Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Terumah
Does Hashem Need a House?
As God has no need for shelter, light, bread, or meat, why did He command the Children of Israel to construct the Tabernacle and its accompanying vessels? See Purpose of the Mishkan.
- According to Ramban, the Mishkan served to house Hashem's presence and facilitated the continuation of the Divine revelation which began at Mt. Sinai. Does this imply that God can be contained in a physical structure? What does it suggest about the concept of "sacred space"; are certain locations holier than others? Finally, how might having Hashem literally in one's midst affect one's relationship with Him?
- The Sifre views the Tabernacle as a means by which the Israelites atoned for the Sin of the Golden Calf, while the Tanchuma focuses on how it serves as a sign to surrounding nations that God had forgiven Israel. What polemical factors might be motivating the Tanchuma's reading?1 Can you think of other cases where a commentator's understanding of a story is polemically motivated?
- Shadal suggests that the Tabernacle enhanced man's relationship with not only Hashem but also with his fellow man. By providing a centralized location for all to gather in their worship of Hashem, the Mishkan served to unify the nation. What are other benefits of centralization? What are some of the downsides?
Change of Plans
Was sacrificial worship in the Tabernacle always part of Hashem's plans?
- Sforno and Hoil Moshe suggest that though Hashem had always wanted a sacrificial service, He had not wanted to limit it to any individual group or place, preferring to be worshiped via private altars rather than in a centralized Tabernacle. Only after the Sin of the Golden Calf did He decide that the nation was not capable of such worship and instead needed limitations and safeguards.
- Abarbanel, in contrast, suggests that Hashem's original plan included a Tabernacle as a vehicle through which the nation would feel Hashem's presence, but not sacrifices. After the Sin of the Golden Calf, however, Hashem added a sacrificial component to facilitate the atonement process.
Is it possible that Hashem changed His mind, or that a Torah commandment was relevant only for a particular era?2 What textual difficulties might such a suggestion resolve?3 What theological difficulties does it raise? See Altars of Earth, Stone, and Wood and Purpose of the Mishkan.
The reasoning behind most commandments in not explicit in Torah. Though many interpersonal laws might be self-explanatory, a great number of laws between man and God, such as the need for the Tabernacle and its vessels, beg the "why" question.
- Is it preferable to look into the reasons for mitzvot, or to simply accept them without questioning? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
- To what extent must an explanation account for all the details of a commandment?
- Is it problematic to propose a practical or utilitarian purpose for a commandment, or to suggest that it is a concession to human foibles? In other words, must the Torah's laws represent an ideal and be inherently valuable, or might they simply be addressing human needs and nature? See Purpose of the Mishkan.
Of Tables, Bread, and Covenants
We often look for symbolic meaning in rituals or religious objects. What symbolism might lie behind the ark, table, candelabrum, and incense altar?
- Abarbanel proposes that the ark symbolizes the Torah, while the other vessels represent the physical (table), intellectual (menorah) and spiritual (incense altar) rewards granted to those who observe the Torah's commandments. Do you find his suggestion compelling? Why or why not? See Purpose of the Shulchan and Lechem HaPanim.
What role does eating play in religious life? How many rites or commandments mandate partaking of food?
- In the time of Tanakh, meals were often connected to signing covenantal agreements,4 serving the same function as a handshake might today. In light of this, R. Hovav Yechieli5 suggests that the Lechem HaPanim constituted a covenant sealing meal which continuously renewed the Covenant of Sinai. What textual or conceptual support can you bring for this reading? See Purpose of the Shulchan and Lechem HaPanim, Purpose of the Sacrifices, and Purpose of the Mishkan.
For more, see: Parashat Terumah Topics.