Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

First, an addendum to Mishpatim:  I’ve learned that the feminine for ger is giyoret.  Thanks, Chava!

In this week’s portion, the Lord gives Moses very detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle (“mishkan”, sanctuary).  This leads us to ask: When were the instructions given, before or after the Golden Calf debacle?  Why a Tabernacle at all?  And why this at times numbing degree of detail?

The question of “when” arises because the narrative of the Torah is not always strictly chronological and some commentaries take the position that building the Tabernacle is a means of atoning for the Golden Calf, so the instructions are given afterward and indeed the Tabernacle is only a concession to human frailty, almost an afterthought (e.g., Midrash, TanhumTerumah 8; Rashi; Sforno).  Others, such as Ramban (Nachmanides), see no need to tamper with the given chronology.  He also rejects the (relatively) minor role assigned to the Tabernacle by Rashi et al.  I agree with Ramban on this, as my previous missives on this and the related portions have shown.

Why have a Tabernacle?  We are given one answer in verse 25:8, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  But the Lord doesn’t dwell in a physical house.  Rambam (Maimonides) sees this as a concession to the people’s emotional need to have a tangible reminder of the Lord’s presence.  The resonance of 25:8 also promises the Tabernacle will be a focal point for divine intimacy and love.

Why all the detail?  I am not really into dream house building, remodeling, interior decorating, that sort of thing.  I have no philosophical reason for this; it’s more like a tone deafness.  But there’s been a growing recognition in recent years of the importance of design of houses of worship.  On the critical nature of the architecture of religious institutions, Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes, “The key point to note is that how a community shapes its sacred space communicates very much about what they expect to happen there. It even communicates their theology.” (“Sacred Space,” http://ziegler.ajula.edu/default.aspx?id=3888 ).  The Tabernacle not only was a theological focal point; it was also portable, a feature I’ve increasingly thought would be very practical as Jewish communities form and re-form today.

Shabbat shalom,



Some Assembly Required

“Everything at IKEA requires assembly. I bought a pillow, and they gave me a duck.” -Todd Glass


If Architects Had to Work Like Web Designers (abridged)

ARCHITECTURE | 27.06.2007 |

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion. My house should have between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the blueprints, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each so that I can arbitrarily pick one.

Keep in mind that the house must cost less than the one I am currently living in. Make sure, however, that you correct all the deficiencies that exist in my current house.

Please take care that modern design practices and the latest materials are used, and the most up-to-date ideas and methods. Be alerted, however, that kitchen should be designed to accommodate, among other things, my 1952 Gibson refrigerator.

Make certain that you contact each of our children, and also our in-laws. My mother-in-law will have very strong feelings about how the house should be designed, since she visits us at least once a year.

Make sure that you weigh all of these options carefully and come to the right decision. I, however, retain the right to overrule any choices that you make.

At this time, your first priority is to develop detailed plans and specifications. Once I approve these, however, I expect the house to be under roof within 48 hours.

Please make sure that there is a consensus of the population in my area that they like the features. I advise you look at my neighbor’s house.  We like it a great deal. It has many features that we would also like, particularly the 75-foot swimming pool. With careful engineering, I believe that you can design this into our new house without impacting the final cost.

PS: My wife has just told me that she disagrees with many of these instructions. As architect, it is your responsibility to resolve these differences. If you can’t, I will have to find another architect.

PPS: Perhaps what I need is not a house at all, but a travel trailer. Please advise me as soon as possible if this is the case.



 tph terumah chair




Humor in Architecture:  All for man’s best friend

 tph door


The excruciatingly detailed instructions for the Tabernacle provide an irresistible challenge to some to build their own models.  Life-size versions can be seen in, e.g., Lancaster PA (http://www.mennoniteinfoctr.com/tabernacle.asp ), and Timna Park, about 20 miles north of Eilat in Israel (http://www.bibleplaces.com/tabernacle.htm ).  I’ve found kits online ranging in price from about $15 (paper) to $549.  You can also just buy separate components.  Here’s a model of the Ark that I find quite fetching.

 tph terumah aron 16

It’s made from 36 laser-cut wood pieces, includes assembly instructions, measures 6″ x 4.1″ x 2.3″, and it’s only $16. Available at http://www.nehora.com/products/Wood-Model-of-The-Ark-of-the-Covenant-%28Do-it-Yourself-Kit%29-%28GM%252dTL44%29-%D7%90%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%9F-%D7%94%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%AA.html


The Furniture Man

My cousin Moishe owned one of the biggest and fastest-growing businesses in Miami, a furniture store. I convinced him that he needed to take a trip to Italy to check out the merchandise himself, and because he was still single, he could check out all the hot Italian women, and maybe get lucky.

As Moishe was checking into a hotel he struck up an acquaintance with a beautiful young lady… she only spoke Italian and he only spoke English, so neither understood a word the other spoke.

He took out a pencil and a notebook and drew a picture of a taxi.

She smiled, nodded her head and they went for a ride in the park.

Later, he drew a picture of a table in a restaurant with a question mark and she nodded, so they went to dinner.

After dinner he sketched two dancers and she was delighted. They went to several nightclubs, drank champagne, danced and had a glorious evening.

It had gotten quite late when she motioned for the pencil and drew a picture of a four-poster bed.

Moishe was dumbfounded, and to this day remarks to me that he’s never been able to understand how she knew he was in the furniture business.



ShowHouse (excerpt)

Designer Jennifer Siegal’s other house is the portable ShowHouse, a 720-square-foot example of her factory-built prefab housing, wedged in among the boutiques and coffee bars on trendy Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice
Siegel is a total nerd for new and earth-friendly building materials; among those on display in the ShowHouse are an iPort music system, with embedded speakers and a wall-mounted votive niche for an iPod; radiant heating panels—nicknamed “people heaters”—that efficiently warm you and your stuff, not the air around you; and Kirei board, a sustainable sorghum by-product that causes visitors to pet the walls and coo softly.

The 12-by-60-foot, steel-framed, slope-roofed ShowHouse is the fruit of Siegel’s collaboration with a formerly moribund industrial prefab factory, which for 30 years cranked out “nasty” construction trailers and depressing temporary classrooms. “Now they’re stoked,” Siegal says of their new focus on earth-friendly houses and schools. Siegel’s prefab sales pitch is concise: “I can do this in half the time and for a third of the cost of a conventional structure. Plus, it comes in on the back of a truck.”


Picture URL:  http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/slideshow/method-lab#10

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