Commentary for Terumah

24 Feb

In this week’s parshah, the Israelites are commanded to build the tabernacle. Among the items in the tabernacle were the ark, which was used to hold the two tablets, and the caporet, the solid gold lid for the ark, with solid two cherubs on top of it. The ark was obviously an extremely holy item. It resided in the Holy of Holies, contained the two tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them, and its capture by the Philistines was treated as a national tragedy. The caporet, on the other hand, seems to just be a lid. Sure, it had some cool features, such as the fact that the cherubs would face each other when God was pleased with the Israelites and face away from each other when God was displeased, but what use is a lid on it’s own, without something to cover?


Surprisingly, our parshah tells us that when God spoke to Moses, the Divine voice would not emanate from the ark, but rather from a space above the caporet but below the cherubs’ wings. The ark contained the two tablets inscribed directly by God at Mount Sinai, which commentators have often noted contain within them the basis for all of the other mitzvot in the Torah. Wouldn’t this be a much more appropriate location for the voice of God to issue instructions from?


Pirkei Avot 5:16 talks about four kinds of Jews: Those who both study Torah and do mitzvot, those who do study Torah but don’t do other mitzvot, those who do other mitzvot but don’t study Torah, and those who neither study Torah nor do mitzvot. While sitting around and learning Torah is all well and good, it is not meant to be something we merely keep inside of us. God’s voice emanates from a space above the caporet, outside of the ark, because they are meant to be taken out into the world with us. It is one thing to know what you are supposed to do, but it is another thing entirely to use that knowledge and actually go out and do them.

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