Sedra Terumah and its companion Haftorah focus on the Holy Sanctuary;
the Mishkan. The Sedra concerns itself with the Tabernacle carried
by those who were the last of the Jewish People to have known the
sting of a taskmaster's lash when they were slaves in Pharaoh's Egypt.
The Haftorah tells of King Solomon's efforts to create the "permanent"
sanctuary in Jerusalem where, today, we are only able to pray at the
remains of the Western Wall of that great structure or rather, of
the second iteration of the Holy Temple that Solomon built until it
was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 586 Before the Common
Torah's description of the Sanctuary can be daunting in all its amazing
detail to make even those of us with an understanding of architecture
or to those with a yen to draw or paint and who may wish to capture
what this structure was all about and how the Jewish People, all newly
freed slaves, save for one; Moses, who, though born to a Jewish slave,
was raised and lived his life until the Exodus as a Prince in Pharaoh's
court, related to it.
are told that the Lord commanded that the Sanctuary be assembled;
saying it was to be "built" would be stretching things since
even though the Tabernacle was to be furnished with gold clad items
and richly decorated, it was ostensibly a compound staked out in the
wilderness and defined by what amounted to linen sheeting hung from
tent poles and forming two concentric rectangular fields with the
Holy areas at the center of the configuration and with the outer perimeter
of sheeting creating a buffer zone around the inner one; the Holy
so much detail defined by cubits; a measurement that is estimated
to be something like 18 inches or the distance from the tip of one's
fingers to the inside of one's elbow, it is easy to allow the over
arching purpose and meaning of the Sanctuary to escape us.
Lord had taken the Jewish People; the Children of Israel, who was
formerly known as Jacob, out of Egypt after some 400 years of enslavement
there in a great show of strength using ten fabulous and at the same
time terrible plagues to bring Pharaoh to submission. The newly freed
slaves were led to Canaan and told to conquer it. But, the People
were still slaves at heart and lacked the courage to take the Lord
as seriously as we might expect them to even though they had witnessed
first hand the greatness of the Almighty. They scouted out the Land
and though it was reported to be beautiful by some of the scouts,
the vast majority of them described the inhabitants as giants and
unbeatable by the relatively ragtag group of untrained would-be worriers.
The real result when the Jews rejected the Lord's direction was to
prove themselves to be unready at best and therefore unworthy of entering
the Promised Land.
punishment was to be redirected into the wilderness where they would
be led and protected by the Lord while they lived out their lives
until there was no one of that generation of former slaves remaining.
Their children, who only knew slavery from the stories their parents
would have told them, would become the ones to enter the Land. But,
while they wandered in the wilderness and after the experience at
Mt. Sinai, where they received the Torah, the establishment of the
portable Sanctuary was ordered. It would be carried from encampment
to encampment, set up in such a way as to be visible from all around and the Tribes, named for the Sons of Jacob
and, in the case of Joseph, by his two sons, who were actually Jacob's
grandchildren, would position their individual camps in the same arrangement
that was used both at the foot of Mt. Sinai and in the same order
that Jacob's sons themselves had stood around their father's bier
before his burial.
"Why the Sanctuary?"
and its effects are tough to shake. The sin of the scouts, the Chait
HaMiragliem, demonstrated the fragility of the lessons supposedly
learned during the Exodus. The Sin of the Golden Calf, which resulted
in Moses becoming so enraged as to angrily destroy the first set of
the Ten Commandments, which we understand were written actually by
the Hand of G-d. They saw the amazing proofs of the existence and
the power of the Lord and they still could not believe it. How could
that be? Of course, from our vantage point separated by thousands
of years and never having experienced slavery, it is easier for us
to judge the Jews of that generation harshly. But, though they had all that evidence of G-d's power and might and of His commitment
to his people, the people who had chosen Him after all, it was obviously
still not enough to balance out the effects of centuries of slavery.
was apparently with that in mind that the Lord introduced the Sanctuary
that it might serve as a constant reminder of G-d's presence among
His People. It was hoped that the mutual commitment between His People
and their G-d would be constantly brought to mind by the close proximity
of the Spirit of the Lord in residence in the Mishkan; the Tabernacle.
The People would then be moved to live their lives in the way of the
Lord's commandments. The arrangement between the Lord and the Jewish People was and is a conditional one; if we live according
to the precepts set down by the Almighty, he will dwell among us;
and later, when the Jews at last do inhabit the Promised Land, they
will be permitted to continue to stay in that Holy Land so long as
they again stay the course as His precepts demand.
flip side of that conditional arrangement is that were the Jewish
People not to live according to His rules, the Lord would leave and
no longer dwell among us; ie. the Sanctuary would then be reduced
to an assemblage of things with little if any purpose.
modern day Temples and Synagogues are perhaps as close as we can come
to reminding ourselves of the importance and the Power of the Sanctuary
and of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on uniting and inspiring the Jewish
People to live lives of merit. However, the use of Mazozot placed
on our residential door posts can be an additional reminder for us
to follow the rules. So, too can the gatherings that we have around
our family dinner tables on Sabbaths and Holidays. In all these and more the conditional relationship between the Lord and the Children
of Israel is as alive today as it was when the portable Sanctuary
was carried and revered for those 40 years all those centuries ago.
painting of the Sedra and the Haftorah is an effort to capture the
essence of the place and space of the Mishkan with the knowledge that
most of it would have been known by reputation rather than having
been witnessed directly. The sky-blue color surrounding the encampment made
up of flag-shaped areas incorporating the various known symbols and
aspects of each group are allowed to live separately but work together
to form the overall encampment as it was deployed each evening. The
sand colored spaces within the compound devoted to the Sanctuary could
be any piece of the wilderness; nothing special really except that
it would be chosen to be the momentary dwelling to the Lord Himself.
That shows us that all things can be potentially Holy depending on
its use rather than on what it actually is. The elements of the Holy areas of the
Mishkan presented a special challenge that I tried to meet by using
colors to set apart or offset the stones of the Tablets of the Covenant making the most unexciting and perhaps the least "attractive"
of the entire painting the most important item of them all. There
is a hidden arrow of light leading upward through the entire inner
area of the Tabernacle representing the spiritual energy that would
be moving into and through the structure on its way back to its source;
the Lord G-d.
is a tendency for us sometimes to get mired down in detail and to
miss the moment. The Sanctuary is there for us to remember our relationship
with our Maker and of our belief in His great promise to us that is
a certainty when we live the life he hopes we will.
February 2009 – Shevat 5769
© Drew Kopf 2009