Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

[Turner Classic Movies is currently airing a James Cagney movie, White Heat, which I find highly ironic in that it’s 13°F outside, wind chill -5°F.]

We now begin a series of five Torah portions that form an interesting set: Terumah, instructions for building the Tabernacle; Tetzaveh, instructions for the priests’ vestments; Ki Tissa, that unfortunate Golden Calf incident; Vayakhel, actually building the Tabernacle; and Pekudei, actually making the priests’ vestments.  Some commentators, such as Rashi and Sforno, believe these portions are not in chronological order, so that the Golden Calf occurs first and building the Tabernacle is mainly to atone for that.  I agree with Nachmanides (Ramban) instead, that the chapter order works.  It’s as if Ki Tissa is cushioned by the two portions before and after it and we’re postponing having to read that nasty business in the middle.  Also, the instructions in Terumah and Tetzaveh are given to Moses in the rarefied atmosphere of Mt. Sinai.  He is told in 25:2 that every person “whose heart so moves him” is to give a donation (terumah) from a list of items for the Tabernacle, but it isn’t until Vayakhel that we see how this actually plays out.  [There are a lot of capsule commentaries on Terumah here if you’re interested.]

We read in 25:8, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Isn’t this excessive anthropomorphizing?  After all, look at Isaiah 66:1, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that you may build for Me?”  The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael  answered this by teaching that the purpose of the Tabernacle was simply to enable the Israelites to be rewarded for fulfilling it.  Rashi also downplays the importance of the Tabernacle per se, interpreting “And they shall make Me a sanctuary” as simply “And they shall make in My name a house of sanctity.”

But it seems to me that the amount of space the instructions for the Tabernacle and the vestments take up implies a great deal more.  In particular, 25:8 points to a plan for a more intimate relationship between the Lord and the Israelites.  Also, as I noted last year, the instructions for building the Tabernacle neatly parallel the story of Creation, so, in a very small way, the Israelites will be mimicking a seminal divine act.  Further, the Tabernacle and vestments facilitate an emotional connection for the people because they are tangible.  The Israelites haven’t really absorbed the idea of an invisible deity yet, and this will cause big problems, as we’ll see in two weeks.

Shabbat shalom,



tph terumah moses-shipping




“Some people say this is sculpture but I didn’t go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions.”

–John Milkovisch

John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, started his project now known as the Beer Can House in 1968 when he began inlaying thousands of marbles, rocks, and metal pieces into concrete and redwood to form unique landscaping features. When the entire front and back yard were completely covered because he “got sick of mowing the grass”, he turned to the house itself and began adding aluminum siding – aluminum beer can siding, that is. Over the next 18 years the house disappeared under a cover of flattened beer cans for both practical and decorative reasons. Garlands made of cut beer cans hanging from the roof edges not only made the house sing in the wind, but also lowered the family’s energy bills. Ripley’s Believe It or Not estimated that over 50,000 cans adorn this monument to recycling.

Find out more about John and the Beer Can House.

tph terumah beer can house



The son of a builder is approaching his sixth birthday and his father asks him what he’d like as a present. ‘What I really want is a baby brother.’ says the boy. ‘Sorry, son,’ says the father. ‘Your birthday is five days away, I can’t get you a baby brother in that time.’ The son replies, ‘Can’t you do what you do at work and put more men on the job?’



tph terumah arch criticism translated



Construction Definitions (Comic)

Contractor – A gambler who never gets to shuffle, cut or deal.

Bid Opening – A poker game in which the losing hand wins.

Low Bidder – A contractor who is wondering what he/she left out.

Engineer’s Estimate – The cost of construction in Heaven.

Project Manager – The conductor of an orchestra in which every musician is in a different union.

Critical Path Method – A management technique for losing your shirt under perfect control.

OSHA – A protective coating made by half-baking a mixture of fine print, split hairs, red tape and baloney – usually applied at random with a shot gun.

Strike – An effort to increase egg production by strangling the chicken.

Delayed Payment – A tourniquet applied at the pockets.

Completion Date – The point at which liquidated damages begin.

Liquidated Damages – A penalty for failing to achieve the impossible.




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