Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 20 February 2021 / 8 Adar 5781

Parashat Terumah

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Bread of Brotherhood

In the Mishkan, the Table served the purpose of bearing the lechem hapanim, the “bread of the Countenance.” Bread obviously represents nourishment, and our Sages referred to the table as a symbol and source of prosperity.

In this context, several features of the Table’s construction impart powerful messages about the pursuit of and use of prosperity. First, the Table is constructed of wood, which symbolizes vigorous, continuous development. These are the necessary traits to create prosperous growth.

However, a basis of solidity and purity must be established for this prosperity — this is represented by the gold coating. Of all metals, gold represents the most genuine, most perfect form of goodness and purity. It is usually found in unalloyed form and can withstand the most rigorous tests of durability, and hence is a most fitting symbol of our moral commitment. Not only is the Table coated in gold, but it bears a gold rim around its entire border. This reinforces the directive that holiness and purity of material aspirations are fundamental conditions for prosperity. Precisely because material and sensual aspirations hold the greatest danger of defilement and desecration, we are taught that these pursuits must be “surrounded” by a rim of moral purity.

Second, the shape of the molds which held the bread instruct as to the use of prosperity, so that the purity with which it was attained is maintained. The structure of the stacked metal loaves was a flat surface with two upright sides, like this |_____|, such that the dimensions of the upstanding sides together equaled, or nearly equaled, the length of the base. By virtue of this shape, each loaf offers for the support of the loaf immediately above it as much, or nearly as much, space as it occupies with its own base.

This symbolizes the devotion of one person to another. This devotion is the basic condition for prosperity. Each person is to acquire and possess wealth for the sake of his fellow no less than for his own sake, and provide for another person’s table as much, or almost as much, as he provides for his own.

Finally, the trait of brotherhood is represented in other aspects of the bread. Each loaf was made of two esronim of flour, which volume represents the daily requirement of nourishment, not for one, but for two individuals. Furthermore, the loaves are baked in pairs. A total of twelve loaves, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, are prepared and then arranged on the Table in two equal stacks, side by side.

Thus, the measure, the shape, the preparation and the arrangement of the loaves all clearly bear the imprint of brotherhood.

  • Sources: Commentary, Shemot 25:23-29

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