The portion of Terumah deals with the plans for the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s portable Temple in the desert. The Tabernacle will become the focus of most of the rest of the book of Exodus. It was constructed in the second year after the Exodus and remained in use even after the people entered the Holy Land. It was destroyed during the time of Eli the Priest, not long before King Saul came to the throne.
The portion opens with God asking Moses to collect donations from the Children of Israel to build the Tabernacle. Particularly, He asks that those who are generous of heart give what they are moved to donate. From the various riches which the Israelites took with them out of Egypt, they built a house of worship for God.
As God tells Moses in the beginning of this portion, “Build Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst.” The Israel Bible points out the significance of this verse: the Tabernacle is not a physical home for God, but a tool through which God dwells among the people themselves, enabling a relationship between them.
Holy Vessels: The Ark, Table and Lamp
The portion begins with a call for contributions to the building effort. God gives a specific list of materials needed for His Tabernacle. He then goes on to describe three of the primary vessels which will be set up inside the Tabernacle: the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of the Show Bread and the Lamp, called the Menorah.
The Ark is to be built from three layers, a wooden box with both outer and inner gold boxes. It will be topped with a crown of gold. The cover for the Ark will also be of gold, and topped with two cherub figures. Into this the two tablets will be placed, and from here God will conduct His meetings with Moses.
The Table is also to be made of wood and covered in gold, surrounded by a gold crown molding. It is to have shelves on which to place the show-bread, as well as utensils of gold for the service. Both the Table and the Ark are to have rings in which gold-plated wooden poles will be placed for the purpose of transporting the vessels. The poles of the Ark are never to be removed from their housings.
The Lamp, or Menorah, is to have seven branches, each with knobs, cups and flowers in their design. Three arms are to branch out from the central one on each side. It is to be hammered out of a single block of gold, and its accompanying utensils are also to be made of pure gold. To be certain, God shows Moses what the Menorah is meant to look like in a vision on the mountain.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think that of these three vessels, God shows Moses a vision of the Menorah in particular?
Although there is no Temple today, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem is committed to building the vessels described in the Torah to be ready for use when the Third Temple is built. The Menorah which they have constructed according to this chapter stands in Jerusalem’s Old City today, where it can be visited.
The Tabernacle building itself is to be constructed out of several parts. Its walls are to consist of planks with tabs on each end. The tabs fit into silver sockets which hold every pair of adjacent planks together. Three bars, top, bottom and center, also secure the planks of each wall to each other.
The walls are to be covered with different curtains: ten curtains of linen and wool woven with a design of cherubs, eleven curtains of goat hair, a cover of red-dyed ramskin and a cover of tachash (seal) skins. The curtains are to have hooks and loops to connect them to each other and they are to be layered over the Tabernacle walls, with the eleventh goat hair curtain overhanging the entrance. Between the main chamber of the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies, a partition is to be hung, made of the same twisted and woven wool and linen with a cherub design. The Ark is to be positioned inside the Holy of Holies, while the Table and Menorah sit in the main chamber. A screen is also to be placed at the entrance of the Tabernacle, made of gold-plated planks and covered with the same woven fabric.
The boards from which the walls are to be constructed are called Hakerashim, meaning the boards, implying specific boards known to Moses. The Israel Bible cites a Jewish tradition which maintains that Jacob planted the necessary trees on his way down to Egypt so that his descendants would have them to build the Tabernacle. The message here is two-fold: from Jacob we learn to prepare for the future, but we also learn not to give up hope. The exile is temporary and the Jews will return to their homeland.
Points to Ponder
First God tells Moses how to build the vessels with which to serve Him in the Tabernacle, and only after does He outline the blueprint for the building in which they will be placed. This seems to be the reverse of typical behavior, where one would not buy furniture until one has a home in which to place it. Why do you think God plans His Tabernacle in reverse?
The Courtyard and its Altar
Moses is next instructed in building the Altar which is to sit in the courtyard of the Tabernacle. The Altar is to be a hollow box built of wood and covered in copper. Its utensils, too, should be copper. It is to have four raised corners, or horns, a base and a meshwork trim around its middle. Like the Table and Ark, it is to have wooden poles for carrying the Altar, this time covered in copper.
The courtyard itself is to be demarcated by an open-air enclosure made from linen curtains suspended between pillars. The pillars are to have copper sockets, and hooks and bands of silver. At the entrance to the courtyard, an ornate screen of the same woven fabric described in the Tabernacle covers will sit, allowing visitors to enter from either side.
The Israel Bible points out that the hollow Altar, which is to be filled with earth at every stop, symbolizes the temporary nature of the Israelites’ life in the desert. When they arrive in Israel, they are to build an Altar of stone, which represents their permanent home in the Promised Land.
Points to Ponder
What do you think is the significance of plating the Altar in copper, when the other vessels in our portion are plated in gold?