An Offering We Can't Refuse
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the Children of Israel, that they should bring Me
an Elevated-Offering (T'rumah) ... (Shemos 25:1)
On this posuk, the Ba'al HaTurim writes:
"The letters are "Torah" and "mem"-the Torah that was given in forty days
is for those who eat t'rumah." (Ba'al HaTurim)
The word "t'rumah" is spelled, tav, raish, vav, mem, heh. If the "mem" is
removed, then the letters that spell "Torah" remain. The Hebrew letter
"mem" represents the number forty, and hence, the Ba'al HaTurim's
connection to the forty days during which Moshe received Torah from G-d on
As we have mentioned many times before, forty is a significant number,
because it represents a period of development and gestation. At forty days
the soul is said to enter the body of the fetus, and therefore the gender
of the child is then decided (Brochos 60a).
The rains of Noach lasted 40 days and 40 nights, as part of the
purification process after the immoral generations of the Flood. Moshe was
up on Mt. Sinai for three sets of 40 days, and lived for three sets of 40
years. The Jewish people wandered in the desert for a total of 40 years,
after being "strangers in a land not their own" for 400 years (40 x 10 is
another level of the same idea).
Why the letter "mem"--why does it represent so much?
The answer is becomes clearer if you look at a real letter "mem," that is,
the one that is found in a Sefer Torah. For a scribe to properly
"construct" a mem, he attaches two other letters together: a "chof" to the
right, and a "vav" to the left.
Combined, the gematria of the chof and the vav equals twenty-six, the same
numerical value of G-d's Four-Letter, Ineffable Name--a Name so holy we
don't even pronounce it the way it is written. It was also twenty-six
generations since Adam ate from the Forbidden Tree, until Moshe stood upon
Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.
Torah is revelation. Even though Torah is a composite of narration,
stories, and mitzvos, it is, first and foremost, the revelation of G-d's
master plan for creation. Remarkably, Torah is the way the Master of the
Universe thinks, and what He thinks about His creation.
Nature is the opposite. Nature is a veil over the hand of G-d, so-to-speak.
On this level of "revelation," G-d is referred to as "Elokim" (with an "h"
and not the "k"), which has the same numerical value as the word "ha-teva"
(86), which means "the nature." Just like the body is clothing for the
soul, and hides its presence, so too does Nature "enclothe" G-d's
revelation and hides His Presence.
It is to this that the Ba'al HaTurim alludes, for, halachically, only
kohanim (priests) can eat t'rumah. But, as we know, Torah is for all Jews.
Therefore, here, we must conclude, "T'rumah-Eaters" are those who look at
Torah as being injected with the "mem," that is, on the level of revelation
of "chof-vav," twenty-six, of G-d's Ineffable Name.
It is with such an approach to Torah that it opens its "gates" and reveal
its "soul" to us, or better yet, its "sod". On such a level of recognition
and respect, our Torah learning itself becomes an "Elevated-Offering" to
G-d, and even allows us to contribute to building a Mishkan--a world within
which the Divine Presence can dwell.
"Make an Ark from acacia wood two amos, and a half in length ..." (Shemos
The Talmud asks an interesting question, and answers from an even more
How do we know that one who adds really lessens? Because it says:
"Make an Ark from acacia wood two amos (ammasayim: aleph, mem, tav, yud,
mem), and a half in length ..." (Shemos 25:10)
"Take away the 'aleph' and you are left with two hundreds (masayim: mem,
tav, yud, mem) amah ..." (Rashi)
In other words, according to Rashi, the addition of the aleph to the word
reduces its value from "200" to "2." The Maharshah has problems with
Rashi's interpretation, and the Vilna Gaon offers his own. However, what is
interesting is that this very important lesson is taught "by-the-way" while
talking about something seemingly totally unrelated to the issue, the
building of the Ark.
Of course, that's the first clue that there is something important to learn
here that we otherwise would have overlooked. In fact, the other two
opinions bring a source from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and
the curtains made for the Appointed Tent, also in this week's parshah.
Though it is not necessarily always true that "more is less," it is true
that, when it comes to the service of G-d, one has to keep in mind that
over-indulgence in the physical world interferes with spiritual growth:
"... It has become an accepted philosophy in Jewish circles that it is the
goal of life to attain as many luxuries and as much enjoyment as possible,
but in a 'kosher' manner, of course ... A Jew must not think that it is
correct to seek the fulfillment of all possible desires. Aspirations to buy
an elegant car or a luxuriously furnished house with the most modern
gadgets generate the need for money ... If we only resist the yetzer hara
that demands all attainable luxuries, we will be able to spend less time on
business and find more time for Torah-study." (HaGaon R' Moshe Feinstein;
As Rabbi Feinstein mentions in another part of this quote, we don't have to
live according to the frugal standards of European, pre-war Jewry. However,
alludes the posuk, it is hard to build an "Ark" for G-d while one is
building his own personal estate--and everyone must build an Ark for G-d,
at least spiritually.
There is a balance that a Jew must strike between the physical and
spiritual worlds. We must recognize when our pursuit of wealth and
increasement of comfort is, in fact, bringing a diminution to our spiritual
side, and maintain that balance at all costs.
