Archive for February, 2011

Terumah: Ready to Go

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Terumah

“Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold; then insert the poles into the rings on the side walls of the ark, for carrying the ark. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it.”
(Shmot/Exodus 25:13-15)

This week we make a major shift in the emphasis of the weekly Torah readings, from the narrative of the Exodus to the building of the Mishkan, or portable Sanctuary. This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, begins with the call to all the Israelites to donate wood, precious metals, jewels, fabrics, and leather for the construction of the Mishkan, which has various constituent parts and vessels. Among the most famous vessels was the Aron, or Ark, which was a gold-plated wooden box containing the tablets from Sinai, and which was carried by the Levites using long wooden poles run through rings on the sides. (One artist’s conception can be found here.)

One commentator, the author of the “Book of Education” or Sefer HaHinnuch, a 13th century textbook of the commandments, interprets verse 15, above, as a separate and permanent commandment not to remove these poles from the Aron, as long as the Aron itself existed. This book explains that the poles had to be permanently in their rings for carrying, for if the Levites had to move the Ark in a hurry, and it wasn’t properly prepared with sturdy, permanent poles, it might get dropped or mishandled. That, in turn, would be a grave dishonor to the Ark and the Torah itself, for the Aron is symbolic of how the Divine dwells among us by means of Torah, words of which were engraved on the tablets that the Aron carried.

Taking this idea a bit further, I love the idea of having a separate mitzvah [commandment] to be ready at any time to carry the tablets of Torah on our journeys! Too often, we think we’ve found exactly the right place in our spirituality, our perspectives and practices, and it’s tempting to settle there and say, the journey is over, I’ve arrived at my goal. The symbol of the poles of the Aron implies something different: always be ready to grow, to change, to seek new inspiration, to learn new things, to give up the comfort zone, to find the Divine in new and unexpected places. Be ready to go somewhere new, not for the sake of novelty alone, but for the sake of honoring that which is most sacred within you: your capacity to learn Torah, do Torah, be Torah. The Levites had to be ready to carry the Ark to new places; our task is to be equally ready to carry ourselves to new places.

Shabbat Shalom,


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