Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I know that I should be thinking of Purim, not Sukkot. However, for the last few days I have been contemplating the incredible joy of the Nisuch Hamayim (Water Libation service). I suppose I have been unconsciously preparing for Adar. Anyhow, with such thoughts on my mind I was struck by an idea or two while reading the parshah that I wanted to share.

I will begin by confessing that I have always found Terumah (not to mention next week's Tetzaveh) difficult. I find myself not absorbing the parshah, because I instead get caught up in trying to visualize how the items looked, i.e. how they could be assembled from their various components, and how they in turn came together as a completed unit. B'H', this year, for whatever reason, I managed to focus on the descriptions themselves more and noticed two elements of the parshah for the first time:
  1. All "work"-related items where made of copper
  2. The term "on the mountain" is used twice
What is so interesting about copper being used for the vessels, the altar, the pegs of the courtyard, etc.? Copper is contrasted with silver and gold, metals that are used here for beautification. This contrast emphasizes that these items, which were the ones most frequently used by the Leviim and Kohanim in the Temple and which formed not only the foundation of the Temple service but the supporting structure of the Temple itself, were self-effacing. To put it another way and use a word that is perhaps being overused on this blog, this contrast emphasizes that copper is a humble, commonplace metal. The description thus intimates that as beautiful as the multi-coloured curtains, silver, and gold were, humble copper was the true star. The copper reflected the humility that was the prerequisite for successful service by the Kohanim and Leviim. After all, we only have to read almost any Haftorah to see that most rebukes refer to lack of humility on the part of Kohanim. Humility was the foundation of the Temple, and the source of its beauty; the gold, silver, and vibrant colours enhanced the fundamental beauty that was encapsulated in the copper vessels, etc. that constituted the Temple service.

A basic interpretation of repeating "on the mountain" is that the phrase reinforces the notion that Hashem is the source of the Temple's design, and that Moshe received the elaborate instructions twice in order that he understand them perfectly and communicate them precisely to the craftsmen. That being said, this phrase also reinforces the connection between the gold and copper used: In the first instance, "you are shown on the mountain" refers to the gold of the menorah, and in the second "as you were shown on the mountain" refers to the copperwork of the altar.

In its purity, gold is an often-used symbol for the highest level of spiritual experience. Thus, it is fitting that the menorah, which illuminated the Temple and generated light outward from within, would be made of gold. By using the present, active voice ("you are shown on the mountain"), we understand that the golden menorah represents the highest form of closeness to Hashem, that immediate, unhindered basking in his presence. This proximity is seemingly lessened by the use of the past tense ("as you were shown on the mountain"), and that is the point: in our daily lives post-Har Sinai, we must build up our service of Hashem since we are further removed from Him. Therefore, the "cleansing" aspects of the service that purified the Kohanim and atoned for the Klal were performed with copper, a humble element, but were related to achieving a closer, more perfect relationship with Hashem as represented by gold.

So, a Rosh Chodesh Tov everyone. B'H', we have made it to another Adar! Of course, while I am not chassidishe, I do believe that we should always act as if it is Adar, i.e. we should be b'simcha, which shows the greatest level of bitachon in Hashem. Not that I am claiming to be at that level. But I suppose I am hoping that once I achieve that mindset, I will merit being able to see the Nisuch Hamayim performed again. After all, it is Adar. And there is always hope.

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