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Friday, February 11, 2005

Terumah - God is in the Details

ועשית חמשים קרסי זהב, וחברת את היריעת אשה אל אחתה בקרסים, והיה המשכן אחד

(שמות כ"ו, ו')

I admit that every year when we reach parashat Terumah I feel a mild anti-climax. After the stories of our forefathers in Bereshit and then the long weeks of the Exodus saga in Shemot, culminating in Matan Torah, come the closing chapters of Shemot with all the minute details of the construction of the tabernacle, the mishkan.

Every year I recall the words of Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz who pointed out to the glaring discrepancy between the story of creation and the story of the tabernacle. Whereas the Torah devotes a mere thirty-something verses to the entire creation of the world and man, it recounts the details of the building of the tabernacle, basically a roofless mid-sized shack, in more than 300 verses. This, says Leibowitz, is an indicator of what we should focus on in our lives: the worship of God. The whole purpose of the mishkan is avodat hashem, and because this is our purpose in life, the Torah draws our attention to every minute detail. Creation is important of course, but it is irrelevant to what we do with our lives, unlike the "standing before God" which is what we are supposed to strive to achieve every day.

One of the details in our parasha is about the sheets that the tabernacle was wrapped in. These sheets were connected together by hooks and once they were all connected together, the Torah says the "mishkan was one" (Shemot, 26, 6). The Even Ezra points out that the tabernacle wasn't really "one" as it was wrapped in ten different sheets, and that there is only one "one" and that is God. In other words, the tabernacle's "incomplete oneness" reminds us that only God is trule "one".

Let us look at the first occurences of the word "one" (echad) in the Torah. The first echad refers to the oneness of time: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night, and the evening and the morning were the first day" (Bereshit 1, 5). The second echad refers to the oneness of place: "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place" (Bereshit 1, 9). And the third echad refers to the oneness of man: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Bereshit 2, 24). So the first three instances of oneness in the Torah refer to time, place and man. As such, they include within them the entire creation.

But interestingly, all of these oneness concepts deal with pairs: day-night, water-land and man-woman. So in this sense, the oneness expressed in the story of creation is not a oneness of uniqueness but rather a oneness of unification. God's creation is the unification of opposites, creating a world that is "many" but operating as "one".

We are commanded to do the same with the tabernacle. In building this mishkan we are unifying the sheets together to create one place for God to dwell in, one place for us to worship him. But at the same time we are not forgetting that this unification does not create a oneness that is truly unique, as such oneness can only be attributed to God: Shema Israel, HaShem Elokenu, HaShem Echad. As the Rambam taught us, is it a mitzvah to constantly remember that there is only one God and that the attribute of "unique oneness" is only His.

The idea for this week's Parasha Thought is from Mr. Uriel Rosenheim in Oz VeShaom-Netivot Shalom.

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