You shall set up the Mishkan according to how you were shown by the
mountain [Sinai]. (Shemos 26:30)
After having been given the instructions for the different parts of the
Mishkan, G-d gave Moshe the commandment to put it all together, and bring
into reality a microcosmic version of creation. And, even though the
construction of the Mishkan was one of the most positive and enthralling
moments in the entire history of mankind, still, the Chasam Sofer finds an
allusion in this posuk to just the opposite:
"You shall set up the Mishkan" (Hebrew: va-hakaimosa es HaMishkan)--the
last letter of each word when combined is "tav, tav, nun," which has the
same numerical value as the number of years the Jewish people were in Eretz
Yisroel until the destruction of the First Temple (from the time the Jewish
people left Egypt until they built the Temple 480 years, which stood for
410 years; subtract the years spent in the desert--40 years--and you arrive
at the 850 years they were in Eretz Yisroel). The first letters of the
entire verse total forty, corresponding to the forty years the Jewish
people were in the desert ..." (Chasam Sofer, T'rumah)
The Chasam Sofer does not finish there. He makes more calculations, one
showing the number of years that the Jewish people offered sacrifices to
G-d. He ends off with a reference to a verse in Daniel that hints to the
day destined for the arrival of Moshiach!
The question is, why so much from one posuk (ignoring the question of, how
so much from one posuk)?
The answer is, when we say that the Mishkan was a miniature replication of
the entire universe, we aren't kidding. Just like the world is the physical
expression of the Torah, which is the "blueprint" for creation, so too was
the Mishkan, albeit on a smaller scale.
Therefore, one could expect that the verse that deals with the building of
the Mishkan is in itself, like a miniature Torah with important historical
details. And it would make a lot of sense that those details should include
exiles and redemptions, and sacrifices.
In the end, all of this brings to mind the instructive statement from
Ben Bag Bag said: Turn it [Torah] over and over again, for everything is in
it ... (Pirkei Avos 5:26)
How much of "everything"?
"The principle is that all that has been, is now, or will ever be is
included in the Torah, from [the word] "Bereishis" until [the last words of
the Torah] "before all the eyes of Israel." This does not only mean the
general things, but even all the specifics of every species and person,
including all that will happen to him from the day he is born until the day
he dies, including all his reincarnations and minutest details ..." (Biur
HaGra, Safra D'Tzniusa, Chapter Five)
Rav Yehudah son of Rav Shmuel son of Shilas said in the name of Rav: Just
as we reduce joy when the month of Av comes in, so too do we increase joy
when Adar comes in. (Ta'anis 29a)
This week, G-d willing, is Rosh Chodesh Adar (Tuesday and Wednesday,
beginning Monday night). This time of year is a reverse image of what we
feel during the summer time, when the month of Av comes in, heralding the
beginning of the "Nine Days," and the final stages of that period of
mourning over the loss of the Temples. This week, however, we gear up for
the joy of Purim, and the period of redemption that it begins, climaxing
with Pesach and Seder-Night.
Is the comparison between Av and Adar merely circumstantial? Tisha B'Av
mourns the loss of the Temple, while Purim represents the redemption from
Babylonian Exile and Haman's "Final Solution." What connection could there
Megillas Esther begins with Achashveros' 180-day feast. What was he
celebrating? He was celebrating the end of the mysterious seventy years of
Jewish exile, by the end of which the Jewish people were supposed to have
been redeemed. If they were redeemed, then Achashveros would have had
little to celebrate. If they weren't redeemed, it would have meant that G-d
had severed His relationship to the forlorn Jewish nation--forever.
To emphasize to his Jewish subjects the latter, Achashveros insisted upon
using the holy Temple vessels at his very unholy party (Megillah 11b). How
would that make his point? Because, as we learn in this week's parshah:
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the Children of Israel, that they should bring Me
an Elevated-Offering, every person according to what his heart compels ...
These offerings of gold and silver were called "gifts of the heart," and
they were used to make the Temple vessels. They represented the Jewish
people's love of G-d, and their desire to serve Him. What they made for the
Mishkan in this week's parshah was used in the Temple later as well, and
did not lose its meaning.
When Achashveros took those very same vessels and used them as if they now
belonged to him, he was making a statement: Your G-d has abandoned you, and
now your hearts belong to me.
Of course, we have lived to see how wrong he was, and Purim is the
celebration of this error. This is why Adar is the "flip-side" of Av. For,
whereas Av focuses the nation on the fact that we cannot be whole until we
regain the Temple, Adar encourages us by saying: Even still, Jewish life
can, and MUST go on, because G-d is still with you, and will ALWAYS be with
you, wherever you go.
However, the time will come when, G-d willing, both times will merge, and
each will become its own celebration of the rebuilding of the final Holy
Temple, and the complete redemption of the Jewish people. Then we will see
how, though the hand of G-d was hidden, it never really went away. We will
finally understand what it means that the Divine Presence went into exile
with its people, because, we will witness its redemption while we witness
our very own.