Terumah – “Contribution”

This week’s parasha is entitled Terumah which means “contribution” and takes us from Exodus 25 through 27:19. Adonai said, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him… Let them construct a sanctuary for Me.” The subject matter of these chapters, and most of the rest of the book of Exodus, is the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Ark of the Covenant.

God gives Moses a very detailed “blueprint” as it were, and the list of materials for the construction is varied and really quite fascinating. It included:

  • gold, silver and bronze (closed at $1,610.00 / oz. on Fri.)
  • blue, purple and scarlet colored fabric
  • goat hair
  • rams’ skins dyed red
  • porpoise skins (rare – porpoises in the Sinai?)
  • acacia wood
  • oil and spices
  • onyx stones and other precious and semi-precious stones

And all of this was for one most significant purpose, which God declared to be “…That I may dwell among them” (25:8). The verb shachan, from which we get Mishkan, means to dwell or inhabit. God’s command that we construct a Tabernacle was not merely to keep us busy and out of trouble. It was to be a labor of love, with love as its ultimate purpose.

People equate love with emotion, but authentic love is about commitment. Feelings wax and wane, but love leads to action; it always yields tangible results. It costs something. Well, here was an opportunity for our people to express their love for Adonai. Though Israel left Egypt with great wealth, it doesn’t mean that everyone had gold to contribute, or even necessarily silver or bronze. But I think it’s safe to say everyone had something on that list – even if just some spices. And there wasn’t even the slightest hint of compulsion. This was altogether voluntary. Let me reiterate, God said, “from every man whose heart moves him…”

The Ark, of course, was the most significant piece of furniture. It was to be made out of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold – inside and out. It was never to be picked up and hand-carried, but four rings of cast gold were to be fastened at its four corners, and poles (also of acacia and also overlaid with gold), were to be used to carry the Arkwhenever it was time for Israel to pack up and set out. The Ark would hold the tablets containing the 10 Commandments (also called “the Testimony”) and eventually also house the jar containing the sample of manna, and Aaron’s rod which had sprouted buds, confirming God’s choice of the tribe of Levi to serve Him there.

The Ark was to have a solid gold covering, called the kapporet, which means “covering”, but which has come to be translated alternately as the “mercy seat” or “propitiation” because the same root, kapper, is the verb for “atonement”. Its dimensions were to match the length and width of the Ark, but it was far more than just the top of a box. In fact, it was of such importance that in 2 Chronicles 28, the Holy of Holies is actually called “the house of the kapporet”. Above the kapporet was where God would manifest Himself in a cloud (Lev. 16:2)! The kapporet was also to be adorned on its top with two golden cherubim, also of solid gold, facing each other, one at each end, their wings spreading over it and touching each other at the center.

In chapter 27 we find that the altar was also to be constructed of acacia, 7 ½  feet by 7 ½ feet and 4 ½ feet high. But the altar was to be overlaid with bronze rather than gold. The altar was to have four horns, one adorning each corner, but not glued on  – rather, the horns were to be carved out of the same single piece of acacia as the top of the altar. The altar was also to be carried by poles rather than by hand. We are meant to understand the holiness of these things. Sinful human hands were never to touch them once they were completed. The tools for the altar were likewise to be made of bronze. Finally, we are given the dimensions of the outer courtyard surrounding the tent: 150 feet by 75 feet.

A few thoughts about Parasha Terumah:

Could not God, who is all-powerful, and whose artistry is infinitely greater and more imaginative than ours, have simply spoken a word and brought a Tabernacle into being? Wouldn’t it have been vastly more beautiful and refined than anything of our own doing? He asked frail and sinful men to construct it. Perhaps we are to see the use of porpoise skins and goat hair and wood and fabric and bronze as representing man’s earth-bound nature, whereas the gold, silver and precious stones represent God’s purity and holiness. But the point is, God invites us to participate, rather than merely to observe. He could certainly do things more skillfully, thoroughly and efficiently than we, but by bringing a perfect end result out of the efforts of flawed humanity, He will be all the more glorified.

During the wilderness wandering, the Ark of the Covenant was at least occasionally visible, as Israel followed God and moved from place to place. But eventually the Arkwould be placed permanently in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, where it would be seen by only one man, and only once per year, and only for a very short time. Does it make you wonder why have all this beauty – the ornate hammered gold and the winged cherubim, if it would never be seen and appreciated by men? I think the point of it is that the beauty of all these things is for Him – just as there are beautiful mountain flowers that nobody sees, and fascinating deep-sea creatures that until recently no one had ever seen; but He sees them; He created them, and everything and everyone exists for His pleasure.

You see, the Tabernacle isn’t about us, it’s about God’s glory; but the Tabernacle is definitely for our sake. God deigned to dwell in the midst of sinful human beings in the time of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. He humbled Himself to do this. Consider the weightiness of the fact that in the New Covenant God, through the Holy Spirit, dwells within us!

Rabbi Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. as God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16). If we are His house, then it stands to reason that we need to keep that house clean. Passover is approaching. What leaven would He have you remove from that holy temple?