Parshat Terumah: G-d Is In the Details

This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Yakov Ellenbogen

In his first comment on Parshat Terumah, Ramban writes that

 כאשר דבר השם עם ישראל פנים בפנים עשרת הדברות… וכרת עמהם ברית על כל זה, מעתה הנה הם לו לעם והוא להם לאלהים כאשר התנה עמהם מתחלה… והנה הם קדושים ראוים שיהיה בהם מקדש להשרות שכינתו ביניהם…וסוד המשכן הוא, שיהיה הכבוד אשר שכן על הר סיני שוכן עליו בנסתר. וכמו שנאמר שם (לעיל כד טז) וישכן כבוד ה’ על הר סיני, וכתיב (דברים ה כא) הן הראנו ה’ אלהינו את כבודו ואת גדלו, כן כתוב במשכן וכבוד ה’ מלא את המשכן (להלן מ לד)… והיה במשכן תמיד עם ישראל הכבוד שנראה להם בהר סיני.

Once G-d spoke with Israel face to face… and he made a covenant with them regarding all this, now they were his nation and He was their G-d… And behold, they were holy and worthy for there to be a sanctuary in their midst for His Shekhina to rest amongst them…And the sod of the Mishkan is that the glory that dwelt on Mount Sinai should rest upon [the Mishkan] in concealment. And just as it is written there (Ex. 24: 17) “The glory of G-d rested on Mount Sinai” and it is written (Deut. 5: 21) “Behold G-d has shown us His glory and greatness,” so too it says regarding the Mishkan (Ex. 40: 34) “And the glory of G-d filled the Mishkan…” And the glory that had appeared to Israel at Mount Sinai was constantly with them.

This fairly well-known comment lays out both conceptual and strictly literary connections between the construction of the Mishkan and the Revelation at Sinai, and explains the placement within the narrative of the instructions to build the Mishkan. Directly after the experience at Sinai, according to the Ramban’s explanation, Bnai Yisrael got directions for a method with which they could continue the Sinai experience.

To be honest though, as a reader who is removed from the actual experience of both Har Sinai and participating in ritual in the Mishkan, I have a very different reaction to this parsha. While there is an attraction to seeing Ramban’s portable Har Sinai in the instructions to build the Mishkan, I find it hard to be inspired by the parsha. Put simply, while this Parsha might excite some of the more legally minded among us, others (including myself), find Parshat Terumah to be boring. After the thrills of the earlier part of Shemot, and its culmination with the Revelation at Sinai, going through the legal and ritual texts of Terumah and the parshiyot surrounding it seem to be a disappointing denouement.

I would like to propose that this is part of a normal reaction one should have when reading this parsha. After the constant upheaval of the Exodus, it is time to establish the steady basis for an eternal relationship with G-d through ritual practice and legal. This contrast, from the epic scope of the Exodus, to the minutiae of the Mishkan, may include sections which are tedious. However, G-d is in the details, so to speak, and we have to work equally as hard here to delve into and develop thoughts about the text.

Of course, this interpretation depends on the reaction of the reader to the text, and I myself don’t always see the beauty of this message. This being the case, I propose that we ask ourselves, as readers of the text, what we think when we examine Parshat Terumah, and what its placement in the narrative means to us.

Yakov Ellenbogen (2013, 2014), a native of Sharon, MA, is currently a Sophomore at Yeshiva University. He previously attended Yeshivat Petach Tikvah, Yeshivat Sha’alvim, and Yeshivat Har Etzion.

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