Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Trumah - Sh’mot (Exodus) 25-27:19

  Parashat Trumah introduces us to several new terms and concepts we have not encountered until now. "Truma", translated “contribution”, is derived from the root r.o.m  (resh, vav, mem) – meaning "high up, to lift up, to exalt". Having warranted such a term, this type of contribution was obviously held in high esteem by the Almighty. Furthermore, it also speaks of its Originator and His exalted position. The description of the potential “contributor” as a person whose "heart generously impels him" (25:2), reinforces the significance of this offering. "Yidvenu" is the verb used here, meaning to “cause one to be generous", stemming from the root n.d.v. (noon, dalet, bet/vet), which is also: "willing, noble, volunteer, freewill offering". Copious rain, for example, is "geshem n'davot" (Ps. 68:9). Other examples of the usage of this word are found in Hoshe’a (Hosea) 14:4 where YHVH declares: "I will love them [Yisrael] freely" (italics added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 5:9 D'vorah describes the lawgivers of Yisrael, as those who "freely offered themselves among the people" (italics added). The contribution, therefore, was to be given freely or generously and was to include gold and silver (undoubtedly the gifts the Egyptians gave to the Hebrew people). The articles of “trumah” were intended for the building of the “holy sanctuary - mikdash - for YHVH” (v. 8), so that He will "dwell among them" (v. 8; cf. Ezekiel 37:26-28; 43:9b) – although the Hebrew – b’to’cham - may be read “in them”. 

   The sanctuary in the desert is more often called "mishkan" (v. 9), meaning "a dwelling place". However, being its first-time mention, it may have been necessary to clarify that this place was to be set apart and dedicated to the presence of YHVH, hence "mikdash".  “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” - “ve’sha’chanti” - hence “mishkan” – dwelling place. “The text does not say 'that I may dwell in its midst,' but 'among them,' to teach you that the Divine Presence does not rest on the sanctuary by virtue of the sanctuary, but by virtue of Israel, 'for they are the temple of the Lord.’” To these words by the Zedah La-derekh Commentary, we add another. In referring to the same text, Malbim comments: "He commanded that each individual should build him a sanctuary in the recesses of his heart, that he should prepare himself to be a dwelling place for the Lord and a stronghold for the excellence of His Presence, as well as an altar on which to offer up every portion of his soul to the Lord until he gives himself for His glory at all times".[1] 


     The Almighty says of Himself in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 66:1: “The heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool - where is the house that you may build for me?" (cf. I Kings 8:27). This sanctuary, therefore, is a place where the “creature” could have a measure of access to its Creator and experience His love, justice, and forgiveness. The sanctuary is a tangible place of meeting (ref. Ex. 25:22) for the sake of human beings who are confined to time and space. 

    The first article to be built is the "aron" (25:10). We have already encountered this term (which means a “chest”, or an “ark”, and a sarcophagus – i.e. a stone coffin, in B’resheet 50:26, where reference was made to Yoseph's embalming and burial). This wooden case, overlaid with gold, was to be the Ark of the Testimony (25:16), bearing witness to YHVH's word, covenant, atonement, and forgiveness with and to the Israelites. Shlomo Ostrovski is of the opinion that in this unique and important article, two very distinct and different characteristics come together, as the acacia wood from which the ark was made originated from the plant world, while the precious metal of overlaid gold was derived from an altogether different source. The latter’s use was intended to magnify this special article, and thereby “elevate its status”.[2] Thus the ‘lesser’ is transformed by virtue of the ‘covering’ by the ‘greater’.  Interestingly, in the book of Hitgalut (Revelation) 11:19, there is also a reference to the ark, though in a different location: “And the temple of Elohim was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of his testament…” 

    "You are to make a cover for the ark out of pure gold" (25:17). This "cover", translated in English as “mercy seat”, is the familiar "kaporet" of the root k.f.r (from which stems "kippur" - "propitiation" and literally means “cover”). On this cover were to be placed two gold k'ruvim (cherubs). In the Assyrian language, "kruv" (singular) is “to be gracious or to bless", with its adjective meaning "great or mighty". In Shmuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 22:11, we read that YHVH "rode on a k'ruv, and did fly, and was seen on the wings of the wind". Likewise, the k'ruvim were also placed as guards preventing entry to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). Here, on the other hand, their presence signifies accessibility to the Most High. It will be “from between the two cherubim” that YHVH will “meet” and “speak… about everything which [He] will give… in commandment…” (25:22). The k'ruvim were to be situated in such a way that their faces – panim - would be turned toward each other (v. 20). In verse 30 we read about "the table of showbread" being the table of "lechem hapanim", literally "bread of the face". 

