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Home » Terumah

Terumah: Mobilizing The Force

Submitted by on February 14, 2010 – 5:38 amNo Comment | 2,702 views

Affixing The Staves

The major artifacts in the tabernacle, transported across the desert by the Levitic tribe, were equipped with large staves by which they were lifted and transported. The Torah details precise instructions on how and when the staves were to be affixed and here we encounter a curious point. Of the ark and outer altar, the Torah instructs that their staves be fashioned and affixed at the time of construction. Of the show-table and inner altar the Torah instructs that its staves be fashioned at the time of construction, but affixed at a later date; before travel. What is the meaning of this distinction? (1)

Three Crowns

Three of the ecclesiastic artifacts were adorned with golden crowns. The sages taught that these crowns represented three forms of spiritual royalty. The crown on the ark represented Torah. The crown on the altar represented priesthood and the crown on the show-table represented kingdom. The crown of priesthood, concluded our sages, was awarded to Aaron, that of kingdom, to King David, but the crown of Torah has not been allocated; all Jews share equal title to it. (2)

With this teaching in mind we return to the staves. The presence of the staves on the artifact indicates that these items are transportable; they can and indeed are meant to be carried forth. All the artifacts were transported, but the ark and the inner altar were more transportable than the others, which is why the Torah instructed that their staves be affixed in construction.mobilizing the force - innerstream

Transport connotes mobility not only in space, but also in time. There are forms of worship that are time specific. For example sounding the Shofar only serves G-d on Rosh Hashanah, but not on Passover. Similarly there are Mitzvos that space specific. For example it is only in Israel that leaving the field fallow during the Sabbatical year hallows its produce.

In the Temple there were rituals that were time and space specific and others that were mobile; able to transcend the limits of time and space. The show-table was a mitzvah that could only be fulfilled in the Temple. We explained that the show-bread symbolized the kingdom of David; a dominion that did not follow the Jews into exile. Similarly, the priests symbolized by the inner altar, could not perform the sacrificial rite outside the Temple walls.

There were, however, two artifacts, the ark and the outer altar, whose worship was not confined to any one time and space. The art represents the Torah and the altar connotes worship. Torah study is timeless; in Israel and beyond, in ancient times and modern, Torah study draws us closer to G-d. Divine worship is also timeless. In the temple this worship took the form of the sacrificial rite, which is not permissible beyond the Temple walls, however, Divine worship in a generic sense is very much extant. In the Diaspora it takes the form of charity and prayer. Torah and prayer are indeed the ingredients that nurture the Jewish core and keep our nation alive in the deepest gloom of exile. They are not static forms of worship practicable only in holy places. They are dynamic; practicable everywhere.

Two Stories

There are two tales related in the Talmud that make this point. Shortly before the fall of Jerusalem, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai, the great sage of that age, escaped Jerusalem and negotiated an agreement with Vespasian to allow him to build a Torah academy in Yavneh. Later scholars derided Rabban Yochanan for not asking Vespasian to spare the Temple. Rabban Yochanan, however, who felt that such a request would never be granted, asked instead for a house in which Torah could be taught.

Rabban Yochanan understood that Judaism could survive even if the Temple would fall so long as Jews would study the Torah. He endeavored to establish a framework within which Torah could be taught after the temple would fall. The ark was built with staves intact because it is transportable; its outer container was lost when the Temple was destroyed, but its inner contents were carried forth. (3)

Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai strolled through the ruins of the temple accompanied by his student Rabbi Yehoshua. “Woe is to us,’ wailed Rabbi Yehoshua, ‘that we are now without atonement [for the altar has been destroyed].” Replied Rabban Yochanan, “Praise worthy are we for we have a substitute and kindness is its name.” Indeed the staves of the altar were inserted by its architects as soon as it was built, because the worship it represents outlasted the Temple that housed it; it too has been carried forth. (4)

Into The Murky Depths

We spoke transporting the Torah and Divine worship beyond the limitations of space and time. Let us now explore their reach and applicability on a soulful, emotional dimension.

Certain forms of worship that are only accessible in joy, others in solitude and yet others in humility. Maimonides famously states that prophets could only attain prophecy in a state of joy. Meditation is only effective when it is practiced in quiet and peaceful solitude. True repentance can only be reached through humility.

The question before us is what forms of worship are available to us when we have sunk into the morass of a spiritual funk? Admittedly, there are times when we are inspired and enthused, when our spirits soar and our hearts are expansive. These times are conducive to the strengthening of faith and Divine worship. But from time to time we sink into the muck self centered and destructive pursuits, fueled by caustic forces such as depression, apathy, jealousy, selfishness or anger. The question is, how can we be touched by G-d when our soul lies buried under layers of spiritual and mental funk?

The answer lies in the dynamism of the ark and the altar. Our sages taught that more than the porters carried the ark, the ark carried its porters. The Torah is not just an academic book; it is the medium through which G-d makes Himself available to us. A daily lesson of Torah can uplift even the most desperate soul. It injects in us a sacred aura; it purifies the mind, suffuses the heart with the soothing balm of life and carries the soul aloft. Life can pose serious challenges that obstruct our inner equilibrium; Torah is the antidote. A daily lesson, even a short one, invigorates the spirit and reconstitutes the soul. Its healing value is immense.

The second solution is kindness. When we are in need of a helping hand, the best thing to do is lend a hand to others. G-d works in mysterious ways; it is uncanny how often a helping hand is repaid in kind. These two values, Torah and kindness, the ark and the altar, are mobile; their reach extends beyond the Temple’s walls. They reach into our very hearts; they touch our souls and inspire our Jewish core.


  1. Exodus 25: 14, 25: 28, 27: 7and 30: 4. See commentary of Haamek Davar ibid.
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Yuma 72b.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 56b.
  4. Avos D’ reb Nosson 4.

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