TERUMAH (Exodus, 25:1-27:19) — “Heavy Metal”

Most synagogues are quite similar in terms of interior decorating.  They all have Menorahs and arks and curtains.  Much of the decor in synagogues is modeled after the Temple. 

The Temple construction is described in great detail in this week’s Torah reading.  Among the required pieces of furniture is the wooden/golden Ark: 

Make an ark of acacia wood, 2 1/2 cubits long, 1 1/2 cubits wide, and 1 1/2 cubits high. (Approximately 3 3/4 feet x 2 1/4 feet x 2 1/4 feet)  Cover it with a layer of gold on the inside and outside…Make two carrying poles … Place the poles in the rings on the sides of the ark so that that ark can be carried… In this ark you will place the testimony (the Tablets of the Ten Commandments) that I will give you.” (Exodus 25:10-16) 

This gold-coated “wooden” Ark was actually a system of three successively smaller boxes.  The inner and outer boxes were made of gold, while the middle one was wooden.  The three boxes fit inside each other like little Russian dolls. 

The end result was a box that was golden on the inside and outside.  The Talmud (Yoma 72b) compares this movable “Torah container” to another “moving Torah container” — a Torah scholar.  Just as the Ark was golden on the inside and outside, so too must a scholar (and everyone else!) be impeccably honest; what you see on the outside is what you get on the inside. 

Why, then, is the Ark made of wood?  If the Ark should be the same, inside and out, why not make the ENTIRE container out of gold, solid through and through? 

The Daas Zekainim answers that there was a very practical reason for this.  The Ark was transported by Levites who carried it on their shoulders.  A box of pure gold that would be strong enough to hold the Tablets would have to be quite thick, and, therefore, very heavy.  In order to lighten the load of the carriers of the Ark, it was made of wood, with thin gold inside and out.  In consideration of the Levites, G-d made their job manageable.

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Have you ever heard the Yiddish expression, “Es iz shver tzu zein a Yid — It is hard to be a Jew?”  Many Jews in previous generations tolerated great challenges when they came to America.  Kosher food was expensive and jobs that allowed Saturdays off were few and far between.  Many people looked for new jobs every Monday, having been fired for not showing up on Saturday. 

They endured these difficulties and withstood the temptations to compromise their beliefs.  However, they did so with a sigh of, “Es iz shver tzu zein a Yid — it’s so difficult!” 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of Blessed Memory, used to complain that this attitude of “Es iz shver tzu zein a Yid” turned off a whole generation of young Jews.  “If it’s so difficult,” they reasoned, “who needs it?! Why bother?  Why should I work as hard as my parents and be so different?” 

What the parents SHOULD have told there children, said Rabbi Feinstein, is that it is GOOD to be a Jew; that it is rewarding and exhilarating to be a Jew! 

The Levites were given the job of transporting the Ark.  It was a challenging job that demanded great care and responsibility.  However, G-d wanted to keep the Mitzvah achievable. He could have miraculously made the Ark move, as it did when it lifted its carriers over the Jordan River.  But He preferred to have the Levites do it themselves, so He made sure that the Ark didn’t weigh too much. 

There is no such thing as a Mitzvah that is too great a burden to bear.  G-d does not give us situations that we can’t handle.  We have to maintain the proper attitude and rise to the occasion. 

Does the Torah sometimes seem to be too heavy? Are some Mitzvahs too much of a burden?  Let’s look at it this way… if someone gave you a 50-pound bag of scrap metal, you would complain that the bag was too heavy…until you looked inside and saw that the “scrap metal” was pure gold.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

(Do you plan to watch the Super Bowl?  Check out my article  from last year.)

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From the Archives 

“Go for the Gold!” (2010) 

…When I perform a Bris, I usually don’t stay for the celebratory meal.  I give the mother instructions on care of the baby, check him to make sure everything is stable, wish them Mazel Tov, and go on my way.  This week, I made an exception…

Read more.

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“Better than Nothing?” (2006) 

… Afikoman is actually an unfortunate surrogate for an important Mitzvah.   We eat this piece of Matzah to commemorate the Passover Offering, a roasted lamb that was eaten in Temple times…  Today, the Temple lies in ruins, and we are prevented from fulfilling this Commandment.  Nowadays, we eat the Afikoman in memory of that lamb. 

If you can’t do something perfectly, you do the best you can.  No Passover Offering?  O.K., maybe next year.  Meanwhile, do something else in memory of that Mitzvah.  It’s better than nothing… 

Shortly before the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the Ark, containing the Ten Commandments, was hidden away in a secret cavern beneath the Temple.  It has never (yet) been located. 

One wonders why there was no Ark in the Second Temple.  The Torah describes how it was to be made.  There was certainly plenty of wood and gold available to the builders of the Second Temple.  Couldn’t they just build a new Ark?… 

Read more.

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“Budget Busters” (2005) 

…  I find it hard to understand how anyone can spend many tens of thousands of dollars more than necessary for a luxury vehicle.  The purpose of a car is to get you safely and comfortably from Point A to Point B.  For that, you need four good tires, a well-tuned engine, a working heater/air conditioner, and a few accessories to hold it all together.  Of course, one doesn’t want to drive around in a rusty old clunker with a bumper hanging down and a muffler that doesn’t muffle.  But does it make sense to buy a car whose sticker price rivals the gross domestic product of a Third World nation?  …

We need to learn to spend our money in moderation. There is nothing wrong with living comfortably.  But it is essential that we learn the difference between comfort and waste. 

Everything I said above gets thrown out the window when you read this week’s Torah Portion… 

Read more.

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“Getting Along With Your In-Laws” (2004) 

… It was a fairy-tale marriage.  She was his Cinderella and he was her Prince Charming.  He loved her with all his heart, and the feeling was mutual. 

“Prince Charming” was a welcome addition to the family.  Cinderella’s father loved him like a son.  They went fishing together.  His father-in-law took him into the family business.  He rapidly advanced through the ranks of the company, soon becoming a vice-president.  All was right with the world. 

Then he met “her.”  Prince Charming found another Cinderella.  She was, he felt, more “his type.”  She was younger and prettier… 

Read more.

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“Broken Promises, Broken Tablets, and Broken Hearts” (2003) 

…a Torah scholar who forgets his learning should still be respected.  Stones that once contained G-d’s Commandments retain their sanctity even after their destruction.  A person who dedicated his life to acquiring wisdom of G-d’s Law retains his dignity even after that wisdom has left him. 

The same can be said of any human being.  A human is, when all is said and done, a mammal comprising several dollars worth of minerals.  However, a human is, of course, so much more … 

Read more.

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“Welcoming G-D” (2001) 

…The first in a long and distinguished line of rabbinic fund-raisers, Moses put the word out that he would be accepting donations.  He requested “gold, silver, copper, sky-blue wool, dark red wool, wool died with crimson worm, linen, goat’s wool, reddened ram’s skins, blue-processed skins, acacia wood, oil for the lamp, spices for the anointing oil, and sardonyxes and other precious stones…They will make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them.” Exodus, 25:3-8) 

“I will dwell IN THEM.”  It would seem more logical to write, “They will make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell IN IT”.  In fact, we are told that G-d “limited” His presence, and somehow made the Mishkan, and later, the Temple, and today, the Temple Mount as a special place where the Shechina, G-d’s Divine Presence, rests. 

However, perhaps of greater significance, is the fact that by making a building for G-d, we are inviting Him to dwell IN US… 

Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 14, 2002 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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