TERUMAH – The Temple: what’s between our ears, and The Holy Centre
Dave Gordon - Monday, 2 March, 2009
We tend to enjoy gifts when the giver has given us something we like. This also applies to the giver, who tends to enjoy giving when they know the receiver will like the gift. It is one reason why God outlines what forms those physical gifts to him should take in this parsha.
The schematics to build The House of Worship for God are scrupulously outlined in Terumah, so too the descriptions on how to construct the instruments needed for the daily functions when construction is complete, and, eventually in what form to make the animal sacrifices.
Before the schematics could be dealt with, one crucial aspect had to be taken care of. How does one build without resources? And so, to help build the Temple, God made every Jew responsible for donating a half sheqel.
By doing so, it is the first of many examples that teach us that Jews have equality of obligation -- versus the oft-complained about “equality of rights.”
The poorest of us are as much obligated to the Covenant as the richest.
When it came to the half sheqel, everybody had to give. The richest person didn’t give more than a half sheqel. What is more egalitarian for a poor person, to know that he gave the same as the richest man?
The Torah believes you make people equal by obligating them equally. From the high priest, to the man who hews water, to the child, all are responsible for the half sheqel Temple donation. Even the recipient of tzedekah has to give his own ten-percent to a worthy person or cause – tzedekah is a requirement to every one despite their station in life.
Some crucial questions come up about the pending building: Why does God need to dictate the schematics, down to the colours, the drapery, and which vessels are fashioned out of gold? Why could the human mind not determine how to best serve God?
For one, it is completely conceivable that if the Sages have so many disagreements on the minutia of halacha, certainly the complexities of building the Holy of Holies might never be solved with consensus. Mostly, though, it’s because human beings would inevitably deviate, and descend into base desires; that is, our inherent want for God to be created in our own image, and not the other way around.
If left to our own devices, the Temple might look like, or be inspired by, the pagan shrines of the day, leaving God’s holiness hard to discern – at least visually – from the unholy.
The proof for this: 1. Rambam believes that animal sacrifices were installed as a way for the Jewish people to be like the other nations, because they had such an unmitigated lust to do so, and so He shaped sacrifice in a holy manner. (God certainly doesn’t “need” cow entrails, or a curtain with purple thread. It’s for us.)
2. God understood how easily the Israelites could be unduly influenced, and upon leaving Egypt, takes them through a detour in the desert lest they come in contact with idolaters. 3. If the Israelites were left to create their own centre for worship, “golden calf” problems may arise, with no instruction to guide them otherwise.
Finally, though it would take a few centuries, The Temple would eventually become defiled, disorganized, and corrupted. It can be easily derived that if man had designed The House of Worship himself, chaos would have reigned much earlier. There would have been less care and respect for a place that had man’s, not God’s, creativity imprinted on it.
There were also detailed schematics provided for the iconic Judaica of the time. The Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments, was made of gold-plated acacia wood and covered with a slab of pure gold. The Menorah was carved out of a brick of gold, etc.
There was gold everywhere, on the inside and on the outside of the Temple. And this was the theme of the Centre of Holiness in just about every area. It’s not just because the most valued of elements is most appropriate to help sanctify worship of God. What’s inside our own temple, the flattened region on either side of the forehead, must be elevated in belief before performing the outwardly golden – or holy – acts. In other words, if inwardly our mind is astray, it is much more difficult to demonstrate outward devotion to God. So too, if one is acting unethically behind closed doors, chances are they will deviate in public. One must strive to attain the highest standards both privately and publicly.