Parshat Terumah

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Parshat Terumah describes the architecture and furniture of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In Jewish thought there is a correspondence between the Mishkan and the Revelation at Sinai (Rabbi Michel Barenbaum). The Mishkan attempts to symbolically represent Sinai through its architectural layout and furnishings, and the rituals in the Mishkan represent the events of Sinai. Commentators have also seen in the Mishkan representations of Creation (Nehama Leibowitz), Heaven (Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe), and, as we will see, the soul. It is the latter representation that is of interest in Mussar teachings. The significance of these ideas is that what otherwise may seem like excessive detail are actually mechanisms for concretely experiencing foundational events through a physical reenactment.

Shemot (25: 3,8-9) (Sefaria, trans.)
Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him …

And let them make Me a sanctuary ( מִקְדָּשׁ , mikdash) that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle ( הַמִּשְׁכָּן , the mishkan) and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.

Rabbi Shmulevitz writes that Chazal (the Sages) saw our souls as a miniature Mishkan, a place where God’s presence can dwell. In the ark is the Torah. He says, “A person can make himself into a Mishkan when his essence is Torah and the cornerstones of his deeds are purity of motive and generosity of heart.” He derives the cornerstones from the freely given gifts that are required to build the ark.

Purity of motive means acting for the sake of God alone, not because of personal gain. Generosity of heart refers to giving based on an emotional commitment. How are these related? Is it possible to be generous of heart without purity of motive or vice-versa?

Rabbi Shmulevitz further distinguishes between being generous from the heart and being generous of one’s heart (giving one’s heart). What do you think giving one’s heart means?

Rabbi Dessler looks at architecture of the soul from a different perspective — involving fear of God versus joy and the presence of God.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
God rests His presence amongst us … a closeness between us and Hashem, a sense of joy and satisfaction … All this is included in the term mishkan.

Mikdash, on the other hand, means a place of holiness. Holiness means transcendence. … But nevertheless, we find that mishkan is sometimes called mikdash and mikdash is sometimes called
mishkan. How they are called reflects what they are in reality, for their meaning and existence are really one. If mishkan represents the joy in the presence of Hashem, and mikdash represents the awe one feels in the transcendence of Hashem, then together they form one whole. We have to “rejoice in trembling.” And the Rabbis say: “I experience fear in the midst of my joy and joy in the midst of my fear.”

The connotation of mishkan is closeness and acceptance. In contrast, mikdash has the connotation of holiness and yirah (awe-fear). Yet if the terms are used interchangeably in the Torah, that must mean there is some kind of deep relationship between these seeming opposites.

Alan Morinis, With Heart in Mind, on Yirah
When translated into English, the word yirah can mean variously “fear” or “awe” or “reverence” It can also describe a single emotional experience that is woven from all three of these inner states, for which there is no word in English.

Alan Morinis, Every Day, Holy Day, on Simcha (Joy)
Moments come when the heart dances in the light. … joy erupts when the inner sphere scintillates in its completeness. An experience touches us to the depths of our souls, and in that moment we are graced with a vision — if only fleetingly — of the flawless wholeness and perfection of it all. Then the heart fills and flows over even amid the brokenness of this world.

There are three key Mussar questions:

  1. What are the situations for us, personally, that have the possibility of us experiencing simcha and yirah?
  2. What practices do we need to do so that we are open to these experiences – have an open heart?
  3. How do we internalize these experiences and allow them to have lasting impact?

How might joy be related to generosity of heart?

Rabbi Wolbe learns from Terumah that we must build proper receptacles for our experiences. By receptacles, he means habits and patterns of behavior. For example, he counsels that davening is better if we sit up straight and carefully annunciate our prayers. What is a proper receptacle for joy — for you personally?