Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 2 March 2019 / 25 Adar I 5779

Parshat Vayakhel

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Terumah and Tenufah

The Torah uses two words to describe the physical movement of an object as it is being sanctified or dedicated to the Sanctuary: terumah and tenufah. Terumah refers to the vertical movement upward and downward, and tenufah refers to the horizontal movement back and forth — away from and towards the body.

Although these terms appear in our parsha in reference to the donation of gold, silver and copper, they are most often associated with the parts of the sacrificial animal that are designated as gifts to the priest.

Both terumah and tenufah denote gifts, to mankind in general and to G-d. Tenufah — horizontal movement to all sides — “directs” the object toward the community, toward fellow man. Terumah — raising and lowering — expresses man’s commitment to devote the object and all earthly aims to Heaven. Although both movements were performed when both the thigh and the breast were sanctified for the Kohen, the text specifically associates the thigh withvertical movement (shok haterumah), and the breast with horizontal movement (chazeh hatenufah). In referring to the precious metal donations to the Mishkan the text refers to gold as tenufah (horizontal) and to copper and silver as terumah (vertical). These designations have symbolic significance.

The breast, which encloses within itself the whole range of man’s spiritual power, represents man’s thought and volition. These are most naturally directed to G-d, and thus the Torah specifically instructs that they are to be dedicated also to the communal purposes. The thigh, which represents physical strength, is more naturally directed at communal affairs, and thus the Torah emphasizes that it must also be dedicated upward, toward G-d.

The horizontal movement also has another implication — the object is dedicated on the same plane as the object to which it is to be dedicated. It is already directed toward its goal and given over to its intended purpose. It does not need further purification before it can be dedicated.

In the vertical moment up and down, the goal of the object to be dedicated is on a level high above the point at which it presently stands. The object to be dedicated must first be elevated before it can be dedicated.

Gold, the noblest metal, symbol of purity and refinement, is used in the realm of the holy — the menorah, the ark, the altar. It can be dedicated immediately without refinement. But the silver and copper symbolize an unrefined state. They must first be lifted upwards, striving toward the holy, before they can be accepted and incorporated into the holy. There are those contributions which are pure and noble and can be directed to the holy without much processing — these are chiefly our thoughts and volitions. And then there are those contributions which must undergo a process of deliberate sublimation — most notably the physical and mundane activities — before they can be called holy.

All dedications — of money, time, talent, resources, thought and action — are subject to some combination of terumah and tenufah. The ones that are more naturally devoted to G-d must also be consciously devoted to the community, and vice versa. And then in the process of dedicating these valuables, some may need refinement and purposeful striving before they can be properly directed at their destined end.

§ Sources: Commentary, Shemot 35:22; 29:22-25

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