1. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the essence and substance of any particular thing is expressed in its Hebrew name. We can therefore conclude that the essence of the entire Torah portion of this week is revealed in its name, “Terumah” (contribution). The term Terumah, however, is used in the Torah to describe various other types of contributions, for example, the separation of Challah. Terumah is therefore not connected solely to the particular form of contribution discussed in this Parshah, namely, the contribution of materials towards the construction of the Mishkan. The question therefore arises, why has our Parshah been given the name Terumah, which is a general term, and is seemingly inadequate in expressing the essence of this Parshah? Should it not have been given a more specific name which would reveal the unique characteristics of the particular form of Terumah related to the construction of the Mishkan?
Furthermore, upon closer examination of the subject discussed in this week’s Parshah, the name Terumah actually seems to be in contrast with the very essence of the Parshah. The essence of a Mishkan (dwelling place for G-d) is revealed in the words of Shlomo (Chron. II, 6:18), “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built?” It is an achievement beyond the reach of human capabilities, dependent upon Divine command and power for its materialization. This is accentuated in the verse: “They shall make Me a Mishkan, and _I shall dwell within them.” The existence of the Mishkan ultimately depends upon the descent of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) from above.
On the other hand, “Terumah” connotes the exact opposite. Terumah has two meanings:
1) to separate
2) to elevate, both of which represent levels in the service of man.
Man has the ability to make separate some of his capabilities and parts of his environment, as well as elevate these, to the Mishkan (service to G-d). However both of these levels, “separating” and “elevating” the physical, are within the limited powers granted to man and are a direct result of his own efforts. In contrast is the concept of Mishkan, which is clearly a Divine manifestation originating from and through the powers from Above.
It would seem therefore quite incomprehensible why our Parshah has been named Terumah, when its contents seemingly convey an entirely opposing concept.
The explanation for all this:
The great concept of “I will dwell within them” — the revelation of G-dliness within the physical world — began with the revelation at Matan Torah. That was the first contact between the “lower” (physical) realm and the “upper” (spiritual) realms, and was strictly within the power of the Almighty. Being of Divine origin it simultaneously penetrated, although temporarily, every level of the entire creation to the point that even an ox did not bellow and a bird did not chirp.
However, the true purpose of creation is that the transformation and elevation of the physical into spiritual come about not through Divine intervention but through the efforts and deeds of the physical world itself. That is, the meeting of the “lower” and “upper” realms should result from the service of man. This sort of transformation can only come about through a gradual “step by step” service, which is expressed in the two definitions of Terumah mentioned above. First the Jew “separates” one part of his physical environment and elevates it to G-dliness. Then, according to the directives that he receives from Torah, he proceeds to “separate and elevate” yet another area of his mundane surroundings into spirituality. This step by step transformation of the physical, through the efforts of the creation itself, is the true purpose of creation, contrasting with the sudden and total transformation that took place at Matan Torah.
Now we can understand why our Parshah is called Terumah. Our Parshah does not discuss the Divine revelation that rested in the Mishkan (similar to the revelation of Matan Torah). Rather it describes the physical contribution which Jews gave to the construction of a dwelling place for G-d. This is precisely what Terumah implies — the “separation and elevation” of the 13-15 types of physical materials donated towards the Mishkan building fund and their transformation into G-dliness. Our Parshah focuses on the contributions of the Jews to the Mishkan and not on the Divine Presence which rested there afterwards.
2. At first glance it may seem superfluous to study and discuss the details of the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was erected many generations ago and the (majority) details would never again be duplicated. What then is the purpose of its study?
The explanation is: The Torah is eternal and all its details are everlasting. Although the Mishkan in its physical form no longer exists, all the aspects of the Mishkan still exist in their spiritual form in the service of every Jew. This is also the meaning of the saying “the prayers were instituted to replace the offerings.” The prayers we recite daily actually reflect the very same concept as the sacrifices offered in the Bais HaMikdash. This, therefore, is the reason we are told to study the details of the construction of the Mishkan even though the Mishkan will never again exist. Every Jew has the strength and ability to relive the contributions of the 13-15 materials, to erect a Mishkan of his own and bring that G-d dwell within us.
3. The 13-15 materials that were required in the construction of the Mishkan are enumerated in the Torah in a specific order. The first three items to be mentioned are gold, silver, and copper, respectively. We must analyze the implications of these three items, including the order in which they are mentioned, and we must derive the proper lesson from all this.
One may argue, that although he is prepared to “donate” of himself and his share in the world to the Mishkan, still he wishes to give only his “copper,” which is the “lowest” of the three metals and represents a low level of service. He will begin to contemplate surrendering his “gold” and “silver” to the Mishkan only when he has achieved a higher level of service (and amassed greater material wealth). The passage responds to this attitude by beginning with gold. As the Shulchan Aruch rules in several places, one must contribute “from the choice and from the beautiful” of one’s possessions to G-d.
On the other hand, one may argue that he wishes to “separate and elevate” only the gold. He does not wish to lower himself to elevate the copper, that is, the lower and insignificant levels of creation. He too is told by the Torah that G-d wants him to descend even to the level of the “deep pit” and to cause G-dliness to dwell there as well.
