- Parshat T’ruma relates the Divine instructions for constructing the Mishkan.
- Why was Israel instructed to place graven images of kruvim atop the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies?
- Why was shaatnez permitted in the Mishkan (and later the Mikdash)?
- How did Moshe and Aharon differ in their understandings of the Mishkan‘s purpose?
In Parshat T’ruma, the Torah shifts attention to the construction of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle – which will essentially be the major focus of the remainder of Sefer Sh’mot. This weekly portion specifically relates HaShem’s instructions for constructing the Mishkan.
Manitou teaches that Moshe and Aharon had very different understandings of the purpose of the Tabernacle. From Aharon’s perspective, people are by nature prone to mistakes and therefore require a means of gaining atonement in order to spiritually clean themselves from their transgressions.
This would actually be a central part of the role Aharon and his descendants – the kohanim – would play. Through the priestly service in the Mishkan and later at the Temple in Jerusalem, the sons of Aharon would help the people of Israel atone for their sins through the korbanot.
But Moshe – who may not have been as close to the people as Aharon but remains forever unmatched in his level of nevua – saw the Mishkan differently. He related to it primarily as a vehicle for the Hebrews to receive Divine revelation. For Moshe, it wasn’t so much about helping the people atone for their failures as it was about raising them up in HaShem’s service.
Moshe had ascended Sinai alone and had entered a cloud in which the Divine Presence was concealed. In Bamidbar 9, verse 15, we see that cloud hovering over the Mishkan. Moshe therefore related to the Tabernacle primarily as a means of prolonging and perpetuating the national experience of Divine revelation that occurred at Sinai. And also as a way to share at least some of the experience that only he had had.
The perspectives of Moshe and Aharon are of course both correct and each actually achieves its full expression when harmonized with the other. Although these different viewpoints could have theoretically caused Israel to factionalize into warring camps, Hebrew logic – as we see expressed throughout the Talmud and many of our ancient writings – allows us to transcend ostensibly opposite positions and find a greater truth that’s actually inclusive of them both. The Mishkan, and later the Temple, would unite these two perspectives of atonement and revelation as mutually complimentary. Spiritual cleansing allows for spiritual advancement.
In fact, part of what made Moshe and Aharon so successful as a team – especially in comparison to other brothers we see featured earlier in the Torah – is that their relationship wasn’t competitive but complimentary.
Parshat T’ruma relates the instructions for how to construct the Mishkan from the perspective of Moshe’s approach. This begins with the people bringing voluntary gifts. Not offerings externally commanded but rather as coming from a desire within those contributing the materials.
Parshat T’ruma begins with the voluntary decisions of individuals to come close to HaShem. And the description of the Mishkan throughout the parsha tends to follow this theme of coming from the inside out. First the Aron HaBrit – the Ark of the Covenant – that would possess the Tablets of the Ten Commandments and be kept in the Kodesh HaKodeshim – the Holy of Holies. Then the Table for the Showbread and the Menora in the Kodesh – the Holy. Then the coverings and the planks for the walls, followed by the Alter and the outer courtyard where it was situated.
The Mishkan would be built in such a way that it would be entered from the east. To the right in the north would be the Showbread. To the left in the south would be the Menora. Further ahead would be the Kodesh HaKodeshim with the Aron HaBrit.
The Torah’s instructions for constructing these items all combine organic with inorganic materials. The Ark and the Table were constructed of acacia wood overlaid with gold while the Menora was made from solid gold but in the shape of a tree. Wood grows naturally and symbolizes human life. But the passions of the soul must be properly channeled and therefore the wood must be contained in a golden framework.
Although in modern times, we’re used to thinking of gold as symbolic of material wealth, that’s actually more the role of silver in our Torah. Gold is most often associated with values and culture. In our episode on Parshat Bo, we discussed how Israel left Egypt with gold and that some of this gold would go towards the Mishkan while some of it would go towards the Golden Calf. We should understand gold in the Torah as a metaphor for cultural wealth.
When the people of Israel return home to our land from the exile and begin to build our civilization, we come with gold from the Diaspora. Different ideas and values and ways of doing things that may or may not be beneficial for the society we’re trying to create. We need to learn how to sift this gold in order to filter out that which would be counterproductive.
Sh’mot 25, verses 18 to 22, instruct Israel to make the cover of the Aron HaBrit. This includes the commandment to fashion two golden kruvim. This might seem a bit shocking at first. Israel had already been prohibited from making any graven images like those that were commonly used for idolatry. Yet here we see HaShem command Moshe to instruct Israel to construct graven images that will be situated atop the Ark in the Holy Holies.
Our Sages differ as to the exact appearance of these kruvim but it’s clear from the verses that they have wings and that HaShem would communicate with Moshe through a voice emanating from the space between them.
We actually first encounter kruvim in B’reishit 3, verse 24, when the Creator stationed them together with a rotating sword of fire to guard the entrance of the Garden of Eden.
The role of kruvim appears to be to stand at the border between different worlds and to guard the entrance point to the higher of the worlds. Atop the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, the kruvim stand at the border between two worlds and mark the entrance through which Divine revelation enters ours.
The Tablets inside the Aron HaBrit represent Divine revelation that had already been expressed. And the Divine voice being heard from the space between the kruvim on the Ark’s cover essentially continues that ongoing revelation.
The Torah then moves on to the instructions for constructing the Shulḥan – the Table. The Table symbolizes the material wellbeing of the nation and the Showbread set on the Table express that all material blessings come from HaShem. From a Hebrew perspective, material success possesses spiritual value.
Twelve loaves of the Showbread were placed on the Table to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. HaShem’s brakha rests on the success of the entire unified nation but also on the success of each individual Hebrew tribe.
Opposite the Table would stand the Menora. Unlike the Ark, which symbolizes Divine revelation and generally remains hidden from view behind a partition, the Menora symbolizes wisdom that comes into the world through human beings acting in partnership with the Creator.
The Menora must be fashioned from a single piece of gold because true wisdom is actually holistic and not merely a fragmented collection of ideas. Unlike man-made philosophies that seek to divide the world into unrelated parts, Divine wisdom understands reality as a unified whole. The Menora must also possess six identical branches plus a center branch to symbolize the six days of Creation and Shabbat.
The Menora is fully displayed outside the partition and stands opposite the Table in the main room we call the Kodesh. The Table and the Menora are actually interrelated because the children of Israel are able to give our light to the world only when we experience ourselves living securely and successfully in our land.
The Divine revelation emanating from the Kodesh HaKodeshim behind the partition was expressed through two channels in the Kodesh – through the Showbread representing material success and through the Menora representing wisdom and enlightenment. Virtually everything that affects the human adventure and the quality of our lives comes down to these two things, materialism and idealism, which must be constantly balanced.
It’s also important to note that the parokhet – the partition separating between the Kodesh and the Kodesh HaKodeshim – was Divinely instructed to contain both linen and wool – a mixture called shaatnez that the Torah generally forbids.
But not only was Israel instructed to make the partition from this forbidden mixture but also the cover of the Mishkan and the uniforms of the kohanim. This is because the Mishkan, similar to the Temple, was like an embassy of higher worlds existing in our world. The same rules don’t apply.
So a number of things that would normally be forbidden were actually commanded for the Mishkan and are still commanded for the Mikdash.
The parokhet separating the Kodesh representing revealed Divinity from the Kodesh HaKodeshim representing hidden Divinity should be understood as a barrier between worlds. It therefore also featured an image of kruvim.
The coverings of the walls of the Jerusalem Temple would later also be embroidered with images of kruvim because they would mark the boundary between worlds where humans would be able to experience a personal encounter with the Divine.