     "Panim" stems from the root "pana" (p.n.h - pey, noon, hey), meaning "to turn". There are several other words (usually with an added preposition) connected to the same root, such as "in front of, before, toward, corner, attend to, undertake, take away, and clear". "Panim", as are several other Hebrew words, always occurs in the plural form. Thus, its very meaning and usage take into account the existence and presence of someone else, whom one is potentially facing (by turning one’s head). This is evident here in the description of the k'ruvim's position: “…and their faces [are turned] each toward its brother" (v. 20 literal translation). The "bread of the face" (v. 30) is a seemingly obscure term that requires an explanation. There are numerous instances where YHVH speaks of His Presence in terms of "panim" (although it may not be borne out by the English translations), as we saw for example in last week's Parasha, “…they shall not appear before Me [literally - My Face] empty-handed" (Ex. 23:15). The "bread of the face" therefore refers to YHVH's Presence which is turned toward His creatures, an image that clearly foreshadows the "Bread of Life" as epitomized in and by Yeshua.3 

      The way in which YHVH was to meet and speak between the cherubim remains the million and one dollar/euro (choose your currency) question. Our only clue is the meaning, respectively, of the terms “kaporert” and “panim”, which point not to the physical dimension, but rather to the qualitative and spiritual aspect of this awesome “meeting”. 

     Following the descriptions of the Ark and the “Table of the Bread of the Presence", we now move on to the “lampstand - Menorah" (stemming from "nur - fire, light, shine". Root: noon, vav, resh. 25:23-30). The Menorah’s components, quite curiously, are not merely functional. At least five of its elements seem to be directly connected to the botanical sphere: "calyxes, knobs, blossoms (or flowers), branches and almonds". These features are all part of the almond tree. Let us bear in mind that in the desert, where these instructions were given and where the Mishkan was to be set up, there was not an almond tree in sight! In other words, here, for the first time, we encounter elements characterizing the Land of Promise (the ultimate destination of these desert wanderers) as they are included in the most important of edifices - YHVH's sanctuary. The Menorah is not the only article that points to the Land and to its characteristics. The latter (i.e. the land's characteristics) are built right into the worship system and into the whole framework of the Israelites' relationship with YHVH (as we shall see in future Parashot/Parashas). 


     “The beautiful almond tree, whose white and pink blossoms are the first to emerge from winter dormancy, dominating the landscape of Israel at the end of the rainy season, passes very rapidly through several stages of growth”.4 What then is the connection of the Menorah to this plant? "Almond" in Hebrew is "sha'ked", related to the root sh.k.d (shin, kof, dalet), meaning "to watch, be diligent and insistent". In Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:11-12 we encounter the imagery of the almond tree as related to the above terms: "And the word of YHVH to me was, saying, Jeremiah, 'what do you see?' And I said, 'I see an almond rod. Then YHVH said to me, 'You have seen well; for I will watch over My word to perform it'”. We learn from Mishley (Proverbs) 8:34 that, "happy" is the person who is "watching – “lishkod” - daily at My threshold". Hareuveni points out that it is likely that "the knobs and the flowers of the Menorah were patterned after the cups of the almond flower or after the embryonic almond fruit still crowned with the calyx of the flower". Thus, the Menorah was to be a reminder of YHVH's faithfulness and steadfastness, as demonstrated by the natural phenomena of the Land of Yisrael. 

      There is yet another tree that is connected to the Menorah, one whose oil was to feed it, and that is the olive tree. In Yisrael the sight of the newly blossoming almonds in spring, strewn in the olive groves, is a reminder that YHVH "watches over His word to perform it", especially to the proverbial ‘olive tree’ - Yisrael (see Jer. 11:16; Rom. 11:17, 24). 

