Parashas Terumah

This week’s parashah describes the design of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Ark, which contained the Tablets of the Law, represents the Torah. The Ark was built with a crown. The Gemara in Yoma 72b remarks: “If a person merits, the Torah becomes a crown (zeir) for him. And if the does not merit, it becomes a stranger (zarah) to him.” The Maggid discusses this Gemara in the introduction to Sefer HaMiddos. He asks the question: What makes a person merit the Torah? He answers with a well-known teaching in Vayikra Rabbah 9:3: “Derech Eretz (decent conduct) precedes Torah.” The term Derech Eretz, says the Maggid, encompasses a range of good character traits such as speaking only the truth, acting with compassion toward others, doing acts of kindness, being humble, and so on. A person of good character who learns Torah is like a person in fine, respectable clothing who wears a crown – the crown befits him. And a person of bad character who learns Torah is like a person dressed in rags who wears a crown – the crown looks strange on him.
Hashem exhorts us (Vayikra 19:1): “Be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy.” Hashem calls upon us to be His devoted servants. But before taking this role upon ourselves, we must first shed our bad character traits and make ourselves decent human beings. In this vein, the prophet Yeshayah exhorts us in Hashem’s Name, saying (Yeshayah 1:16-18): ”Wash yourselves, cleanse yourselves, remove your evildoing from before My eyes – cease doing evil. Learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says Hashem: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red like crimson, they shall like wool.” The Maggid brings out the idea with a parable about a husband and wife who were quarreling over money issues. During the period that they were quarreling, the husband got severely sick and was confined to bed. But while he was in his sickbed, he continued quarreling with his wife. The wife said to him: “Why are you still quarreling with me when you have not been cured of your illness? First turn yourself into a functioning person, and then we can discuss our money issues.” Thus, the prophet Hoshea exhorts us (Hoshea 14:2): “Return, O Yisrael, unto (ad) Hashem your God.” Hoshea uses unusual phrasing here: instead of the more natural l‘Hashem or el Hashem, he uses the phrasing ad Hashem, meaning literally that we should return “up to” Hashem. We have to work our way up, first going through the preliminary stages of character development, and afterward turning ourselves into Hashem‘s servants.
L‘Ilui nishmas Devorah Rivka bas Avraham, my dear great-aunt Rebecca, who passed away this week.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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