Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19); Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Num. 28:9-15, Isaiah 66:1-24)

Thank you for your kind messages.  I am vertical again.

This Shabbat happens to be the second day of Rosh Chodesh Adar I (Purim is in Adar II in a leap year), so services tomorrow will include Hallel (Ps. 113-118, except for half of two psalms), a second scroll (sacrifices, what else), a special Haftarah, and, in many congregations, Ps. 104.  

In this week’s portion, Moses is given detailed instructions concerning the building of a Tabernacle (mishkan).  Since the details will be repeated in a few weeks when we read about the actual building of the Tabernacle, we don’t need to consider them here.  We can distinguish  three motifs.  First, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people to bring gifts, everyone whose heart is so moved to do so.  Yes, the people have to be told to give, somewhat akin to those fund raising organizations who entice you with “opportunities to give.”  But the type of gift, amount, and the act of giving remain dependent on the feelings of the potential giver.  Next, we learn what the gifts are for:  (25:8), “And let them make Me a sanctuary (mikdash) that I may dwell among them.”   The Lord is trying here to develop a more intimate relationship with the Israelites and help them to grow as a free people.  The gifts are the responsibility of individuals, used to benefit the whole.  The sanctuary is not to be a literal dwelling place for the Lord, but it will be a sacred focal point, a space of intense holiness where the Israelites can more easily connect with the Lord.  According to Ramban (Nachmanides), the Israelites’ experience in the sanctuary is meant to parallel the Revelation at Sinai, obviously on a much smaller scale.  Abarbanel adds that the physical sanctuary was intended to make sure that the Israelites wouldn’t feel abandoned by the Lord while they were in the wilderness.  Another benefit is that the whole nation will be working on the construction, promoting unity; at the same time, each contributing his or her personal expertise and skill, allowing the recognition of the value of every individual.  Finally, the rest of the portion expands upon the next verse (25:9), “Exactly as I show you — the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings — so shall you make it,” and we get extremely detailed descriptions of how the Tabernacle is to be built, furnished, and decorated. The intricately detailed instructions also minimize strife that could arise over design, materials, etc. that could jettison the whole project.  Next week, we’ll read just as detailed directions for the priests’ vestments and their ordination.

Shabbat shalom,

Ten things to say about gifts you don’t like

10. Boy, if I had not recently shot up four sizes, that would’ve fit.
9. It would be a shame if the garbage man ever accidentally took this from me.
8. Perfect for wearing in the basement.
7. Well, well, well…
6. I really don’t deserve this.
5. Gosh, I hope this never catches fire!
4. I Love it, but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.
3. If the dog buries it, I’ll be furious!
2. Sadly, tomorrow I enter the federal witness protection program.
1. To think I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.


Building My Own Mishkan  [abridged] posted March 1, 2009

(Some of you have asked how I find these items.  I simply use a search engine like Google.  For example, I typed in mishkan jokes and this one popped up.)

So inspired was I by last week’s Torah portion that I decided to build my own tabernacle.   I decided I would have to study the text carefully and try to make my own from scratch.  Which brings me to the first of God’s little teases.  The Almighty knows full well how useless we Jews are at DIY [“do it yourself.” IGP].  He must have been having a joke, right?  All those miracles just a few weeks ago, and yet he couldn’t just give the Israelites the Mishkan.  He had to send them into a sweat fueled frenzy of panic while they tried to create this thing “No! you said you’d collect the gold, I said I’d get the wood!” and “What on earth are you doing?  How are we supposed to put the cherubs on now, we haven’t finished gilding it yet!”

After several hours of translating and note taking, I took myself off, with trepidation, to Homebase.

“Can I help you?”
“Yes, I need 11 cubits of acacia wood, a cubit and a half wide, plus some acacia wood poles as well, two, about 8 cubits each”.
“How much?”
“What do you mean?  I just told you how much.  About 11 cubits”.
“What’s a cubit?”
I hesitated and then unconfidently placed my hands in front of me, flat palms facing each other, about shoulder width apart.  “About this much?” [It’s about 18”. IGP]
“Right, well we don’t have acacia wood.  Will MDF do?”
“Not really”.
“Pine? Contiboard?”
“Oh give me the MDF then.  It’s got to be covered with gold anyway so no-one will know”.
“To cover the MDF?”
“We don’t sell gold”.
“I was aware.  I was thinking gold spray”.
“Aisle four”.
“Thanks.  And four gold rings?”
“What is this, the 12 days of Christmas?”
“They’re to hold the MDF poles”.
“Try the curtain section”.

For the crown and cherubs I spent hours sifting through tat at Camden Market and even then the angels were a bit too big.  Still, I did it, and now I feel truly connected to my ancestors as they traipsed through the desert.  In fact, I know exactly how my own antecedents must have felt:

“When we get out of this mess I’m never going to do a single DIY job again for as long as I live. “

And that’s why all you’ll ever find in a Jew’s tool kit is a butter knife and an old hammer with a loose head.


Building Customs
       An Arkansas boy had moved away and made his fortune. When he retired, he returned home to spend the rest of his years hunting and fishing and build his retirement home. For the job he hired a local carpenter.
       The retiree explained, “I’ve got the plans right here, you can read a blueprint, can’t you?”
       “Oh, I can read a blueprint,” said the carpenter, unrolling the plans. “And I can see a BIG mistake already. You can’t build this house like this!”
       “I certainly can,” replied the retiree. “These plans were drawn by the best architectural firm in New York. I want to you follow them exactly or I’ll find myself another contractor.”
       “Your funeral,” the carpenter shrugged, “but I’m warning you right off – the bathroom is going to end up inside.”.

Renovation Jokes

Smith and Jones

        Contractor:        Mr. Smith, I’m sorry that I couldn’t get back to finish the job until today.
        Homeowner:        I’m Mr. Jones. I bought the house from Mr. Smith six months ago.

I’ve got religion

        Homeowner:        I’ve got to hand it to you. You’re the only contractor I’ve ever hired that’s been able to bring religion into my life.
        Contractor:        Is that because the hand of God guides me and the beauty of my work makes you think of Heaven?
        Homeowner:        No, I didn’t believe in the Devil and Hell until now.


        Back when I was working as a roofer, I was supposed to attach some galvanized sheet metal flashing with some long galvanized screws. I asked my foreman to hand me a screwdriver and was surprised when he handed me a hammer.

        “No,” I said, “I need a screwdriver.”

        “Here you go,” he said, proffering the hammer again.

        “No,” I protested, “I want that long, skinny thing with the handle at one end and the flat blade at the other.”

        “Oh!” he said. “You want the screw remover!”


        Home is where you hang your architect.

                … Clare Booth Luce

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