      As was already mentioned, the two k’ruvim above the kaporet (so-called mercy seat), and also those woven on the veil and the curtains of the Mishkan (Ex. 26:31, 1) recall the ones mentioned in B’resheet (Genesis) 3:24, whose function (with the flaming sword) was to guard the way to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. But in addition to this feature, several other ones also recall the Garden. The entrance to the Garden as well as to the Mishkan was on the east side (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 26:22 - the far end of the Mishkan was to the west, thus the entrance would have been from the eastern side). We also saw above the Menorah’s similarity to a tree. Placed at the center of the Mishkan it may be linked to the Tree of Life “in the midst of the Garden” (Gen. 2:9). Man was put in the Garden to “work (la’avod) and keep (lishmor)” it (Gen. 2:15), while the Ko’hanim (priests) were also said to have to “keep” (tend) – lishmor – the Mishkan and its articles, and “to do the work of the Mishkan” (Num. 3:7-8). Lastly, Moshe was to make tunics for A’haron and his sons and then to clothe them (Ex. 28:40), with the same word for “tunics”  - ku’tanot - being used for the skin garments that YHVH made for man and woman, and with which He dressed them (Gen. 3:21). These associations point to the fact that in some way the Mishkan was a gate leading to a path that was to restore humanity back to the Garden. 

     The edifice of the sanctuary was a tent, "ohel", with a primary meaning (in some of the ancient languages of the Middle East) of “to settle down and be inhabited, settlement, and city". This temporary and collapsible structure, which was essentially made of cloth, skins, and wooden poles, housing a number of articles that were made of a variety of materials for diverse purposes, illustrates a very central scriptural principle. Twice in the midst of instructions relating to the tent's several components we read, “and it shall be one - echad" (26:6,11). Thus it is a variety of components that make up the "whole", or the "one", as well as "oneness" and "unity”. 

     Most times “echad” is used to denote simply a singular “one” (e.g. Gen. 42:13), but undoubtedly the most well-known occurrence of this word is found in the “Sh’ma”: “Hear Oh Israel, YHVH our Elohim is one Elohim” (Deut. 6:4). This eternal injunction and tenet of faith actually points to a union of plurality, since the word “Elohim” is the plural form of “el”. Thus, “echad” is not just a singular “one”, as is verified by other expressions such as: “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24); “one people” (Gen. 11:6); “So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man” (Judges 20:11), and of course by our present example. However, “echad” also has a plural form: “achadim” found, for example, in Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 37:17: “that they may become one (literally, “plural of one”, emphasis and italics added) in your hand”, speaking of the sticks of Yoseph and Yehudah. “Echad” also lends itself to “oneness”, as we see in Y’chezkel 21:16 (although, again, it may not show up in the English translation). However, the command there (addressing a sword): “hitachadi” – “unite yourself” - can also be read: “sharpen yourself”. This makes for a union between “one” (“echad”) and “sharpness” - “chad” - which is also a shortened form of “echad” (see Ez. 33:30), and indeed is the word for “one” in Aramaic. Finally, in the creation process, the first day was pronounced not as “first day”, but “one day” – yom echad (Gen. 1:5). In conclusion, true oneness is a pressed together, and compacted union of many in one, portraying a sword-like sharpness (e.g. Zechariah 9:13). In the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) the ‘one who is made up of many’ is exemplified by the many-membered Body of Messiah. The concept of Echad well represents integration and inclusion (into oneness and wholeness; remember "shalem"?) typical of the Hebrew language and Hebraic thought. 

      Adding to the oneness of the Mishkan is the description of joining the curtains and the loops (26:3,5,6). The word for “curtain” here is “y’ree’a”, and for “loop” - “loo’la’a”, both being in the feminine gender. In joining them “one to another” the Hebrew employs anthropomorphism (personification) and reads: “a befriending (“joining” being of the root ch.v.r meaning to bind together and “friend”) of one woman (one curtain/one loop) to her sister (i.e. to another identical curtain/loop)”. In this way, even the technical instructions for the Mishkan's construction exemplify oneness and relationship. 

