Author's Note on Parshat Terumah

Parshat Terumah

Shabbat Talk Given at Chabad Shul of Potomac, Maryland
Date: March 4, 2017
6 Adar 5777

My father and my father-in-law had something interesting in common. When it came to putting things together, they both disliked instructions.  My father would call them “obstructions” — they got in the way and were difficult to understand. My father-in-law ignored them.  If he had to put something together, he would dump out the parts and look at a picture of what the thing should look like. Then, he would just put it together. At the end of the process, there were always a couple parts left over and we would ask him what they were for. We were concerned because they might actually be important. He would patiently explain how the manufacturers always throw in a few extra parts and you don’t really need them. How he knew which ones were extra, I’ll never know. But whatever he constructed seemed to last and serve its intended purpose.

These memories came back to me as I studied Parshat Terumah.  All the parts and furnishings were laid out in front of Moshe, Betzalel, and the builders and architects of the Mishkan (the portable tabernacle).  The Torah provided them with the blueprints and all the instructions.

But in many ways, the instructions got in the way; they seemed to be either confusing or unintelligible. In fact, four times in Parshat Terumah, the Torah tells us that G-d had to show Moshe how various aspects of the Mishkan and its furnishings were to be built. Look at the picture, G-d said as it were, and figure out how to put it together. 

For example, at one point, Moshe could not figure out how to make the Menorah — the instructions were obstructions. So G-d showed him what it looked like.  Moshe threw the gold into the fire and out came a Menorah; G-d said “Look at this model and build it (the Menorah) like this.” 

Another unusual thing about the instructions in Parshat Terumah is that they explain how to construct something that was never to be permanently used; it was a travelling Mishkan and not a permanent facility.  It seems like a waste of space in the Torah to spend so much time on instructions for a temporary Mishkan; particularly when you consider that many of the same details of the Mishkan are provided in several other places in the Torah. Why provide so much instruction about something that has no relevance to our daily lives and was never intended to be a permanent dwelling? Couldn’t we benefit from more specific instruction on other things that are more relevant like Kashrut, Tefillin, or Shabbat and Yom Tov observance?

Is this Torah portion really intended to be a series of obstructionist instructions on how to insert slat B into opening A or weave fabrics in certain combinations and colors to enhance an experience that we will never have?