Teruma | Face to Face

  • Rav Itiel Gold
 
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Dedicated in memory of Zvi Kassel z"l,
whose yahrzeit is the 10th of Adar (February 15th)
by Patrice and Danielle Rueff
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The commandment regarding the Mishkan and its vessels seems to open a whole new era. Until now, the connection between God and Israel expressed itself in large and spectacular events, such as the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai. Now, the Shekhina begins to rest on Israel in a less dramatic manner – in a specific place, but permanently. An examination of the concluding verses of the previous parasha, however, indicates that we are dealing not with a sharp turn, but rather with natural continuity.
 
At the end of the covenant at Mount Sinai, at the conclusion of the previous parasha, God tells Moshe to ascend the mountain again to receive the tablets (Shemot 24:12). Moshe lingers there for forty days (24:18). Why is so much time necessary for Moshe to receive the tablets?
 
While it is true that Moshe ascended the mountain to receive the tablets, what he actually received was a very long commandment concerning the building of the Mishkan. This is what emerges from a consecutive reading of the end of the previous parasha and the beginning of our parasha:
 
And the Lord said to Moshe: Come up to Me into the mountain and be there; and I will give you the tablets of stone… And Moshe entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mountain; and Moshe was in the mountain forty days and forty nights. And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering… And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (24:12-25:8)
 
This commandment extends over Parshiyot Teruma and Tetzaveh and the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tisa (chapters 25-31), and we can certainly understand why it took forty days. Only in the last verse of this unit is mention made of the giving of the tablets, which was the reason for Moshe's ascent:
 
And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (31:18)
 
To explain the difference between the purpose of the ascent and what actually happened on the mountain, there is no alternative but to say that the building of the Mishkan is a condition for receiving the tablets. This stands to reason, for when Moshe will receive the tablets, he will certainly raise a question: What is he to do with them, and where should he put them?
 
Therefore, God prefaces the giving of the tablets with the answer to this question: A Mishkan for the tablets must be built. The tablets are the testimony to the great covenant made between God and Israel. They must be placed in a special place that will be entirely dedicated to the placement of the tablets, and in that way the covenant and connection between God and His people will be perpetuated. Therefore, only at the end of the long commandment concerning the Mishkan can the tablets be given to Moses. This idea emerges from the opening of Parashat Pekudei: "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the testimony" (38:21). The most basic meaning of the Mishkan is its being the dwelling place of the tablets, which are called "testimony" (31:18). As the Rashbam explains at the beginning of our parasha (25:10): "For the ark, which is the essence of 'And let them make Me a sanctuary,' it was necessary to build the Mishkan."
 
The process that Israel undergoes through the construction of the Mishkan is similar to a marriage bond. A couple experiences great love and closeness, leading to a climactic event – a wedding. Following this, the couple build their home in a particular place and commit themselves to the continuity of the relationship. This is precisely the process that Israel is undergoing. The exodus from Egypt can be compared to the courting process between God and Israel, and the revelation at Mount Sinai can be likened to the climactic moment of their wedding. Afterwards, the connection is institutionalized in a particular place and in a permanent manner – in the Mishkan.[1] The institutionalization of the connection is created through the receiving of the tablets of the testimony, which testify to the climax of the connection at the revelation at Mount Sinai, and through the building of the Mishkan for them – "the Mishkan of the testimony." This idea is expressed by Chazal in several places, where the building of the Mishkan is likened to a couple who are building their home[2] and the tablets of the testimony are compared to a ketuba.[3]
 
It is therefore understandable why the ark is the vessel that appears at the beginning of the parasha – it essentially constitutes the purpose of the Mishkan, the place for the resting of the tablets. In addition, the people of Israel, as a community, are required to build the Mishkan: "And let them make Me a sanctuary" (25:7), and so too the ark: "And they shall make Me an ark of acacia wood" (25:10). The rest of the vessels, in contrast, were made by Moshe alone, and the command regarding all the various vessels therefore opens with the phrase: "And you shall make" (in the singular).[4]
 
But if the Mishkan was indeed intended to be the place for the resting of the tablets, a question arises regarding the function of the other vessels in the Mishkan. Why not suffice with the building of a grand sanctuary containing an ark for the resting of the tablets?
 
