Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 9 February 2019 / 4 Adar I 5779

Parshat Teruma

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Messages from the Ark

The materials used in the construction of the Mishkan have symbolic value and convey a great deal about our relationship to G-d and the manner in which we are to consecrate our lives. Of all the holy vessels, the Ark which housed the Tablets is entrusted for its construction to the entire Jewish community. This is evidenced by the plural imperative form instruction to build the Ark.

The Ark was made out of cedar wood, and the wooden frame was inserted into a gold encasing. A similar insert made out of gold was placed inside the frame, such that the Ark had the appearance of being a wooden frame, covered with a layer of pure gold. The wooden component symbolizes the vitality and steady progress of the tree. Israel receives the Torah with its (Israel’s) capacity for self-development, progress and refinement. The Tablets — the Torah — is placed in the wooden Ark; it is not the Torah that is subject to development and refinement, rather it is the people —the receptacle of Torah — who are compared to the ever-growing tree.

But the wooden Ark is covered with gold. Receptivity and the capacity for development must be combined with the steadfastness of metal and the purity of gold —with the perseverance and constancy required for all noble achievement. This steadfastness must present itself both on the outside and the inside: there was one inner and one outer receptacle of gold, and one wooden receptacle in between. A life of truth, resistant to corrosion — these are the golden limits within which a noble life is to unfold, growing by stages, like a tree, from within the Torah.

The Ark was fashioned with rings which held carrying poles. These poles were never to be removed from the Ark, even when the Ark was at its final destination. These poles symbolize the destiny and mission of carrying the Ark and its contents beyond the precincts of its present standing place, if this becomes necessary. The command that the poles must never be removed from the Ark establishes from the outset and for all time the truth that this Torah and its mission are not confined to the soil on which the Temple once stood. The constant presence of the poles testifies that the Torah is not bound to or dependent on a particular place. The other vessels have no similar injunction — the Table and the Menorah, for example, are not permanently attached to poles. The Table, representing abundant material life, and the Menorah, representing spiritual flourishing, are bound to the soil of the Holy Land. But Torah is not.

§ Sources: Commentary, Shemot 25:3-15

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