4. An additional aspect of this Shabbos is that it is known as “Shabbos Hafsakah — the Shabbos of interval” when none of the “four Parshahs” are read in the Torah. In our case this Shabbos “interrupts” the reading of the four Parshahs, between Parshas Shekalim and Parshas Zachor. Though at first glance the concept of an interval may seem to be a negative one — merely the absence of a special Parshah — actually it is a very positive concept and is a part of Torah. The Sifra comments that the spaces which exist in the Sefer Torah between one chapter and another were there to give Moshe Rabbeinu the chance to meditate between one chapter and the next. Being that we “always ascend in matters of holiness,” every new chapter that G-d taught Moshe was on a higher level than the previous chapter. Therefore it was necessary for Moshe to have an intermission to prepare himself to receive the higher level that he would attain with the revelation of each new chapter. And not that Moshe did not G-d forbid learn Torah during these periods — but in comparison to the previous level of learning Torah from G-d they are considered “intermissions.”
The above analysis helps explain a puzzling Gemara. The Talmud (B. Metzia 85a) relates: “When R. Zeira emigrated to Eretz Yisrael, he fasted a hundred (or according to another version forty) fasts to forget Talmud Bavli so that it should not trouble him [in learning Talmud Yerushalmi].” A simple question: One is obligated to learn Torah everyday. How then could R. Zeira fast one hundred fasts thereby interrupting his Torah studies during that period? The explanation is similar to that concerning Moshe. R. Zeira fasted to forget Talmud Bavli so that he could reach the higher level of learning Talmud Yerushalmi. R. Zeira did not literally forget Talmud Bavli. It was just that this intermission (the period of fasting), compared to the actual learning done previously, is called “forgetting.” And it was precisely this “forgetting” which was necessary to reach the higher level of Talmud Yerushalmi — similar to the intermissions that were necessary for Moshe Rabbeinu to receive the higher levels of revelation attained with each new chapter.
5. The Torah, discussing the construction of the Menorah, concludes that it should be made entirely from “a Kikar (commonly translated as a ‘talent’) of pure gold.” Rashi, commenting on these words, says: “That its weight should only be, together with all its vessels, but one talent, neither less nor more. Now the ordinary talent (weighed) sixty manehs, but the sacred (talent) was double (that), one hundred and twenty manehs. And the maneh is a litra (unit of weight), by which they weigh silver according to the weight of Cologne. (A Maneh) equals one hundred Zehuvim, (or) twenty-five selaim, since the sela (equals) four Zehuvim.”
There are a number of perplexing points in this Rashi. Rashi seemingly wishes to inform the child to whom he is directing his remarks what is the exact weight of a talent. But what is the purpose of it, what difference does it make? There are many other instances in Torah where a weight is mentioned on which Rashi makes no comment. For example, concerning the redemption of a first-born, Rashi says that the amount is “five selaim,” and does not go on to explain the worth of a sela. And there is good reason for this. Rashi’s function is to be an interpreter. He is not writing a Halachic guide-book, giving exact measurements for weights. And yet, in the case of the Menorah, Rashi does exactly that!
There is another difficulty. His opening comment, “that its weight should only be, together with all its vessels, but one talent,” is a completely different matter from the following remarks concerning the exact weight of a talent. As such, it should have been placed under a separate heading and not incorporated into one large comment.
Furthermore, now that Rashi has for some reason, placed them under one single heading, the order should be reversed. He should first tell what the exact weight of a talent is, and only then explain that the entire Menorah and its vessels was made only from that one talent, neither more nor less. This is indeed the order of the verse — first stating “of a talent of pure gold” and only then “shall it be made with all these vessels.”
To understand all the above, we must preface our answer with the observation that Rashi’s commentary was written for those (including the “five year old who is at the stage of learning Chumash”) who understand the Hebrew language. His function is not to translate every word in the Chumash. So too in our case, a child understands what a kikar (talent) is, and Rashi therefore does not translate it. In the description of sacrifices, when the term “a kikar of bread” is used, Rashi does not translate the term, since a child already knows that it means a “piece” of bread, that is, a loaf. So too in our case, the child knows it means a “piece” of gold (i.e. a talent).
With this in mind, Rashi says that the entire Menorah, with its knobs, flowers, cups, and attendant vessels, had to be made only from one kikar. Now, the child learning this cannot understand: A “piece” of bread, he can understand how much it is — it is a loaf; but a “piece” of gold — how is it possible to construct an entire Menorah from only one “piece” of gold?
Therefore Rashi continues to reckon the exact value of this “kikar,” this “piece” of gold. He explains that it is actually very large, and to make sure that the child understands properly, Rashi even explains that a “maneh” is a litra in the weight used in Cologne, a city familiar to children living in Rashi’s time and place (France).
Now we understand both why Rashi found it necessary to give the exact weight of a “kikar” and why Rashi uses the order he does; only after the child knows that the entire Menorah had to be constructed from the one kikar, does he have the question, “how is this possible?” — which Rashi then answers by reckoning the size of a “kikar.”
[sichos in English]