You are currently viewing Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Terumah

Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Terumah




In this week’s Torah portion of Terumah, we learn about the architecture and design of the mishkan, the temple that travelled with the Jewish people through the desert and into the land of Israel. We learn the intricacies and specifics of constructing the vessels, including the dimensions and materials to be used. When completed, these vessels were placed in the mishkan, which remained with them until the permanent temple was built by King Solomon.

The specifications of building the mishkan are not limited to this parsha alone; they are also related throughout the next three Torah portions, for a total of four chapters dedicated to this important enterprise.

The Kli Yakar questions the measurements of certain vessels discussed in this week’s parsha—specifically the ark, the showbread table, and the altar. The measurements indicated for these vessels are as follows: the ark was 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, and 1.5 cubits high. The altar was 5 cubits long, 5 cubits wide, and 3 cubits high; while the showbread table was 2 cubits long, 1 cubit wide, and 1.5 cubits high.

The KliYakar notes that the ark has all incomplete, fractional measurements; the altar has complete, whole number measurements, whereas the showbread table has a combination of both complete and incomplete measurements. He shares that perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the types of measurements that were used for each of the vessels.

Let’s look at each in turn: the ark, which held the Torah, can be said to be the most spiritual of all the vessels. The ark’s fractional measurements point to humankind’s incomplete spirituality. We enter the world complete on a physical plane but remain incomplete on a spiritual plane. We are meant to repair this sense of incompleteness by growing, learning, and advancing in our knowledge and relationship with G-d.

On the other end of the spectrum is the altar, the vessel that was to be constructed according to whole units of measurement. This represents the wholeness and completeness that we must strive for in building a whole and complete connection with G-d.

The altar represents a coming together, a rapprochement between G-d and the Jewish people, in that the ark was the medium for bridging the chasm between G-d and humankind by way of the sacrifices brought upon it.  

While striving to close the divide between ourselves and the divine, we can take another lesson from the earth that was set inside the altar, catching the drippings and ashes that fell down while the sacrifices were being burnt.

The earth reminds us that as humans, we come from dust and return to dust, a sobering thought meant to instill a send of humility. This realization is not meant to make us feel a sense of worthlessness or to debase our conception of ourselves as spiritual beings; rather, it is meant to remind us that everything we have, including our minds and talents, all come from G-d. Recognizing our dependence on G-d serves to contract the space that separates us.

We now arrive to the showbread table, which was used to display twelve loaves of bread that remained fresh until they were replaced the following week. The table and the bread that was set upon it represent materialism and sustenance.

As for the combination of whole and half measurements of the showbread table, we learn about the relationship we are meant to have with materialism.

The half measurements indicate that we often feel incomplete and unfulfilled in satisfying our material wants. The reality is that no matter how wealthy a person may be, there is always a feeling of lacking in the material world.

Nevertheless, the whole measurements of the showbread table reminds us that although we live in in a broken and incomplete world, one in which our feelings of lack and deprivation often prevail, we must strive to attain a sense of completeness and wholeness nevertheless.

We must strive to achieve a sense of spiritual completeness all while battling a sense of incompleteness. True wealth comes from a sense of inner and spiritual fulfillment: as the well-known mishna in Pirkei Avot teaches us, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.”

If we can achieve this lofty state, our relationship with our material goods is then transformed into vehicles for spiritual service; that is, we can use whatever material goods we have to uplift ourselves and others—to achieve a more complete union with G-d.

On a more literal sense, we can use our actual table for spiritual purposes—to uplift the mundane into something far greater—by inviting guests to our table and by saying blessings over food.

All of the above life lessons can be encapsulated in the Hebrew word for measurement, “middot,” which interestingly also means “character traits.” We are asked to measure ourselves continually, to evaluate our characters, as we build a relationship with the material world and the Divine. It is only then that we can capture and put into action a life of fulfilment and inner sustenance suggested by the measurements of the temple’s vessels.  

For those wishing to Hennie's Torah Tuesday classes online, please contact Hennie Black at