A Mishkan for Meeting
 
At the end of the command regarding the ark, its purpose is presented, which, as stated, constitutes the purpose of Moshe's ascent to the mountain:
 
And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. (25:16)
 
If the only function of the Mishkan was to provide a place for the tablets, the story of the Mishkan could have ended here. But we are immediately told that that on top of the ark there must be placed the kaporet and the keruvim, which serve an entirely different purpose:
 
And you shall make a kaporet of pure gold… And you shall make two keruvim of gold… And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim that are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (25:17-22)
 
It turns out that in addition to serving as a place for the tablets, the Mishkan has another purpose – namely, it is the place for communication between God and Moshe – and to that end there is a need for the kaporet and the keruvim.
 
The kaporet and the keruvim are found on top of the ark and are connected to it. They could easily be viewed as part of the ark. They too, like the ark, simply stand in the Mishkan and are not used for any particular service. However, according to the description about how they are to be made, they are more similar to the other vessels than to the ark. The command to make them is cast upon Moshe ("and you shall make a kaporet"; "and you shall make two keruvim of gold"), and not upon all of Israel, as in the case of the ark ("and they shall make an ark").
 
In light of this, it would appear that the kaporet and the keruvim fall into the category of vessels of the Mishkan. From this it may be concluded that the vessels of the Mishkan are also part of the additional purpose of the Mishkan, which is connected to the keruvim – to allow Divine speech to Moshe.
 
 What is there in the vessels of the Mishkan that allows for Divine speech through the keruvim?
 
            In the simplest sense, these vessels correspond to the most basic household utensils – a table for food and a candlestick for light.[5] The people of Israel build, as it were, a house for God, so that His Shekhina will be present in that house, and in that way Divine speech from within is made possible. However, an examination of the verses that describe the vessels of the Mishkan indicates that there is yet another layer.
 
Vessels, Faces, and Connections
 
Before we examine the verses dealing with the various vessels, we will offer a brief methodological note. The descriptions of the vessels are for the most part technical; they deal with dimensions, sizes, materials, and shapes. It is precisely for this reason that it is advisable to read them carefully and try to locate in the verses special expressions that deviate from the technical descriptions. These anomalies may be significant towards understanding the meaning of the vessels.
 
When we consider the verses in this way, we see that a rather surprising term repeats itself over and over again with regard to the vessels – panim, "face." The most prominent place of the presence of the face is in the account of the keruvim:
 
And the keruvim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the kaporet with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the kaporet shall the faces of the keruvim be. (25:20)
 
However, the panim reappear in both the table and in the candlestick, which once again strengthens the connection between the keruvim and the other vessels.
 
Regarding the table, the panim appear as part of the description of the bread that rests on it: "And you shall set upon the table showbread [lechem panim] before Me always" (25:30). Various explanation have been offered for this obscure expression – lechem panim. Some explain that the word panim describes the form of the bread,[6] while others understand that the term is derived from the fact that the bread stands before – lifnei – God.[7] In any event, it is clear that the appearance of the word panim in the context of the table is surprising.
 
Regarding the candlestick, the term panim appears in connection with the manner of lighting the lamps: "And you shall light the lamps thereof, to give light over against it [al ever paneha]" (25:37). Here too, we are dealing with a term that veers from a technical description of the vessel. And here too we are dealing with a term that is difficult to explain. What does it mean that the candlestick has panim? Indeed, various explanations have been offered by the commentators.[8]
 
The other vessel found in the Mishkan, the incense altar, appears not in our parasha, but in the next parasha.[9] In the account of this vessel, the term panim does not appear explicitly, but a rather similar term appears three times:
 
And you shall put it before [lifnei] the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before [lifnei] the kaporet that is over the testimony, where I will meet with you… a perpetual incense before [lifnei] the Lord throughout your generations. (30:6-8)
 
These verses emphasize that the incense altar does not stand alone. It is before the kaporet and essentially before God. This is precisely the meaning of the term panim that appears in connection with the various vessels.[10] Their purpose is to make connections: the keruvim turn toward each other, the bread is "showbread before," and the candlestick gives light "over against it." When we speak of a face to face encounter, we mean a close and personal meeting. All of the vessels unite, as it were, with each other, creating between them closeness and intimacy.
 
