Parshat Terumah – Building The Mishkan

Torah Observations
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In the previous parashah, we talked about how the people asked Moshe to be an intermediary between them and the Almighty. Moshe went up Mount Sinai and stayed there 40 days and nights. In the parashah of Terumah (“Offering”), we read the instructions that the Almighty gave to Moshe concerning the structure of the portable tabernacle, the Mishkan.

This tabernacle comprised three areas. Innermost was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant stood. In it were the broken tablets which Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the first time he went up to receive the Torah (but broke when he spied the Golden Calf). The second set of tablets that Moshe brought down from Sinai also lay in the Ark of the Covenant.

Next to the Ark stood a vessel full of mon, another vessel with the oil used for anointing kings from the House of David, and a branch of an almond tree with flowers and fruits, on which was written the name “Aharon” (Bamidbar 17:17-24).

In the First Temple, there was also a chest with the gifts of the Philistines. They had been punished by G-d for seizing the Ark of the Covenant. When they returned the Ark, they brought these gifts as a token of their repentance (see I Shmuel 5, 6:15-18).

Only the Kohain Gadol was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and only on one day of the year, Yom Kippur. On that holiest of days, he was to enter therein only four times. Even the Kohain Gadol himself was not allowed to enter a fifth time.

The second section of the Mishkan (and all our Temples) was the Sanctuary (Kodesh, or Heichal). In the northern part of the Sanctuary there was a golden table with 12 loaves of bread laid out in two rows of six each. To the south stood the Menorah, a golden candelabrum with seven lamps. Between these two, closer to the exit, stood a small altar for incense.

The area of its upper surface was one cubit by one cubit; its height was two cubits. The altar was covered with gold. Twice a day, burning coals taken from the large altar were placed on this altar. A Kohain then sprinkled on them a special mixture of eleven fragrant spices.

The third area of the Mishkan was the Courtyard. In the portable Mishkan, this was called the chatzer; in the Temples, it was referred to as the Azarah. It held a large washbasin and the larger of the two altars.

The Almighty gave Moshe the precise dimensions of the Mishkan: thirty cubits in length, ten cubits in width and ten cubits in height.

The Holy of Holies was shaped like a cube, with edges of ten cubits, while the Kodesh was a parallelepiped, twenty cubits long, ten cubits wide and ten cubits high.

The court of the Mishkan was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide. The entrance was on the east side, the Holy of Holies to the west.

The first layer of the roof—that is, the ceiling—consisted of strips of fabric woven from a special thread spun from 24 finer threads: six of blue wool, six of purple wool, six of red wool and six threads of flax. All these were twisted into one single thread used to weave ten strips of fabric. Two sets of five such strips each, were sewn together. Fifty loops ran along the edges of each panel of five strips, through which gold hooks were inserted. These strips symbolized the Ten Commandments, carved by the Almighty Himself on the first Two Tablets of the Covenant.

Above this colorful layer of ten strips of cloth was another covering that consisted of 11 strips of goat’s hair, sewn into two panels: one panel was made up of six strips, and the other, of five.

The outermost strips ended with 50 loops, through which copper hooks were inserted. The commentary Baal Haturim explains that this covering, composed of 11 sections, represented the Written Torah, which consists of five books, together with the Oral Torah, which is divided into six sections, for a total of 11.

This roof was covered with red-dyed ram skins and tachash skins. (The tachash was an animal that lived only at the time when the Mishkan was erected. It had one horn and multi-colored skin.)

Forty-eight planks, 20 on the north, 20 on the south and eight on the west, formed the walls of the Mishkan. Their number corresponds to the number of the Prophets of Israel (see Tractate Megillah 14).

The seven lamps of the candelabrum, the Menorah, correspond to the seven Prophetesses of our people: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chanah, Abigail, Chuldah, and Esther.

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The Mishkan was the prototype of the First and Second Temples, and of the Third Temple that will be built with the final redemption.

King David longed to build the First Temple during his reign and took whatever steps he could toward that end. King David studied descriptions of the future Temple as handed down from generation to generation. So great was his awe of this soon-to-be built House of G-d, that, as he poured over these texts from the Prophet Shmuel, he would remain standing, as a sign of respect.

King David purchased the site where the Temple would be constructed, at the direction of the Prophet Gad. (See II Shmuel, 24). Then he prepared detailed plans for the layout of the Temple, also at the direction of the Prophet. Then he prepared quantities of gold, silver, copper, and iron for its construction.

But G-d did not allow King David to oversee the building of the First Temple. Through the Prophet Nosson (Nathan), G-d informed David that the Temple would be built by his son, Shlomo.

Why? Because, in his role as monarch, David had waged many wars to protect and strengthen the homeland. Blood had been shed.

Although this was all necessary to protect his kingdom, it precluded King David from the privilege of building the Temple. Hence, the prophet told King David, the Temple would be built in the days of his son Shlomo, whose reign was marked by peace.

The first Temple was built 2,928 years after the Creation of the world. It stood for 410 years. Seventy years after its destruction, the Second Temple was built. It stood for 420 years.

The altar must stand precisely in this hallowed site.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Zilber ztk”l,
Founder, Toldot Yeshurun