Terumah 5778

D'var Torah | Exodus

Goethe once remarked that it is the great triumph of genius to make the common appear novel. By Goethe’s standards, the Torah must be a work of genius for that is precisely what the Torah does. Consider the description of the Tabernacle.


One thing became clear to any Israelite who saw the Tabernacle: there was little difference between his own dwelling and the dwelling place for God. As Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey M. Cohen has noted, each item in the Tabernacle was, in fact, an ordinary object that one could find in any home. The chest in which the Tablets were placed was no different than any storage chest. Though it was overlaid with gold, it was no more than a portable container, the equivalent of any cabinet designed to house artifacts. The “Shulhan” was no different from any common table and its accessories of dishes, pans, jars, and bowls were common dining vessels. The candelabrum, although ornately wrought, was no more than indoor lighting. The washing basin would have been a feature of any ancient house. And the altar was nothing more than a larger version of a kitchen grill. These are not obscure or mysterious ritual items with magical properties. They are quite ordinary and common.


Yet what makes the Tabernacle and its contents so special – and thus confirming Goethe’s observation – is precisely that it is so ordinary. The Torah removed ancient religion from the obscure. The service of God was not rooted in some mysterious and mystifying complex of practice using strange objects. Instead, Israelites came to understand that the house they were building for God differed little from their own. Their preparation for the indwelling of God were no different from their preparations for any dinner guest. Hence, the gap between heaven and earth was easily bridged.


Further, if the House of God was little different than one’s own house, it stood to reason that one’s own house could be holy as well. This encouraged Judaism to infuse each home with the sanctity of the Tabernacle and its successor – the Jerusalem Temple. The home could become a sanctuary in miniature when invested with sacred purpose. Even the ordinary could become extraordinary when God is added.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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