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.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat TERUMAH 5762/ February 16, 2002
The Construction of the Mishkan: A Lesson in Strategic
Prof. Moshe Sokolow
Professor of Jewish Education at the
Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration,
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).
"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
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
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,
"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,
"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
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
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;
The significance of these wagons can be ascertained via the
Aggadah cited by Rashi
(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]
trees to Egypt, replanted them, and left instructions that they be removed
whenever his descendants left."
Indeed, the very next verse in Vayyigash
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]
And how were those trees transported to Egypt? By Yosef's
wagons, of course.
The reading of
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
p.1664): "Accordingly, we should read 'He was studying the portion
of the 'eglot
, and the [Genesis
] version would be inexact."
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.
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
See the previous note
regarding the lack of Aggadic distinction between different species of