Parashah of the week: Terumah

“You will make planks for the Tabernacle” Exodus 26:15


The above verse, like many others in this week's Torah portion, seems like a mundane detail on a builder's plan. It does not cry out with any obvious spiritual or psychological meaning. However, for our mystics, every letter and word of the Torah are imbued with limitless significance, and they each offer us profound guidance for how to live.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephrayim of Sudilkov (Ukraine, 1748 – 1800) is best known for being the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who founded the revolutionary Chasidic movement. Chasidism successfully revitalised large swathes of eastern European Jewry, by emphasising the cultivation of joy and connection with our Infinite Source.

Rabbi Moshe offers a beautiful interpretation of our verse, which is typical of his own teachings, and those of early Chasidism in general. The teaching leans upon another, more frequently cited, verse: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The Hebrew word for “among them” is betocham, which can also mean “within them”.

The planks of the Tabernacle run vertically from the lowly earth to the lofty ceiling, and they help to create a sacred space for intimacy. Rabbi Moshe writes that these planks remind us to serve the Infinite One with all of our diverse parts and faculties, from the most base to the most exalted. He points out, drawing on the Zohar, that the letters of the word for plank, keresh, can also form the word kasher, which means “tie” or “attach”.

His advice is that even when we are engaged in behaviour motivated by our selfish or even destructive parts, we should attempt to attach (kasher) ourselves to our divine root. He is suggesting that we not exclude any part of ourselves from divine service, rather that we consciously invite and include everything we experience into our relationship with the Infinite One. He says that by doing this, “we elevate everything we experience, and are ourselves elevated, and we make good from bad.”

A well-known rabbinic teaching states: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). Rabbi Moshe writes that this means, “One should learn even from our destructive tendencies.” By doing so, he says that we can transform the quality of judgement or severity to compassion. May we heed his call for accepting and including all of ourselves as we strive to be the best versions of ourselves that we possibly can.

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