Commentary for Terumah

6 Mar

In this week’s parshah the Israelites are commanded to build the tabernacle. Inside the tabernacle there are many different items that need to be built from many different individual parts, and each built in a specific way. To make things even more confusing, some of the pieces have very similar names. In fact three of them, the caphtor, the caporet, and the parochet, all consist of the same four Hebrew letters, just mixed around in a different order. While the roots of all three words are different, the Rabbis often find merely sounding alike as reason enough to look for a connection between words, so three similar-sounding and rather unique nouns all appearing connected with the tabernacle must be meant to teach us something.


The caphtor was a calyx (a fancy design put at the head of a column) that was found at the top of each branch of the menorah. They served no functional purpose, and they don’t appear to have had any symbolic meaning, either. Their purpose was simply to make the menorah look extra pretty. In doing so, however, they, somewhat paradoxically, did take on a purpose.

On Shabbat and holidays one can make Kiddush out of any regular old cup, even a paper or plastic one. In fact, one does not really need a cup at all. It is perfectly Halachically permissible to say Kiddush over the wine or grape juice while it is still in the bottle. And yet almost every family has a special cup in their house that they use for Kiddush. It is a fancier cup than all of their others, and we often spend more time picking it out than we do for utensils that we use much more regularly. While each caphtor was, on one level, nothing but extra work for the artisans crafting the menorah, the fact that the artisans spent more time on the menorah than they otherwise would have because they had to craft each caphtor to make the menorah look prettier teaches us that we can make something holier by putting more of our time, money, and effort into in order to make it stand out more.


The parochet was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the slightly less holy areas of the rest of the tabernacle. There was nothing intrinsically holy about the land on which the Holy of Holies was designated while the Israelites were travelling in the desert. The prohibition for anyone other than the High Priest walking into the Holy of Holies did not extend to that patch of ground once the Israelites packed up and moved on in their journey. Once the Israelites had left, that patch of ground reverted to being no different than the ground two inches away on the other side of the parochet. What made that land special was that the parochet was used to cordon it off. It was assigned a special level of holiness and then the Israelites treated it as such, and therefore they made it holy.


The caporet was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. Containing two cherubs representing the heavens and the cover itself representing the earth, the caporet was hammered out of one single piece of solid gold. In this way the caporet brings together these two lessons to teach us that holiness requires a unified effort of both the human and the Divine.

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