Rabbi Aaron Katchen considers the debate as to whether the Torah is presented in chronological order or not Rabbi Michal Shekel pinpoints the moment when Jews went from being commanded to feeling commanded Rabbi Howard Morrison recalls a secret mission he
One of the most famous medieval rabbinic debates centres on the ordering of the Torah. Is the Torah presented in chronological order, or does it juxtapose events thematically? This week’s parshah underscores this debate, by presenting the commandment to build the Mishkan (the mobile Tabernacle) before the sin of the golden calf, which appears later in the Torah.
Rashi (12th-centry France) takes the view that the story of the golden calf preceded the commandment to build the Mishkan. The stories are thematically connected: gold given to build the calf and gold given to construct the Mishkan; the sin offering after the construction of the Mishkan was to be a bull and a calf; the narrative of the Mishkan indicates a place where God can dwell among the people, as a response to the nation’s feelings of abandonment that instigated the construction of the calf.
The sin of the golden calf caused God’s presence to leave the Jewish people, and the construction of the Mishkan was so “that I will dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).
The Ramban (13th-century Spain) considers the Torah to be presented in order. The commandment to build the Mishkan was given as a place to house the Ark that holds the Torah. Chronologically, the Torah had just been given to the Jewish People.
I had often understood, based on Rashi, that if not for the sin of the golden calf, we would not have needed the Mishkan to connect with God. I now see that the need for a holy place, Mikdash, was always there. The ideal reason for the construction was for the Jewish People to have a way to seek God and express their love and gratitude to God. After the sin of the golden calf, the theme flipped, and the focus became more about seeking forgiveness from God, and bringing God back down to us after our actions sent God away.
Rabbi Aaron Katchen directs Ask Big Questions Canada and is the rabbi at the Mizrachi Bayit in Toronto.
What you do changes you. This is true whether you participate in a single event, such as the recent Rings of Peace that were formed around local mosques, or regularly volunteer in a program such as Out of the Cold. Your experience inevitably enriches your outlook on matters and influences your conduct.
We are what we do, and it all started with the book of Shmot. My teacher, Rabbi Norman Cohen, summarized the book of Exodus by saying that it begins with our building structures for Pharaoh and ends with our building a structure for God: the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
The Tabernacle is so important that pretty much the rest of the book of Exodus, some 15 chapters, is devoted to its construction. Compare this with a mere 31 verses recounting the creation of the world.
In Exodus 25:8, God commands us to build the Tabernacle by saying: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (betocham).” Numerous commentators point out the surprising use of the Hebrew betocham, “within them.” It would make better sense if it read “betocho,” meaning to dwell “within it.”
In Torah Today, Rabbi Pinhas Peli explained that the purpose of our building the Tabernacle was “to convert the people from passive participants in their relationship to the Lord, as constant recipients of His gifts, into active partners.”
Parshat Trumah delineates the point where we have stopped working for Pharaoh and are now serving God. Betocham, dwelling “within them,” indicates that we have internalized God’s desire. We have gone from being commanded to feeling commanded. In being commanded we perform tasks because we have to do so, be it hesitantly or willingly. In feeling commanded we seek out opportunities to do mitzvot, wholeheartedly embracing our God-given tasks.
Rabbi Michal Shekel is the executive director of the Toronto Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of Har Tikvah Congregation in Brampton, Ont.
Parshat Trumah brings back fond memories. My younger brother celebrated his bar mitzvah in the Boston area by reading this parshah. The major theme of Trumah can be spelled as architecture or “Ark – itecture.” The Torah reading revolves around the blueprint and design for the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle. My father marvelled at Trumah because he was an architect by trade and was involved in the construction of my childhood synagogue.
On one Shabbat in my childhood shul, as the Ark was being opened on Shabbat, a Torah scroll began to fall out of place. Fortunately, the scroll was caught. A few nights later, my dad and I secretly went to the synagogue, and my father fastened golden link chains around each Torah scroll. No one knew what he had done. On the following Shabbat when the Ark was opened, the congregation stood in awe as the glow of the golden link chains resonated.
My father had donated golden chains to preserve the Torahs in his synagogue. Parshat Trumah begins by itemizing different levels of donations, beginning with gold, silver and brass.
Our sages, of blessed memory, point out that the Hebrew words for these three substances – zahav, kesef,
nechoshet – also serve as an abbreviation for the days on which the Torah is read. The letters of zahav are numerically seven, five and two, the days of the week on which the Torah is read. The letters in the words, kesef and
nechoshet stand for the holidays of the year on which the Torah is read: (Yom) Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach/purim;
ner (the light of ) Chanukah, (Rosh) Chodesh, Shavuot, Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah and taaniyot (the fast days).
As we read about the original building plan for the first Jewish house of worship, may we draw nearer to the Ark, the Torahs within, and the timely and timeless lessons in our Torah.
Rabbi Howard Morrison is senior rabbi – mara d’atra at Beth Emethbais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto.