Terumah: Atonement or Elevation?


A massive fundraising campaign was kicked off after the Exodus to fund the construction of the Tabernacle. When exactly did it take place? And why exactly was a Tabernacle necessary?

Lesson Contents:

A. Torah is Not Sequential

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands the people of Israel to build a Tabernacle (Source 1). But how exactly did these events pan out?

According to Rashi, everything about the Tabernacle — G-d’s command, Moses transmitting it, the fundraising and the construction — took place after Yom Kippur, when G-d forgave the people for the scent of the Golden Calf. In his opinion, the Tabernacle serves as an atonement for the Golden Calf, and he reads it into various elements of the text (Source 2-3-4).

The second approach, taken by Nachmanides, follows the basic sequence of the text in the Torah. The command regarding the Tabernacle came immediately after the giving of the Torah, but the continuation of this story took place after the Sin of the Golden Calf (Source 5).

The third approach, that of the Zohar, asserts that the events surrounding the Tabernacle all took place before the sin of the Golden Calf, aside for its actual construction (Source 6). In this version, G-d proceeds the commands regarding the Tabernacle to the sin of the Golden Calf, to preempt its negative effects.

B. The Tabernacle’s Purpose

All three opinions seem to follow a basic premise —that the Tabernacle is associated with the sin of the Golden Calf. But in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe says something fascinating (Source 7).

The commands regarding the Tabernacle followed the giving of the Torah — as claimed by the Zohar —but for a different reason: 

The giving of the Torah brought with it an intense revelation — one which completely overwhelmed the people. The Tabernacle had nothing to do with the Golden Calf; it was to allow the people to internalize that revelation.

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