Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat TERUMAH 5762/ February 16, 2002

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat TERUMAH 5762/ February 16, 2002

The Construction of the Mishkan: A Lesson in Strategic Planning

Prof. Moshe Sokolow
Professor of Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration,
Yeshiva University

With the sidrah of Terumah we enter the construction of the Mishkan, its furniture, and the priestly vestments. Bear in mind that the Torah devotes about 10 times the amount of space to these combined subjects as it devotes to the entire creation of the universe.

I. How Many Items Were Solicited?

The Torah enumerates the materials that were to be solicited from the Israelites and they appear to be 15 in number (Ex. 25:3-7): Gold, silver, and copper (3). Sky blue, royal purple, and scarlet [wools], linen, and goat's wool (5). Reddened rams' skins, blue-processed skins, and acacia wood (3). Oil for the lamp, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense (2). Sardonyxes and setting-stones for the apron and for the breastplate (2).

Rashi, however, says:

"All thirteen items mentioned here were required either for the construction of the Mishkan or for the priestly vestments, if you examine them carefully."
How does he come up with only 13 where we counted 15?

The "supercommentators" on Rashi offer several suggestions. The first (offered by Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi), combines the three types of wool fabric (sky-blue, royal purple, and scarlet) into one. Another (Siftei Hakhamim), explains that 13 excludes the sardonyxes and setting-stones because they were contributed by the princes, and Rashi only counted the items which were to be contributed by the public.

This presumed distinction between items to be contributed by the public and those donated --privately--by the twelve Israelite princes, enables us to resolve a significant textual anomaly. Whereas the verb used by the Torah for introducing the fabrication of the Ark is plural (ve'asu, verse 10), virtually all the other verbs utilized in this context are singular (ve'asita).

While, on the one hand, the plural ve'asu ( "THEY SHALL MAKE") of the Ark follows--almost immediately--upon the plural ve'asu ... betokham (vs. 8) and might have been prompted by it, the striking contrast to all the other imperatives in this chapter (cf. vss. 13, 15, 17, 18, 23, 25, 28, 29, 31, and 37) demands a more fundamental explanation.

II. Public vs. Private Participation

One Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 34:1) attributes the plural verb to the communal nature of the Torah which the Ark represents, saying:
"Why does it say VE'ASITA with regards to all the [other] utensils, while with regards to the ark it says VE'ASU? R. Yehudah bar Shalom said: God said to [Moshe], Let everyone participate in making the Ark so that they will all deserve the Torah."

Another Midrash (Tanhuma VaYaqhel 8) explains that the use of a plural verb denies any single Israelite a greater share in the study of Torah than another.

Rabbi Hayyim ibn Attar in his commentary Or Hahayyim suggests that the Ark, as the repository of the Torah, requires the participation of all Israel more so than any other utensil or furnishing because the Torah, in its entirety, can only be fulfilled collectively, through the participation of all Israel; no individual Jew can fulfill it all.

III. Planning Ahead for the Mishkan

Another explanation of the Sifte Hakhamim excludes the acacia wood (atzei shittim) from the total of 13, because:

"The patriarch, Yaakov, prepared them in Egypt and instructed that they be taken along, while free-will offerings (terumah) consist solely of items which a person donates from something which is his own."

This explanation requires us to turn the calendar back a month to Parashat Vayyigash. In explaining how Yaakov was finally persuaded that Yosef was alive, Rashi says that the wagons that Yosef sent (Gen. 45:27) constituted a code (siman) reminding Yaakov that their last conversation was over the subject of the decapitated heifer.

The obvious question, as the Da'at Zekenim succinctly puts it, is:
"It is difficult to explain wagons ('agalot) as referring to a heifer ('eglah)."

Their solution is an alternate reading of the Aggadic passage cited by Rashi:
"It appears [more appropriate] to explain that [Jacob and Joseph were studying] the pericope of the wagons of the Tabernacle, of which it says: 'Six draught wagons' (sheish 'eglot tzav; Numbers 7:3)."[1]

The significance of these wagons can be ascertained via the Aggadah cited by Rashi[2] (to Ex. 25:5) in the name of Rabbi Tanhuma:

"Where did they get acacia trees in the desert? The patriarch, Yaakov, foresaw, prophetically, that his descendants would build a tabernacle in the desert so he brought [cedar][3] trees to Egypt, replanted them, and left instructions that they be removed whenever his descendants left."

Indeed, the very next verse in Vayyigash (46:1) stipulates that Yaakov made a stopover in Beersheva on his way to Egypt (where God appears to him in a nocturnal vision and reassures him of His company on the way down to Egypt as well as on the way back up). For what purpose did Yaakov specifically stop there? Following the Aggadic pattern we would say: to cut down the trees that Avraham had planted there. [According to Gen. 21:33, "Avraham planted a [tamarisk][4] tree in Beersheva."]

And how were those trees transported to Egypt? By Yosef's wagons, of course.

[1] The reading of 'eglah 'arufa would have to be dismissed, then, as a later interpolation stimulated, erroneously, by the wrong vocalization of the consonants 'GLT (eglot instead of agalot). As Rabbi Kasher remarks in an expansive passage in Torah Shelemah (Gen.45:27, #91, p.1664): "Accordingly, we should read 'He was studying the portion of the 'eglot without reading 'arufa, and the [Genesis Rabba's] version would be inexact."
[2] We specifically note Rashi's citation of this Aggadah in order to call attention to Ibn Ezra's calculated rejection of it in his own commentary, ad. loc., apropos of which he formulates the most articulate methodological guide for the treatment of Aggadah to be found anywhere in exegetical literature.
[3] I have seen no supercommentary address the ostensible contradiction between planting cedars and harvesting acacias. Perhaps they were believed (correctly?) to be one and the same.
[4] See the previous note regarding the lack of Aggadic distinction between different species of trees.