Thursday, February 14, 2013

Parashat Terumah: From Between the Cherubs

In this week’s parsha, we enter the world of Tabernacle construction (continued for most of the rest of the book of Exodus). The Israelites in the desert are asked to construct a mobile “dwelling place” for God to live on earth, one they can take apart and carry with them wherever they go. This task encapsulates the essence of Torah – to bring God into the world, into everyday life, wherever one goes.

So it is with great interest that we should read these parshiyyot – how does one accomplish such a task? Perhaps the key lies in the first of the Tabernacle items described in the parsha – the aron, the ark. Where does God reside within the Tabernacle? He is said to appear and speak in the space between the two cherubs standing over the ark. These two cherubs are to be facing each other, ish el ahiv , literally, “one toward its brother.” How do we bring God’s presence down to earth? Where does He reside today? In the places where we face each other, working together in a common enterprise, like the two cherubs with their wings outstretched, together creating a canopy over the ark.

This term ish el ahiv, “one man toward his brother,” is repeated numerous times throughout the parsha, most often, later, in the feminine, ishah el ahotah, “one woman toward her sister,” referring to the joining of separate cloths together to make a cover for the Tabernacle. Another frequent term is vehibarta, “you should join or attach” from the same root as the modern Hebrew haver, friend. We also find here the use of an unusual word, te’omim, which here refers to the matching up of planks, and in modern Hebrew means “twins.” The Tabernacle is constructed on the principle of teamwork and friendship, of the joining of separate pieces.

Indeed, the construction of the Tabernacle is the model of a task that cannot be accomplished by one person. It requires weavers, sculptors and carpenters, artists, engineers and managers, all working in concert. The physical details of construction mirror the human process – people are being joined together as well as planks, one facing toward the other.

It is precisely in such spaces of joint effort that God’s presence resides.


  1. Fantastic. I would add that it matters what it is that we come together about. You can come together around evil just as easily as around good.

    I wonder if (and how) the two are related. Do good goals result when people come together in an open, honest and fair way, and bad goals result when they come together badly, such as through authoritarianism?

    I think some would say that the very coming together in a positive manner is the only way you can judge good vs. evil, but I don't agree.


  2. I think the key is that you come together in a caring way, recognizing that the other is created in God's image too.

  3. A wonderful insight into the language of the Parsha and a valuable musar haskel.
    Yishar Kohekh, Rachel.

  4. Maybe one great value of religion is that it creates a valuable goal; so that you don't need to worry about what it is that you are coming together around, only about the quality of the coming together. In contrast, in democratic government, for example, it matters less how you come together, and more what you produce. So LBJ produces legislation when JFK cannot.

    1. Mordecai,

      Think jihad...

      It's not enough to come together around religion. Faith can lead people to do unthinkable things. And even though there are huge differences between democratic leaders' ability to put forth valuable legislation, it is still democracy in action.