Parshat Terumah


Rabbi Bernard Fox



“The poles should be in the rings of the Ark.  They should not be removed.”  (Shemot 25:15)

A ring was attached to each corner of the Ark.  Poles were passed through these rings.  These poles were used to carry the Aron – the Ark.  The Torah commands us that the poles must remain in the rings at all times.  Even when the Mishcan is erected and the Aron is at rest the poles are to remain attached.


The poles were designed for the transport of the Ark.  When the Aron was moved the poles were needed.  But when the Ark was at rest the poles did not have any apparent function.  Why should they not be removed at such times?


Gershonides discusses this issue.  He explains that the Ark represented the Torah.  The Torah is perfect.  Therefore, the Ark must always be perfect.  With the removal of the poles, the Ark would no longer be complete.  An incomplete Aron is unfit to represent the Torah.[1]


Gershonides explanation seems difficult to understand.  In order for an object to be perfect it must be complete.  However, perfection also requires that the object have no extra or meaningless components.  Imagine the perfect machine.  Every part would serve a purpose. No needed component would be absent.  No component would lack purpose.


When the Ark was at rest the poles had no purpose.  They were extra.  It seems the Aron would have better represented the perfection of the Torah without this superfluous component!


Gershonides is providing us with an important insight into the nature of the Aron.  The Ark constructed in the wilderness was transported as the nation traveled.  Therefore, the Aron was constructed so that it could be carried.  However, this design was not merely a practical necessity.  The portability of the Ark was essential to its very definition.  In other words, the Ark was defined as a portable item.  The Aron could only be considered perfect when it expressed this definition.  Even at rest the Ark was required to conform to this definition.  It must remain completely portable.  For this reason the Aron of the permanent Bait HaMikdash remained unchanged in design.  The poles were part of the design and could not be removed.


Perhaps, this provides a message regarding the perfection of the Torah.  This perfection, in part, lies in the portability of Torah.  Torah is a way of life that applies to all times and places. Even when Bnai Yisrael are dispersed throughout the world, Torah is still to be the guide.





“And the cherubs shall spread their wings upward, their wings covering the Ark-cover.  And they shall face one another.  They should face the center of the Ark cover.”  (Shemot 25:20)

The Aron – Ark – in the Mishcan held the tablets of the Decalogue.  The opening of the Ark was sealed by the Kaporet – the Ark cover.  Mounted on this golden cover were two cherubs.  The golden cherubs were positioned at the ends of the cover.  The cherubs faced one another.  Their wings were spread forward and upward.


There are various opinions regarding the meaning of these cherubim.  Don Yitzchak Abravanel explains that the cherubim symbolize two relationships.  Their up-stretched wings represent the relationship between the individual and the Almighty.  The cherubim faced one another.  This represents the relationship between the individual and his or her friend. The cherubim were placed upon the Ark that contained the tablets.  This communicates the message that both of these relationships must be based upon the commandments of the Torah.[2]


The importance of the Torah in regulating relations between individuals is reflected in a well-known teaching of the Sages.  “Torah scholars increase peace in the world.”[3]  This concise dictum communicates the lesson that the Torah is a guide for the treatment one’s neighbor.  Through following the principles of the Torah, a healthy community is formed.


It is interesting that our Sages taught that Torah scholars increase peace.  Why did the Sages not say that the scholars create peace?


Rav Zalman Soroskin ztl offers an insightful response to this question.  He explains that two issues must be addressed in order for peace to be achieved.  First, there must exist, among the members of the society, a desire to establish peace.  Second, wisdom is required to translate this goodwill into concrete rules for relationships.  The scholar, through the Torah, can provide the framework in which peace can develop and flourish.  However, in order for these efforts to be successful, there must exist a sincere desire to pursue peace.


Based in this insight, the meaning of the Sages emerges.  The Torah scholar cannot create peace.  First, the desire must exist.  However, given this desire, the scholar can help society achieve its goal.





“And they should create for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.”  (Shemot 25:8)

In this pasuk Hashem instructs Moshe to command Bnai Yisrael to construct the Mishcan.  Hashem tells Bnai Yisrael that through this Mishcan, He will dwell among the people.

This passage cannot be understood literally.  In order to understand the difficulty presented by a literal interpretation of the pasuk, an introduction is needed.  Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishne enumerates the basic foundations of the Torah.  The third of these basic principles is that the Almighty is not, in any sense, material.[4]


Maimonides discusses this principle in further detail in his Mishne Torah.  He again explains that the Almighty is not material.  He adds that it is also inappropriate to attribute to Hashem any of the characteristics associated with physical bodies.  For example, Hashem does not have a front of back.  One cannot ascribe physical actions to the Almighty.  Also, one cannot ascribe a place to Hashem.[5]


This principle, identified by Maimonides, is a logical extension of the proposition that Hashem is a unity.  The Torah clearly states that “Hashem is one”.[6]  This statement tells us that there is only one G-d.  However, our Sages understand the passage to also mean that the Almighty is a perfect unity.  This means that He has no parts or aspects.  He is not subject to division.  He is an absolute representation of “oneness”.[7]  The principle of Hashem’s unity precludes attribution of a material existence to Him.  Any material entity is has parts or aspects.  It has a front and back or dimensions.  These characteristics contradict the concept of absolute unity.


Furthermore the Torah clearly states that Hashem is not material.  This principle is communicated in Moshe’s review of the event of Revelation.  He reminds the nation that they had experienced Revelation at Sinai.  In this experience the Almighty was not represented by any material image.[8]


We can now understand the difficulty presented by our passage.  If our passage is interpreted literally, it contradicts this principle.  Literally understood, our passage attributes location to the Almighty.  The passage states that Hashem will dwell among Bnai Yisrael!  This is impossible.  Hashem is not material.  Therefore, it is not correct to say He dwells in any place.


Unkelus is sensitive to this anthropomorphism.  In his translation of our passage, he alters the problematic phrase.  In his rendering the phrase reads, “and I will cause the Divine presence to dwell among them”.  Unkelus’ intention is to remove any attribution of place to the Almighty.  According to Unkelus, the passage’s refers to Hashem’s Divine presence or influence.  In other words, the passage describes a providential relationship.  The Almighty will exercise His providence over the Mishcan and the people.


Rav Yosef Albo, in his Sefer HaIkkrim, uses the same approach to explain various anthropomorphic expressions found in the Torah.  A few examples will illustrate this approach.  Hashem tells us, in reference to the Temple, “Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually”.[9]  Hashem does not have eyes or a heart.  The intent of the passage is to communicate that a special providential influence exists over the Mikdash.[10]  The Torah states that at Revelation, “the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain”.[11]  This passage does not intend to communicate that Hashem was present at Revelation.  This would attribute a place to the Almighty.  Instead, the passage is stating that the influence of the Almighty was evidenced through a physical manifestation.  In this case, the manifestation was the conflagration that appeared at the top of Sinai.[12]  It should be noted that the pasuk refers to the “glory” of the Almighty.  This supports this interpretation.  The Almighty was not present.  However, His “glory” or influence was indicated by the fire.


One anthropomorphic expression has occasioned considerable discussion among the Sages.  One of the names used for the Almighty is HaMakom – the Place.[13]  This is popularly understood to mean that the Divine presence extends everywhere.  However, our Sages provide a different explanation of the term.  They explain that the term means that Hashem is the makom – the place – of the universe.[14] 


This explanation is very difficult to understand.  How can the Sages refer to Hashem as the place of the universe?  Hashem is not material.  He is not a place!  Rav Yitzchak Arama offers a novel interpretation of the Sages’ comments.  He explains that the term place can be understood as the base upon which something rests or is supported.  As an example, he cites the second mishne of Tractate Avot. The mishne explains that the world stand on three pillars – Torah study, Divine service and acts of kindness.  The intent of the mishne is that these three activities are essential to the existence of the world.  The mishne expresses this idea by representing the world as standing on these activities.  In other words, standing in a place – upon the pillars of Torah study, Divine service and acts of kindness – represents dependency.  Rav Arama explains that the name HaMakom communicates the universe’s dependency upon the Almighty.  He is the “place” upon which the universe stands.  This means the universe only exists as a result of His continuing will.  His will supports the universe’s existence.  Without His will, the universe would cease to exist.[15] 


[1] Rabbaynu Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag / Gershonides), Commentary on Sefer Shemot, (Mosad HaRav Kook, 1994),  p 342.


[2] Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Commentary on Sefer Sehmot, p 252.

[3] Mesechet Berachot 64a.

[4]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Commentary on the Mishne, Mesechet Sanhedrin 10:1.

[5]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah, 1:11.

[6]   Sefer Devarim 6:4.

[7]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah, 1:7.

[8]  Sefer Devarim 4:15.  See Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Commentary on the Mishne, Mesechet Sanhedrin 10:1.

[9]  Melachim I 9:3.

[10]  Rav Yosef Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim, volume2, chapter 14.

[11]  Sefer Shemot 24:17.

[12]  Rav Yosef Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim, volume2, chapter 17.

[13]  See, for example, Mesechet Avot 2:9.

[14]  Midrash Rabba, Sefer Beresheit 68:9.

[15]  Rav Yitzchak Arama, Akeydat Yitzchak on Sefer Shemot, Parshat Terumah.