Parshat Teruma

Parshat Terumah presents the detailed design for the construction of the Tabernacle and its contents. Many of our sages discuss the significance, and deeper meanings conveyed with each of the individual components. In the design of several of the items, there is a crown of gold.  The Talmud Yoma tells us “There are three crowns (Zarim), of the Altar, the Table, and the Ark. Aaron earned the crown of the Altar (the Priestly dynasty), David the crown of Kingship (the Royal dynasty), but the crown of the Ark (that represents the study of the Torah, which was placed in the Ark) is there for any of us who wish to take it up.” In continuation we are told that the Hebrew word “Zer” for a crown is spelt without a “yod” and can also mean a stranger, so we are warned not to be “estranged” from the Torah.

Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein explains that with the Ark, Moses is commanded in the plural (Ve’asu) indicating the Torah is here for any of us to pick up and make our own crown. He adds that interestingly the Ark measurements are unique in that they all end with a half cubit measure. This is to hint to the fact that the Ark represents the Torah and we can never be complete in our study or understanding of it, for this reason, we actually refer to a learned person as a “Talmid Chacham” – a clever student of Hashem’s wisdom.

R Efraim Lunshitz in the Kli Yakar takes this much deeper and notes how the earlier sages such as Rashi who looked for simple explanations, found hidden messages in the description and dimensions of the specific components of the Tabernacle. He studies and links the three vessels that have crowns, as a group, and notices the differences in their measurements. The Ark in all three of its dimensions has half cubit measurements, the Table has a mix, with a full cubit by two cubits surface but one and half cubits in height, and finally, the Altar has only full cubit measurements, being a five square cubit surface and three cubits in height.

The Kli Yakar views this as a clue to understanding how we should face some of the challenges in life. The Ark symbolizes learning and wisdom both in Torah and in pursuit of knowledge. There is always more to learn for even the wisest amongst us. Learning has three dimensions just like the three dimensions of the Ark, breadth, length and depth. There is always more to learn if we lengthen or spend more time, and then look in depth or widen the breadth or the scope of the subject before us.

The Table, which has a mix of measurements, symbolizes our endeavors and successes in life. In some aspects we succeed and complete what we set out to accomplish. However, we should be wary not to desire too much and be satisfied sometimes with what we can achieve even though it might only be part way to what we wanted to reach.

Both the Sacrificial Altar described here and the Incense Altar described later, are in full cubit dimensions. Their purpose is to offer sacrifices, many of which are to atone for our misdeeds and as such symbolize the concept of repentance or turning over a new leaf. We can be forgiven and renew our endeavors with a fresh start and a clean sheet.

Weights and measures in our scriptures are a fascinating topic to be researched. We have the concept of everyone’s own space of four cubits (arba amot), which has various expressions in halacha, such as not sitting too close to someone else or walking past them, when they are praying. This reminded me of the current 2 meters distance rule, in the pandemic which is close to four cubits (a cubit is the measure from the elbow to the fingertip). Looking up the source of the 2 meters distance, it appears to come from research some years ago of the spread of the flu and other viruses and a distance of 2 meters lowers the risk of infection. However, the scientific evidence is still very unclear, but perhaps here we have an ancient hint to the space we need.

Leave a Reply