Later in the parasha, a description is given of the physical structure of the Mishkan, which consists of curtains and boards. Here we find not the word panim, but another surprising term that indicates intimate connection.
 
Regarding the curtains, it is stated: "Five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and the other five curtains shall be coupled one to another [choverot isha el achota]" (26:3). 
 
Regarding the boards, the terminology becomes even more intimate: "Two tenons shall there be in each board, joined one to another [meshulavot isha el achota]" (26:17).
 
Once again, the Torah veers from its technical description and uses expressions that are meant to add another layer to the account. The curtains and boards are described as two sisters that are coupled and joined together.
 
The phrase "isha el achota" appears only once again in the Bible – in the ma'aseh merkava (description of the Divine chariot) in the book of Yechezkel. This is the way the wings of the living creatures that bear the chariot are described: "Their wings were joined one to another [isha el achota]" (Yechezkel 1:9). Afterwards, Yechezkel understands that the living creatures that he saw in the ma'aseh merkava were essentially the keruvim:
 
This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Kevar; and I knew that they were keruvim. (10:20)
 
Once again we see the connection between the phrase "isha el achota" and the keruvim, as in the Mishkan. Thus, we see that the phrase "isha el achota" in the context of the curtains and boards is not by chance. The keruvim constitute the main model for connections – "with their faces one to another" – and from them the atmosphere of connections spreads to all the vessels.
 
The expressions "panim" and "isha el achota" indicate the special atmosphere that the Mishkan tries to create – that of connection and unity. From these connections, it is possible also to reach a "face to face" encounter with God. This encounter with the "face of God" (penei Hashem) appeared also in the previous parasha, in the mitzva of the pilgrimage festivals:
 
Three times in the year all your males shall appear before [el penei] the Lord God. (Shemot 23:17)
 
This is actually the purpose of the Mishkan – to allow this encounter with "the face of God."
 
In our study of that parasha, we showed that this verse is the ultimate mitzva of the parasha. All of the ordinances in the parasha are meant to lead up to this climax – an encounter with God. In continuation of this, our parasha presents the way by which to create the encounter – by way of the Mishkan.
 
The Structure of the Mishkan
 
When we consider the arrangement of the vessels in the Mishkan, we find that they are arranged in the shape of a face. If we draw a face portrait from the side, the organs will be arranged as follows:
 
This is precisely the arrangement of the vessels in the Mishkan:
 
 
 
Each of the vessels works with a different sense and therefore symbolizes a different organ of the face. The incense altar turns to the sense of smell – the nose. The candlestick turns to the sense of sight – the eye, while the table turns to the sense of taste – the mouth. The keruvim, as we demonstrated above, turn to the sense of hearing,[11] for it is from there that Divine speech issues forth.
 
The ark, located toward the back, requires the use of the brain, as it contains the written stone tablets, which require intellectual skills to read and understand them. They also symbolize the memory of the revelation at Mount Sinai – and memory, of course, is found in the brain.
 
It turns out that the entire Mishkan creates an image of a face, facing outwards towards one entering inside. A person entering the Mishkan encounters, as it were, a face that is directed toward him. Of course, this is not the face of God, but rather a symbol of the intimate encounter, which is a continuation of what took place at Mount Sinai: "The Lord spoke to you face to face in the mountain out of the midst of the fire" (Devarim 5:4).[12]
 
Testimony and Meeting
 
The various vessels together create the full encounter with God, by way of all the senses. Thus, they enable the additional purpose of the Mishkan – not only "the Mishkan of the testimony" (38:21), the site of the resting of the tablets, but also "the Mishkan of the meeting": "And there I will meet with you" (25:22). The true meeting with God takes place through a full and living encounter with Him, which is created from all the vessels of the Mishkan.
 
So far, we have presented the two purposes of the Mishkan as independent from one another. It is clear, however, that they are closely connected to each other.
 
First, there is a physical closeness between them. Both take place in the Holy of Holies: Inside the ark lies the "testimony," and a little above it, between the keruvim, the meeting takes place (25:22). In addition, there is also a semantic closeness between the goals: edut, testimony, and hiva'adut, meeting. How does the transition from testimony to meeting happen, from the ark of the covenant to the Divine speech above it?
 
The ark and the tablets inside it symbolize an event that took place in the past – the revelation at Mount Sinai and the covenant between God and the people of Israel. That event is etched in stone, to testify to future generations about the bond that had been formed. As was stated above, the bond became institutionalized when the event that was engraved in stone was brought into the Mishkan. But if the matter were to end there, we would be left with a silent stone, symbolizing only the past, and not renewal and vitality in the present.
 
If we go back to the metaphor of marriage, we could liken this to a couple who cling to the period in which they fell in love and the day of their wedding, filling their home with pictures from that time. Such nostalgia is nice, but obviously the main thing is missing here. A healthy relationship is constantly re-emerging, alive and throbbing. In order to keep the relationship alive in the present, the couple must constantly meet and speak.
 
Returning to the Mishkan, had a magnificent shrine been erected to preserve the tablets of the testimony, we would have been left only with silent testimony about the past. The testimony must be turned into a meeting, a living connection and a constant encounter with God. For this purpose, the various vessels in the Mishkan are required – to create the full and living connection, which includes all the senses, a connection that allows for the continuation of the encounter with God even after the revelation at Mount Sinai. On the other hand, the connection in the present is based on past experiences; the meeting takes place over the tablets. In this way, the two goals are combined. The encounter in the present draws from the events of the past and past events renew themselves in the present. This is the way to create a full life that allows for a sense of continuity between past memories and future experiences.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

*Rav Gold is a psychologist and teacher of Jewish philosophy.
[1] As the Ramban explains in the introduction to our parasha: "And the mystery of the Mishkan is that the glory that rested on Mount Sinai should rest on it in a hidden manner."
[2] For example, in Mishna Ta'anit (4:8): "'Go forth, O you daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Shelomo, even upon the crown with which his mother has crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.' 'On the day of his espousals' – this refers to the day of the giving of the Torah. 'And in the day of gladness of his heart' – this refers to the building of the Temple."
[3] See, for example, Shemot Rabba 43:1.
[4] See R. Elchanan Samet, "He-Aron U-Badav Ve-Kaporet Ha-Keruvim", who expands on the explanation as to why the ark is the primary element of the Mishkan.
[5] From this perspective, it is perhaps difficult to explain the incense altar, though burning incense in one's house was apparently widespread in the past.
[6] Rashi, Shemot 25:29.
[7] Rashbam, Shemot 25:30.
[8] According to Rashi (25:37), this means that all of the lamps faced the middle lamp, which is considered the "face of the candlestick." According to the Rashbam (ibid.), this mean that the lamps would shine light toward the table, which stood facing the candlestick.
[9] That the account of the incense altar was pushed off to the next parasha is exceedingly puzzling. Various explanations have been proposed, but this is not the forum in which to discuss them.
[10] This is especially true according to the Rashbam's interpretation of "panim" in the context of the table and the candlestick; see notes 7-8.
[11] This points to a perception of hearing as the loftiest of the senses, for hearing was located in the Holy of Holies. This seems to be the general position of the Torah, which presents the main connection to God through hearing, and not through seeing. This is emphasized by Moshe in relation to the revelation at Mount Sinai: "You heard the voice of words, but you saw no form, only a voice" (Devarim 4:12). In light of this we can understand why Chazal exempted a deaf person from the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot, but not a blind person. Hearing is more essential than sight for keeping the Torah and mitzvot.
[12] See the words of the Ramban at the beginning of the parasha, where he explains that the purpose of the Mishkan is to continue the revelation at Sinai in a permanent fashion.