Hebrew Insights into Parashat Trumah – Sh’mot (Exodus) 25-27:19
Parashat Trumah introduces us to several new terms and concepts that we have not encountered hitherto. "Truma," translated “contribution,” is derived from the root r.o.m (resh, vav, mem) – meaning "high up, to lift up, to exalt." This type of offering was obviously held in high esteem by the Almighty, since it warranted a term such as the one used here. The description of the potential “contributor” as a person whose "heart generously impels him," reinforces the significance of this offering. "Yidvenu" is the verb used, and it means to “cause one to be generous," its root being n.d.v (noon, dalet, bet/vet). It also means "willing, noble, volunteer, or 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). In our Parasha the contributing is “freely” given (see 25:3-7), including gold and silver (being undoubtedly the gifts ‘donated’ by the Egyptians), for the purpose of building the "holy sanctuary" - mikdash - for YHVH, so that He will "dwell among them" (v. 8; cf. Ezk. 37:26-28; 43:9b).
The sanctuary in the desert is more often called "mishkan," meaning "a dwelling place." However, because this is its first 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.” 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 excellency 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".
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 that is to be built is the "aron." We have already encountered this term (which means a “chest,” or an “ark,” and a sarcophagus – i.e., a stone coffin), in B’resheet (Genesis) 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 toward 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 originates 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.” Thus the ‘lesser’ is transformed by virtue of the ‘covering’ by the ‘greater.’
"You are to make a cover for the ark out of pure gold" (v. 17). This "cover" is the familiar "kaporet," of the root k.f.r (from which stems "kippur" - "propitiation"). 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 signified accessibility to the Most High. The k'ruvim were placed in such a way that their faces – panim - would be turned toward each other (ref. 25:20). In verse 30 we read about "the table of showbread" being the table of "lechem hapanim," literally "bread of the face."
"Panim" is 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 by the description of the k'ruvim's position…"and their faces [are turned] each toward its brother" (v. 20 literal translation). Next is the "bread of the face" (v. 30), a seemingly obscure term which 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.
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"). 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 Tabernacle (or sanctuary) 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 goal of the People’s present circumstances) as they are brought into 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 are actually built right into the worship system and into the whole framework of the Israelites' relationship with YHVH (as we shall see in future Parashot).
“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.” What is then 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.'” In Mishley (Proverbs) 8:34 "happy" is the person who is "watching – “lishkod” - daily at My threshold." Hareuveni remarks 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 the Menorah is connected to, 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 amongst the olive groves, is a reminder that YHVH "watches over His word to perform it," especially to the proverbial ‘olive tree’ - Yisrael (Jer. 11:16, Rom. 11:17, 24).
The edifice of the Tabernacle 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). This demonstrates the composite that makes 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 to be 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,” 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 (Ex. 26:6, 11). However, “echad” also has a plural form: “achadim,” to be found, for example in Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 37 17: “that they may become one (i.e. plural of one, emphasis and italics added) in your hand,” that is, the sticks of Yoseph and Yehudah. “Echad” also lends itself to “oneness,” as we see in Y’chezkel 21:16. However, the command there (addressing a sword): “hitachadi” – “unite yourself”- can also be read: “sharpen yourself.” This makes for a union between “one” (“ehcad”) and “sharpness” -“chad” - which is also a shortened form of “echad” (see Ez. 33:30), and indeed is the word for “one” in Aramaic. In conclusion, true oneness is a pressed together, compacted union of many in one, portraying sword-like sharpness (see for example Zechariah 9:13). In the Brit Chadasha (New Testament), the ‘one made up of the many’ is exemplified by the many-membered Body of Messiah. Echad well represents integration (into oneness and wholeness; remember "shalem"?), which is typical of the Hebrew language and of Hebraic thought.
Enhancing 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 an anthropomorphism (personification) and reads: “a befriending (i.e. “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 lend themselves to oneness and relationships.
Three 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" (25:40; 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 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 he 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 terminology used in both accounts. Martin Buber discovered seven corresponding elements in key words, which are used in both accounts. 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 F’kudey, but also in our present Parasha there are some notable parallels:
B’resheet 1:7 “Elohim made (va’ya’as) the firmament”;
Sh’mot 25:8 “And let them make (va’ya’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 (va’ya’asu) 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 mentioned above, at the end of last week’s Parasha (of 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 Sh’mot 20:11 it says: “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).
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 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot
Kdumim Ltd. Lod, Israel, 1996
4 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.