      The boards that were to make up the structure of the Mishkan had to be held together with “tenons” (26:17): “binding one to the other…” Here again in Hebrew, it is: “one woman to her sister…” while the (silver) sockets (v. 19) being a masculine noun, are called “adanim”, stemming from the root a.d.n (alef, dalet, noon) which means “sustaining, providing a base”. It is from this root that the word “adon” – master – is derived and hence Adonai – the Sustainer and the One who has set up the foundations and who upholds everything. In verse 31 we encounter the veil that was to enclose the Kodesh Kodashim (“Holy of Holies”), called “parochet” – a divider, separator. Ironically, the Egyptians were described as “making the children of Israel serve with rigor” (Ex. 1:13 italics added), which is the translation for “perech” – labor that signified separation, that is the discrimination that was inflicted upon them. Now they are told to make the “parochet” - an element in an edifice in the making of which they are once again to labor, but now not as slaves but as those who have been separated as a unique people in order to have a special relationship with the Adon/Master of the universe with whom they were to meet in this structure. 

     Four times in this Parasha we read that Moshe is told to make the articles and the Mishkan, “according to that which you were shown on the mountain" (25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8). When and where was he shown "the pattern"? If we refer to the end of last week's Parasha we may find the answer: "And the glory of YHVH dwelt on the mountain of Sinai. And the cloud covered it for six days. And He called to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud… And Moses came into the midst of the cloud" (24:16, 18). Thus, the 'where' and 'when' are answered, but what was Moshe actually shown? “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth. The actual making of the Tabernacle and its furnishings He entrusted to man. Its design or pattern God similarly made in six days. On the seventh day, He called to Moses, and Moses was shown the design of the Tabernacle and its furnishings on the mount”. The commentator further demonstrates this point by comparing B’resheet (Genesis) 2:1,2 to Sh’mot (Exodus) 39:32 - 40:33, revealing a similarity of the terminology used in both accounts. Martin Buber, for example, discovered seven corresponding elements in keywords used in both accounts.5 Thus we may ask, does the pattern of the "Mishkan" in some microcosmic way reflect YHVH's creation, and if so, how? 

     This question will be answered partly in Parashat P’kudey, but also in our present   Parasha there are some notable parallels:

     Above were mentioned examples of the usage of “echad” (as we saw above), while  in B’resheet 1:5 it says (as we have already noted above): “Elohim called the light  Day, and the darkness He called Night. So, the evening and the morning were the (literally) one [echad] day.”

     B’resheet 1:7 - “Elohim made (va’ya’as) the firmament…”

     Sh’mot 25:8 - “And let them make (ve’a’su) Me a sanctuary”.

     B’resheet 1:16 - “Then Elohim made (va’ya’s) two great lights…”

     Sh’mot 25:10 - “And they shall make (ve’a’su) an ark”.

     B’resheet 1:25 - “And Elohim made (va’ya’s) the beast of the earth…”

     Sh’mot  25:23  - “You shall also make (ve’a’sita) a table”. 

      Additionally, as already mentioned, at the end of last week’s Parasha (Mishpatim) we read: “Now the glory of YHVH rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud” (Ex. 24:16 italics added). In parallel it says in Sh’mot 20:11: “For in six days, YHVH made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (italics added). Additionally, above, reference was made to the Ark of the Testimony mentioned in Hitgalut (Revelation), while in 15:5, for example, the "temple in heaven" is cited. 

      We already saw the utilized anthropomorphism regarding the Mishkan's curtains and their clasps, as well as to the sockets, which share the same root with the word "master". But this is not the sum total of such usages. The very measurement – a cubit - which in Hebrew is "amah", means forearm. In 26:17 the tenons of the boards were to be interlinked "a woman to her sister" (i.e., "one to another"). Several times when the Mishkan's side is mentioned (e.g. 26:20) the word used is "tze'la", which is the same one that was used for "rib" in B'resheet 2:21 when YHVH brought forth woman out of man's rib. For "far side", in 26:22 for example, the word "yar'ketayim" is used, a plural of "yare'ch" which is the thigh, such as in B'resheet 24:2 and 47:29. Thus, in viewing the Mishkan, we saw that its work of construction was compared to the days of creation, while its design may be linked to the Garden of Eden, its articles of a closet, a chair, a table, and a lamp may be likened to a home, and beyond that – the terminology used for the description of its structural components also embodies the human body.   


   1 New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.

   Eliner  Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.

   Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

   2 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,   Jerusalem, 1976,           1999

   3 See blogspots for 2 related articles

  4 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot    Kdumim  Ltd.    Lod, Israel, 1996

  5 New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.  Eliner Library,          Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.    Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

 Most of the word definitions were extracted from: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius     Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.





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