Parashat Terumah:  Exodus 25:1 to 27:19

For Week of Friday, February 16, 2024

Our Torah portion focuses on the building of the desert sanctuary, also known as the “mikdash,” the holy space. “Terumah” means an offering or a gift that is brought to the sanctuary. The Israelites wished to dwell in the “house of the Lord,” and how was that possible as they traveled through the wilderness of Sinai? They were commanded to build a sanctuary, more meaningfully understood as “dwelling place of the divine.” We learn about the special accoutrements of this sanctuary: the curtains, candelabrum, table for the showbread, the altar, as well as the holy ark, which contains the sacred tablets of stone.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Ark is the description of the “cheruvim,” the winged creatures whose ambiguous identity provides commentators much room for interpretation. In much later paintings, we see these rosy-cheeked babies flying around as if courtly painters saw them as angels and goddesses.

All we know from the Torah is that the “cherubim” are winged. But perhaps the essence of their identity is to be found not in their appearance, but rather in their function. What are they really supposed to do? We read from Exodus: “and the cherubs shall spread out their wings on high, screening the Ark-cover with their wings, with their faces toward each other, toward the Ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubs be.”  So how do these winged creatures protect the sacred tablets, or in later thinking, the holy scroll of the Torah?  Maybe all this is about young children who must reach higher and strive to to learn and inquire about the meaning of our traditions?

Join us for an exciting Torah study to consider the deeper meaning of the desert sanctuary.

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