Terumah - weekly Torah portion
Moses is on Mount Sinai, and he will be there for a total of forty days and forty nights before he returns to the Israelites. He receives an order, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.” There are specific commandments as to what is to be taken as a donation and how these donations are to be used. The purpose is clearly defined in one sentence, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” There is also a detailed description of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. For example, “…construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high…” and also, “…make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long and one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high.”, and even, “make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side…”and so on and so forth exact details on how the job is to be done.
It is interesting to note though that when these orders are given, Moses is required “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.” After the instructions about the Menorah we find again, “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.” All these detailed instructions to only end up saying that Moses needs to follow those patterns Moses saw on the mountain?! The requirement is to do what needs to be done in the pattern of what Moses saw, not necessarily the finely detailed instructions that we are reading in the text. These are merely technical instructions by nature and what really counts is what Moses took with him from his experience on the mountain, a temple that he is privy to see with his own set of eyes. It is a special privilege because he gets to see the ideal. The written instructions are merely an attempt to take the ideal concept and reduce it to practice, bring it down to our lives. We use ideal patterns but what comes out is only a reflection of that ideal, not necessarily perfect, but certainly practical.
Moses when on the mountain sees the broader picture, many patterns in various areas, some shall be reduced to physical structures, such as the Mishkan and its many artifacts of worship. Others will be commandments, laws and rules, patterns which will have to be formed into meaningful and practical guides for human lives in day-to-day practices. If that was difficult and complex in Moses times, it is certainly complex and challenging many generations thereafter. We did not climb the mountain with Moses and have not seen the patterns with our own eyes. What we see is the reflection of all of those. Some, are like the Tallit, Tefilin, Menorah, and other holly artifacts, others are spiritual by nature. All have developed and perfected over generations trying to reach an ideal that befits our lives today in the 21st century.
I think it is important that we understand that we are not requested or expected to generate automatic copies of what was there before. We are expected to use the patterns in order to bring in new things manifestations of the ideals that make them practical for our lives today. The Bavli makes sure we understand that a Menorah made of other metals, which are not gold as explicitly required according to the biblical text, is also a Kosher Menorah. It is because the idea is to follow a pattern, not necessarily a perfect copy but something that resembles the ideal. An understanding that there is something much greater behind what we are doing, and it is not the actual physical manifestation but rather the intent that needs to guide us.
It is from here, I submit, that the demand for the contribution, the donation, because it too is a type of a pattern, an idea that can be filled with different content. The donation may be realized in many ways and take on many shapes. Now as we approach Passover and work towards the Passover contributions we take these patterns and form them in ways that allow Jews of lesser means to celebrate Passover and those of others faiths celebrate their festivals. At other times the contribution may be the lending of our arms or ears in support, listening, giving advice, for those who may not need our material assistance but needs us to support an injured soul. Regardless of if you support IMPJ’s Keren BeKavod, your congregation’s appeals, or support a Jewish Federation overseas, you take these patterns and mold them, you help change things, and you get to see at least some of the aspects Moses saw on the mountain.
Reuven Marko, 3 March 2017, 6 Adar, 5777