Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Terumah - One Side's Ice And One Is Fire

Parshat Terumah begins with G-d telling Moshe to speak to the people and tell them, " Take to me a portion (terumah); from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take a portion for me" ( Shemos, 25:1).

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, in his Sefer Aperion, notes that the word "take" is used here, even though the people were actually told to give the terumah. By giving terumah and thereby contributing to the building of the mishkan, the people were getting more than they were giving. By connecting with God, via the sanctuary which would serve as the seat of G-d's divine presence in this world, they would be able to tap into their inner essence, as creations of God.

The midrash ( Shemot Rabbah, 33:1), cites Mishlei, 4:2 in connection with Terumah's opening line. Shlomo HaMelech channels Hashem as saying, "I have given you a good teaching ("lekach tov"), do not forsake my Torah." The midrash spotlights the similarity between the word used for taking- "veyikchu," in the first verse in our parsha, and the word used for teaching ( meaning Torah) in Mishlei - lekach. However, it remains unclear from the medrash what the two verses have to do with each other on a thematic level.

Rabbi Avraham Binyamin Sofer, known as the Kesav Sofer, explains that while the mishkan had its great spiritual benefits for the people, it also had a potential negative undercurrent. Before the people had the mishkan, they had to be very careful about everything they did, because, if they sinned, they were open to divine retribution as they did not have a means of atonement. Once, however, they had the mishkan, and were able to bring sacrifices to atone for their sins, there was a danger that they would let down their guard, and be more apt to sin. Therefore, the word vayikchu alluded to the Torah, to remind the people that they needed to adhere to the Torah even after they had a mishkan. Although the function of the mishkan, as the Torah goes on to say, was for G-d to dwell amongst them, without observing the mitzvot of the Torah, that would not happen.

Nechama Leibowits, once cited in class, a midrash which likened the Torah to a bridge with ice on one side and fire on the other. Only through observing the Torah is a person able to make his way successfully through these two pitfalls. Nechama explained that it is possible for a person to be too distant from God, acting towards Him in a cold way, like ice, and it is also possible for a person to try to get too close to God, and get singed by the fire.

Rav Kook, in his work Orot, wrote about the danger of the two extremities in relating to God. He suggested that certain versions of religion, in an effort to avoid idolatry, over emphasize humankind's distance from God. On the other hand other religionists - in an attempt to connect to G-d - identify a man with God. Torah true Judaism teaches balance in guiding us toward a proper relationship with God, avoiding the pitfalls of extreme distance and extreme closeness.

The mishkan, as the seat of God's presence in the world, offered the people an opportunity to come close to him, but also posed the danger of coming too close. The Torah would serve as their guide in keeping the proper balance between the two extremes of ice and fire. This is the point of the midrash in connecting the lekach, which is Torah to the Vayikchu of Parshat Terumah.

The true guide to fostering a connection with Hashem is the Torah, which the midrash in the beginning of Bereishis tells us, was G-d's blueprint in creating the universe. The mishkan, too, is a microcosm of the world and bolsters our spirituality. By following the guidelines of the Torah while experiencing God's closeness through the mishkan, Bnei Yisrael were set to achieve the appropriate balance regarding their relationship with G-d.

This piece is adapted from an article by Rabbi Joshua Hoffman.


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