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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Terumah

Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion. (25:2)

One would expect that it would be incumbent upon every individual to participate in the building of the Mishkan. Yet, the Torah’s standard is to take donations only "from every man whose heart motivates him." Regarding other mitzvos, the Torah places emphasis upon activity, the ma’aseh ha’mitzvah. Of prime importance regarding the building of the Mishkan is that the individual displays unequivocal ratzon, good will and desire to give. Imagine, had the people not exhibited pure ratzon to contribute towards the Mishkan, the Mishkan never would have been built! It behooves us to understand the significance of this willingness to contribute, a trait which represents the underlying motif of the Mishkan.

Rashi defines the word "li," for Me, as "lishmi," for My Name. This implies that it is not sufficient for the individual merely to give willingly. Rather, one must demonstrate explicit intention to contribute for the sake of Hashem’s Name. He must have kavanah, intention, to donate towards Hashem’s Mishkan. Without this exclusive intention, the ensuing construction is invalid. He must give the money willingly, and with intention for it to help build Hashem’s Mishkan; otherwise it will not be the Mishkan. It will be an ordinary structure. Why?

Last, for certain mitzvos, "lishmah," intention for the mitzvah, is a pre-requisite. We never find this demand in effect in the preparations for the mitzvah. For instance, a get, divorce, must be written "lishmah"; that criteria, however, applies only to the actual writing. The Torah certainly does not demand that the quill be made lishmah, or that the parchment be made lishmah from its very beginning when the skin is flayed from the animal. Regarding the Miskdash, however, it would be invalid to use a stone which had not been hewed explicitly to use in the construction of the Mikdash. The question is glaring: Why should the Mishkan/Mikdash necessitate such kavanah for every aspect of involvement, to its culmination that each act must be performed with one intention --l’sheim Hashem, for Hashem’s Mishkan?

Horav Avigdor Nebentzhal, Shlita, gives a practical, yet compelling response. The greater kedushah, holiness, of an object/endeavor, the greater care we must take to see to it that the entire process be replete with holiness every step of the way. Its origin, the foundation upon which it is built, must be untainted and pure. Only when the foundation is kadosh, holy, can the edifice be similarly holy.

In the Talmud Kesubos 103b, Chazal relate how Rabbi Chiya dedicated himself to making sure that Torah would never be forgotten in Klal Yisrael. He planted the flax seeds. He spun the flax into yarn from which he made nets. He utilized the nets to catch deer. He used the flesh of the deer to feed orphans. Finally, from the hide, he made parchment upon which he wrote the Torah. He then travelled to any city which did not have a melamed tinokos, Torah teacher for young children, in order to teach them Torah. If we think about it, Rabbi Chiya seemed to be "carried away" with his preparations for teaching the children. He could have just as easily purchased skins or even a ready-made Sefer Torah from which to teach. Why did he put himself through so much trouble, spend so much time and effort preparing the scrolls?

The answer, claims Horav Nebentzhal, is that in order to ensure that Torah not be forgotten, the entire process must be pristine. It must be totally lishmah from its very beginning. Rabbi Chiya departed from his personal Torah study for many hours in order to see to it that the Torah he was teaching was lishmah--from its very beginning. He knew that if the yesod, foundation, is not lishmah, somewhere down the line that flaw would surface. Rabbi Chiya was uncompromising in his approach towards teaching Torah. Is there really any other effective way?

You shall cover it with pure gold, from within and from without you shall cover it.

The Aron’s connection with the Torah is obvious. Indeed, the arrangment of pure gold both within and without symbolizes Chazal’s dictum that a Torah scholar’s public behavior must be consistent with his inner character. He cannot profess one set of beliefs in his relationship with Hashem while acting in a manner unbecoming a person of his spiritual stature in his interaction with people. A talmid chacham is--and should be--the embodiment of Torah. This should be reflected in his total demeanor.

The Talmud, Berachos 28a, relates that when Rabban Gamliel was the Nasi, prince, he decreed that any student who was not tocho k’baro, his public demeanor not consistent with his internal character, could not enter the Bais Hamedrash to study Torah. Obviously, such a demanding criterion precluded many from entering the yeshivah’s halls to study Torah. When Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah became the Nasi, he removed the guard that stood by the door as he relaxed the standard for entrance into the yeshivah. Now it became possible for anyone who desired to study Torah to gain access to the Bais Hamedrash. That day many new benches were added to the Bais Hamedrash to accommodate the influx of students.

The commentators question the identity of the shomer ha’pesach, the watchman who was able to discern the spiritual integrity of those who entered. Horav Avraham Yaakov Zvi, z"l m’Sadiger, comments that actually no guard was tending the door. The doors of the Bais Hamedrash were sealed closed with a bolt. The student who was really devoted to his studies, who would not let anything stand in the way of his spiritual achievement, found a way to get into the yeshivah. His entry was dependent upon his desire. He who "traversed high fences" or "dug deep beneath the ground" to gain access to the House of Study, manifested that he truly possessed the resolution to study Torah, regardless of the circumstances. This type of student embodied the trait, tocho k’baro.

Horav D. Eisman, Shlita, observes that Chazal say that "benches" were added. They do not focus on the many students who joined, but rather on the benches. This implies that perhaps not so many new students came. Rather the students’ perspective towards material comfort was transformed. The previous student body, whose spiritual devotion and integrity were unquestionable, sufficed when studying Torah--even under conditions that did not seem to provide for their creature comforts. Even a crowded Bais Hamedrash with no place to sit did not deter them from studying Torah. The new breed of students found it necessary to demand a state-of-the-art Bais Hamedrash. Suddenly, there were not enough benches to enable everyone to sit comfortably. By relaxing the requirements for entrance, they also diminished the standard of excellence among some of their students. It became crucial to provide for the new group of students as well as the original ones. Only a gifted and devoted Rosh Hayeshivah would have the skill to integrate the group in such a way that the incoming students would fall under the influence of those who also demonstrated a greater regard for their studies. That is the basis of chinuch, Torah education.

You shall make the Mizbayach of Shittim wood...the Mizbayach shall be square. (27:1)

The Mizbayach, Altar, was to be perfectly square shaped. What special significance is there in the fact that the architectural design of the Mizbayach--and for that matter, the Mishkan, the Aron Hakodesh and the Shulchan--consisted of rectangular lines? Horav S. R. Hirsch, z"l, observes that all of nature’s products are symbolized by circularity. Only the human being, whose mind can impose limitations and parameters upon himself, is able to create objects with straight lines and angles. The circle represents the absence of limitation to freedom and autonomy. This lack of restraint reflects tumah, spiritual impurity. The rectangle, on the other hand, symbolizes independent will dominating the material world. It represents restraint and control. Hence, it reflects the concept of taharah, spiritual purity. The Mishkan, as well as the holy keilim, appurtenances, represented kedushah and taharah. Therefore they consisted of rectangular lines.

The Mishkan stands in contrast to nature. It represents the sanctification of humans to the spiritual ideal. It characterizes a life of moral self-control, a life of constraint, a life of sanctity. The concept of the Mishkan implies man’s ability to resist the internal forces which compel him to defer to his natural tendencies. Horav Hirsch compares the Mizbayach to the Tefillin, which are also square. While the Mizbayach sanctifies the flesh and blood, the Tefillin represent the submission of man’s organs to the service of Hashem.

You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of Shittim wood, standing erect. (26:15)

The walls of the Mishkan were formed of huge planks of Shittim, acacia wood. The Midrash relates that Yaakov Avinu foresaw that one day Bnei Yisrael would build a Mishkan in the wilderness, in a place that evidently did not have such trees growing. He took trees with him when he left for Egypt. He planted these trees in Egypt, instructing his children to take the trees with them when they leave Egypt. It is interesting to note that Yaakov was not concerned about obtaining the various other materials necessary for the Mishkan. Targum Yonasan explains that these materials were "delivered" to them miraculously by the Heavenly clouds. Why was Yaakov concerned about the pillars, but not about the other materials? Why did he not rely upon a miracle to provide the atzei Shittim?

We suggest that a valuable lesson can be inferred from this pasuk. The Kerashim, planks, formed the foundation of the Mishkan. They constituted the walls of the Mishkan. When one builds a Torah edifice, he should not rely upon miracles. He must apply blood, sweat and tears. He must devote himself totally to creating a makom Torah. Then, Hashem will provide the rest. To build a Torah institution, one needs more than money. He needs mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. After one has toiled assiduously and prepared the foundation, he can then anticipate that Hashem will sustain the makom Torah that he has built. The raw materials which served as the foundation of the Mishkan had been with Bnei Yisrael for hundreds of years. Their care and devotion to these materials prepared them for the first makom Torah.

See and make, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain. (25:40)

Rashi explains that Moshe was unable to construct the Menorah. Hashem showed him a Heavenly vision of a Menorah of fire. Moshe was still unable to build the Menorah. Hashem then told him to cast the mass of gold into the fire and give it one blow with the hammer. A finished Menorah would emerge. Moshe did as he was told, and the Menorah miraculously emerged from the fire. We must endeavor to understand why Moshe was shown the Menorah if he would not be able to recreate the design. He was still unable to grasp its fabrication. The Sefas Emes infers a valuable lesson in avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. A person should know that he cannot possibly fulfill everything that is demanded of him. Yet, he must make the extreme effort to satisfy Hashem’s demand to the fullest of his capabilities. Hashem will accomplish the remainder. Hashem knew that Moshe would not be able to make the Menorah for a number of reasons. Without Divine assistance, attempting to construct the Menorah would be futile. Hashem wanted Moshe to do his utmost, to demonstrate his uncompromising ratzon, will, to create the Menorah. Once Moshe saw the Heavenly vision of the Menorah, he developed that will. Hashem assisted him at this point so that his will would achieve fruition.

The Sefas Emes adds that even after Moshe formed the Menorah, he attributed its creation to the Almighty. He realized it was a gift from Heaven. He perceived his good fortune in being able to have a small part in the creation of the Menorah. We learn two lessons from the Sefas Emes. First, everything is initiated through one’s ratzon. One who has the will and the drive to accomplish, one who does not defer to his feelings of inadequacy and depression, but proceeds, will succeed. If one starts, Hashem will help him finish. Second, we learn that whatever success we enjoy is only the result of Hashem’s assistance. Nothing can be achieved to perfection without Divine assistance. Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential teacher of Klal Yisrael, was perplexed by the Menorah. Even after Hashem showed him a Heavenly image of it, he could not fashion it. He needed Hashem. How much more so do we?!


1. Which one of the materials used for the Mishkan, other than metal, was not derived from a living creature?
2. Which material that was used for the Mishkan did Yaakov Avinu prepare for Bnei Yisrael generations previously?
3. What was the distance between the Badim and the Aron?
4. Which of the Klei Hamishkan was to be hammered out from one large piece of gold?
5. When were the Luchos placed in the Aron: before the Kapores was made or after?
6. How many yemos Hamilluim were there?
7. For which sin did the Mizbayach Hanechoshes atone?


1. Sheish, linen
2. Shittim wood which was used for the Kerashim, planks.
3. 2 1/2 amos.
4. The Menorah.
5. The Luchos were placed into the Aron first, then the Kapores was placed on it.
6. 10.
7. Brazenness.


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