TERUMAH (Exodus, 25:1-27:19) — “Broken Promises, Broken Tablets, and Broken Hearts”

Aron Translation: Ark, coffin)

Every Synagogue has an Aron, a Holy Ark, where the Torah scrolls are stored. This Aron is based on the original Aron, a wood-and-gold box that housed the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. (See “Heavy Metal”.) 

When G-d told Moses to build the Tabernacle, an itinerant Temple that traveled with the Israelites in the desert, the Aron was one of the principle furnishings of that Temple.  This gilded container was covered with a slab of pure gold that was molded to include two statues on top.  These two golden statues, the Cherubim, are the only exception to the Law prohibiting graven images.  According to the Talmud, these winged statues bore the faces of children.  More about the Cherubim later. 

You will place into the Aron the Testimony that I will give you.  (Exodus, 25:15) As we know, Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with two stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them.  To his shock and dismay, he saw that the Israelites had quickly broken their promise to follow G-d’s Torah.  He discovered his People worshiping the Golden Calf.  Moses immediately threw the Tablets to the ground, smashing them.  After a later ascent of Mt. Sinai, he returned with a second set of Tablets.  Moses placed both sets of Tablets into the Aron

The Talmud (Menachos 99a) deduces from the inclusion of the broken Tablets into the Aron that 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.  And He blew into his nostrils a living soul… (Genesis, 2:7) A human body is the receptacle into which G-d places a Neshama, an Immortal Soul that lives on even after the body fails.  A human body that no longer houses that Neshama is placed, like the Broken Tablets, into an Aron.


There are many thoughts that go through my mind when trying to absorb the tragedy that occurred last Shabbos morning.  I will share with you but one of those thoughts. 

In one respect, Ilan Ramon was more fortunate than too many of his fellow Israelis.  He, like many others, went to work and never came home.  According to reports I heard today, his remains have been identified, and he will be brought to burial.  Not everyone is so “lucky.”  He is mourned by millions across the world.  Millions, if not billions of dollars will be spent in the attempt to insure that such a disaster never happens again.  If an explosion kills several dozen Israelis, the world shrugs its collective shoulders.  Another day, another dead Jew.  Some things never change. 

Let us pray that Israel and the world be spared future anguish.


There is a contradiction in descriptions of the Cherubim.  Exodus 25:20 tells us that they stood …with their faces toward one another…  Chronicles 2, 3:14 says that… they stood on their feet facing the House. 

Which way did the Cherubs face, toward each other or toward the back of the Temple?  The Talmud (Bava Basra 99a) answers that it was both.  Most commentaries understand the Talmud as stating that the Cherubim functioned miraculously.  When Israel did G-d’s will, the Cherubim faced each other, while when we violated G-d’s will, they faced away from each other. 

During the Pilgrim Festivals, when Jews from all over came to Jerusalem, the curtain that usually obscured the view of the Aron was opened so that the People could see the Cherubim embracing each other, symbolizing G-d’s love for His People. 

There is, however, a problem with this interpretation.  When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, they ridiculed the fact that the Cherubim were embracing each other. (Yoma 54b) In view of the fact that the Temple was destroyed due to the sins of our People, wouldn’t we expect the Babylonians to find the Cherubim facing away from each other, signifying G-d’s anger? 

There are a number of solutions offered to this question.  I would like to offer my own humble suggestion. 

G-d promised Jacob that He would follow him to Egypt.  (Genesis, 46:4)  When we are in exile, G-d “joins” us in exile.  Even as the Babylonians ransacked our Holy Temple, G-d allowed the Cherubim to continue their embrace.  Even as He punished Israel, He demonstrated His love for Israel.  We are never alone.


I listened to the Secretary of State speaking the other day.  I also listened to the “United Ostriches” with their collective heads in the sand.  It doesn’t look promising…

 May G-d grant wisdom to our President.  Let us all pray that someday soon the world will become a safe, genuinely peaceful place.  May G-d bless us all, and may G-d bless America.  Amen.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“Heavy Metal” (2002) 

…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?… 

Read more.


“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.


 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


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 6, 2003 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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