Due to a heavy travel schedule this week we will discuss the parashah for this Sabbath, “Trumah” (Exodus 25:1-27:25) February 16th, and next week’s portion called Titzaveh (Exodus 27:26-30:10). Although each of these parashiyot (plural of parashah) has its own specific theme, if we read them carefully we will note that there are several factors that unite both sections. These are the Bible’s great architectural parashiyot. Indeed, in these two sections, we read about our first major national architectural project.
Both sections deal with the building of the Mishcan (Tabernacle) and both sections provide the reader with great quantities of detail. Even the non-Hebrew reader will notice almost immediately that the Book of Exodus changes its style with the beginning of Parashat Trumah. Normally Biblical texts are sparse in detail, leaving the reader to fill in the adjectival gaps. Now the reader is confronted with an almost overabundance of detail, there is so much detail that one almost feels as if he/she were drowning in details.
Unlike other parashiyot, precision is what matters in these two sections. It is as if the text is teaching us that theory must be balanced with data; that good intentions not translated into precise actions, in the end, matter little. Interestingly enough the Bible waits to provide us with these details only once we are truly free of Pharaoh. It is as if the text is saying that to build, to create is a sign of freedom. Free peoples produce architecture, while slaves do others’ biddings.
This theme of architectural detail is presented with yet another ethical message. Even the greatest of architectural projects depends, just like freedom, on the collective yet individual actions of each citizen. Thus, Parashat Trumah reminds us that the trumah (free will donations) given in the construction of the Tabernacle are to come only from those whose hearts are so inclined. (Ex. 25:2) and Parashat Titzaveh teaches us to transform the trumah by the act of “la’halot ner tamid” (raising up/developing an eternal light/candle).
The term “ner tamid” is often mistranslated as “eternal flame,” but in reality, it has a much broader meaning than the idea expressed by the English translation. A “ner tamid” is the individual eternal spark of each person, the totality of light that comes from doing right, and the vision of goodness translated into the reality of the every day. A ner tamid is always present but not always seen. It is the Bible’s way of stating that creativity without freedom ends in the frustration of darkness.
One lesson that these two sections read together teach us is that to create a functioning and free society, people must do more than merely give money generously. Instead, a free people find a way to fuse different types of “trumot” (free will offerings) with different abilities into a common reality. The way we are commanded to accomplish this task is by merging the “hope of vision” with the “details of precision”.
Is this not the task of both the architect who builds tabernacles and of the social architect who seeks to create a society of free men and women? What do you think?
Youtubes of the week:
Adon Olam in Moscow:
Adon Olam in New York:
Adon Olam in Israel:
Adon Olam on beach in Tel Aviv:
Adon Olam at a Wedding in Latin America: