Parashat T’rumah

Friday, February 28, 2020 /3 Adar, 5780
Parashat T’rumah Exodus 25:1-27:19

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion opens with a conversation between God and Moses. God tells Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Franz Rosensweig points out that this is a turning point for the Israelites. After creating buildings for the Egyptian pharaohs during their years of bondage, the Israelites will for the first time create something of their own, a sanctuary for God.

Although it will be some time before the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary, is created, the Torah goes into detail about the artistry involved in this significant project. The text pays special attention to a sculpture, which is to sit above the ark-cover. Two cherubim or angel-like figures will be chiseled on each end of the cover. “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces turned toward one another; turned toward the ark-cover shall be the faces of the cherubim.” (Exodus 25:20)

This instruction puzzles Rabbinic sages. After all, two weeks ago, we received the Ten Commandments in which God clearly instructed us not to create graven images. These cherubim could easily be misconstrued as idols. Nonetheless, God asks the people to create them above the ark. In his book, To Heal A Fractured World, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the message of the cherubim was “so significant that it was deemed by God himself to be sufficient to outweigh the risk of misunderstanding.”

God explains that God will meet with Moses, and speak with him “from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact.” (Exodus 25:22) The message of the cherubim, according to Rabbi Sacks is that, “God speaks where two persons turn their face to one another in love, embrace, generosity and care.”

After Torah portions which focus on the laws in the Ten Commandments, and the rules we should live by, and in the midst of a discussion about the holy space we are to build, God insists that we construct this important reminder. As significant as our commandments, rules, and holy objects are, there is something even more significant. The cherubim, placed strikingly above the holy ark, remind us that the most important part of our community lies in the relationships we build.  The divine is present wherever two people turn their faces to one another in love, embrace, generosity and care.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail