.

Another Talmudic sage, Rav Aha bar Ya’akov, noted that “this constitutes a powerful argument against the Torah” (Shabbat ibid.). Rashi (ad.loc.) explains: “If they are called to judgement, and asked: Why did you not fulfil what you accepted upon yourselves? – then they have a justified response: They were coerced into accepting the Torah”.

Clearly, an obligation accepted under duress cannot be binding.

The Talmudic sage Rava, however, answered Rav Avdimi bar Hama’s challenge: “Be that as it may, the entire generation accepted the Torah in the days of Achashverosh [Ahasuerus, king of Persia at the time of Purim], as it is written ‘The Jews confirmed and accepted upon themselves and upon their descendants…’ (Esther 9:27) – they confirmed what they had already long-since accepted” (Shabbat ibid.).

Apparently, then, just as the Mishkan was a paradigm for the future Holy Temple, which was to be incomparably more glorious, so too the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai was a paradigm for the future acceptance of the Torah, at the time of Purim, which was to be even greater.

Parashat Terumah is almost always the first Shabbat in Adar (or, in a leap year, First Adar), occasionally the second Shabbat in Adar [4].

The Mishnah lays down the principle that “when the month of Av begins we reduce our rejoicing” (Ta’anit 4:6), and extrapolating from this, “Rav Yehudah the son of Rav Shmuel son of Shilat said in the name of Rav: Just as when the month of Av begins we reduce our rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins we increase our rejoicing” (Ta’anit 29a).

The mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple casts its dark shadow back to the beginning of the month in which it occurred. Similarly the rejoicing over our complete acceptance of the Torah on Purim casts its light back to the beginning of the month in which it occurred.

So it is entirely appropriate that the Torah-reading for the first Shabbat in the month of Adar – the month of rejoicing over our complete acceptance of the Torah – should recount the preparation for “the day of the rejoicing of his heart” – the construction of the Mishkan.

The Midrash Rabbah, near the beginning of its exposition on Parashat Terumah, analyses the words “Speak to the Children of Israel that they take for Me a donation”, with which our parashah begins.

“It is written, ‘I am asleep but my heart is awake’ (Song of Songs 5:2). The Congregation of Israel said: I slept [i.e. despaired] of the redemption, but G-d is awake, as it says ‘The Rock of my heart and my Portion forever is G-d’ (Psalms 73:26). ‘I am asleep’ [i.e. abandon, ignore, take leave] from the mitzvot, but the merit of my fathers yet stands by me, so ‘my heart is awake’. ‘I am asleep’ [i.e. despaired of any hope of forgiveness and reconciliation with G-d] because of what happened with the golden calf, ‘but my heart is awake’ when G-d calls to me. Hence [after the sin of the golden calf, G-d commanded] ‘that they take for Me a donation’. ‘Open for me, my sister, my beloved’ (Song of Songs 5:2) – for how long will I wander around homeless? – ‘For My head is filled with dew’ (Song of Songs 5:2), so ‘they shall make a Mikdash for Me’ so that I shall no longer remain cast out” (Shemot Rabbah 33:3).

That is to say, as long as we, G-d’s nation, do not build the Mishkan – or, in our generation, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – G-d Himself remains homeless, so to speak, an outcast with nowhere to dwell.

Had the Midrash not said this, we wouldn’t dare utter the words.

We are now in the first week of the month of Adar, the month in which we increase joy from the very first day onwards. This is the month in which we rejoice in our affirmation of our acceptance of the Torah.

It is the month which we begin by reading the Torah’s account of G-d’s command to build Him a dwelling-place.

Do we dare, in this generation, to leave G-d without His house rebuilt?

This is supposed to be the time of joy. It is in our hands to make it so.

Endnotes

[1] The Torah calls it the מִקְדָּשׁ 13 times; the מִשְׁכָּן 103 times; and the אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד 135 times.

[2] צִיּוֹן (Zion) allegorically connotes מְצֻיָּן (distinguished).

[3] שְׁלֹמֹה (Solomon) allegorically connotes שָׁלוֹם לוֹ (peace is His).

[4] The last time that Parashat Terumah was the second Shabbat in Adar was in 5761 (2001), the time before that was 5757 (1997), and the time before that was 5737 (1977); the next time will be in 5781 (2021). For readers interested in the technicalities of the Jewish calendar, Parashat Terumah falls on the second Shabbat of Adar (or of Adar I) solely in a year which begins on Shabbat and in which both Marcheshvan and Kislev have 29 days.






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