Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dvar Torah: Terumah

I need to interrupt my apartment search to write a Dvar Torah as I find the latter quite theraputic.

This week we come upon the torah portion of Trumah. Here begins the long arduous and detailed descriptions of the Tabernacle and it's vessels which occupy much of the rest of the non-Narrative parts of the Torah. This portion deals with God revealing the descriptions of the Aron (Ark of the Covenant), Shulchan (Table upon which the 12 loaves of unleavened challah were placed), Menorah (7-branched candelabrum), and the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) itself. That actually is the entire content of the portion. The parallel story in next week's Torah portion, Tetzaveh, of the vestments of Aaron the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the other Kohanim (associate Priests) is similar in descriptive content. For that one I have already at least three divrei torah which I have previously written and delivered, two on the special Shabbat of Zachor, one of which I delivered as a Dvar Torah at Koach two years ago and the other of which was published in the Spring 2005 Edition of the Kol Columbia Newspaper, and one which I gave at a memorial siyyum on Simchat Torah this past year (getting shafted with the penultimate picked Torah portion, but I made something of it).

If you know anything about me, you know that I am a Rabbinic Jew (as are anyone else one would considder Jewish today, which also includes Conservative-Orthodox-Reform-Reconstructionist and Chassidic but excludes Saducees and Karaites, as well as Samaritans (I do not know so much about the Jews of the Abuyadaya nor the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia or other lost tribes, but the connection I am trying to make is to knowledge and acceptance of Rabbinic texts such as the Mishnah and Talmud). Anyway, as a Rabbinic Jew, I hold heavily on Rabbinic reading of the texts. The only reason I spent time talking about this is to establish that I hold Midrash, Rabbinic derivation of the text, in high esteem.

So I just want to point out some interesting points I found either in the text (pshat) or from rabbinic interpretation (drash). If you try reading the text in its detail, you will notice a lot of numbers, colors, measurements, textiles, metals, all of which would even baffle the greatest architect (well, all but Betzalel ben Uri, anyway). Our great master and teacher Moses had a bit of trouble with the description as well, apparently. All four of these things mentioned in Trumah, there is some form of "תעשה אותו כאשר הראה אתך בהר כן יעשו" Thus shall you make it just as I showed you on Mount [Sinai/Horeb (depending if this is a J text or an E text)]. How did God show it to Moses? In a very showy way, because God has stylish pizzaz! God showed moses fiery versions of each of these things, fires of gold, red, green, and black comprised these fiery effigies (maybe not the best choice of terms...). Only when Moses saw these fiery representations did he understand. The Torah is often compared to fire. It's often compared to water too... and flour... and honey... but anyway, it is a lesson perhaps that we need to experience the fiery law, this itself possibly a midrash on why midrash is important. Glean from this what you will, I'm not putting in any message, I just wanted to present it.

Okay, one more thing. Moses was commanded to make two Cheruvim (Cherubs) out of the pure sheet of gold that comprised the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubs faced each other and stretched out their arms toward each other, longing to embrace one another. Once installed in the Temple in Jerusalem, they became a early-warning system of sorts. When God was happy, the cherubs would be embracing. When God was angry, they would be facing different directions.

My "cousin" (actually my godmother's brother) James "Jimmy" Dorskind, who was the Director of Presidential Correspondance and Deputy Assistant to the President, and then Acting General Counsel for the Department of Commerce under President Clinton was giving me a tour of the White House about 11 years ago. When we arrived outside the Oval Office (it was that kind of tour, I got Level A Badge Security Clearance and everything) he showed me a bust of President Abraham Lincoln that stood outside the most powerful room on earth. He told me that this statue was moved here under President Ronald Reagan and put on a discreet lazy-susan and under a spotlight. When President Reagan, infamous for his temper, was in an angry mood, staffers turned the bust around to face the alcove, the shadow cast looked remarkably like Richard Nixon. This was a sign that entering would be at your own risk until the President cooled-down. I got to play with the bust and it indeed looked like Nixon (then we were asked to move out of the way because we were told the President was going to get his golf clubs from the Oval Office closet so he could play golf in the Rose Garden (that's what we were told; if there was an intern waiting for him in there, I did not see her when I went in there)). Anyway perhaps the staffers got this idea from the midrash I presented. There is more to the midrash, though. When the First Temple was being destroyed, the person who went into the Holy of Holies to hide the Ark of the Covenant in a safe hiding place (where it apparently remains hidden to this day) was shocked when he saw the strangest sight: While God's Temple was being pillaged and destroyed, the angelic golden creatures were not only facing one another, but were embracing harder than ever. He knew then that God destroyed the Temple out of His great mercy and love. Instead of taking it out on us who deserved destruction for the sins we committed against God and each other, he took it out on the wood and stones of His abode. So great is God's love for his people, symbolized in the tearful cherubs hugging more than they ever had before.

Shabbat Shalom,

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