Parshat Truma: Judaism is a gate to the real thing

We can’t help but wonder: Why do you we need to know all these details?

‘THE TORAH is a gate’: Old Jerusalem outer gate of the Istanbuli Synagogue, Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘THE TORAH is a gate’: Old Jerusalem outer gate of the Istanbuli Synagogue, Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In this week’s Torah portion, Truma, we are swept into a world that is foreign to modern man, though magical and wondrous.
We read detailed instructions for building the mishkan, the Tabernacle – the temporary temple that accompanied the Jewish nation until the permanent Temple was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The instructions included the Tabernacle’s area, height, what its walls would be made of, how the wooden boards would be connected to one another, what its ceiling would be made of, and how its opening should be closed; which ritual utensils it would contain, what these utensils would be made of, their exact size, what they would be used for and where they would be situated.
We can’t help but wonder: Why do you we need to know all these details?
The sages of the Talmud and midrash dealt with these issues through an ideological-symbolic perspective. In their opinion, every detail represents a specific essence that exists in reality in every generation and in every culture. The Tabernacle was not only a temporary structure. It stood for several centuries until its role was finished, but the significance it represented never disappeared. For this reason – for thousands of years after the Tabernacle ceased to exist – Jews still listen to this parasha again and again, and try to understand, with the help of the sages, the messages we are supposed to learn from it.
Thus, for example, the main item in the Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark stood in the most sacred corner of the Tabernacle: the Holy of Holies. The Ark contained the two tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai etched with the Ten Commandments heard at the revelation at Mount Sinai. When we consider that the central item in the Tabernacle was the Ark containing the Tablets of the Covenant, we understand that the Tabernacle was meant to preserve the memory of the revelation at Mount Sinai through the placement of the Torah, which was given at that event, in the center of the Tabernacle.
The Ark therefore represents those who hold the Torah within them: those who study Torah. The following sayings by the greatest sages in Babylon during the times of the Amoraim stem from this:
The verse states concerning the Ark: “From within and from without you shall cover it” (Exodus 25:11). “Rava said: This alludes to the idea that any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside – i.e., whose outward expression of righteousness is insincere – is not to be considered a Torah scholar.... Rabbi Yannai declared: Pity him who has no courtyard but senselessly makes a gate for his courtyard” (Yoma 72).
If the Ark represents the talmid hacham, the Torah scholar, we must look at the components of the Ark and deduce what the desired traits are for someone studying Torah. The exterior of the Ark was made of gold, as was its interior. Therefore, concludes Rabba, a Torah scholar must be someone whose interior, his fear of God and his emotional characteristics, must be the same as the image he projects outwardly. Rabbi Yannai takes this one step further and says that being God-fearing is the main thing. The Torah is only an entrance gate to the world of God worship, to the world of responsibility and devotion, of good traits and caring. Whoever studies Torah but does not attain these traits is like someone who builds a gate that leads nowhere.
Studying Torah has a purpose. We can take Moses as an example of the ultimate talmid hacham. There was no one in the history of the Jewish nation who studied and taught Torah more than he did, yet the Torah chooses to praise him for his humility: “Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Every person who studies Torah should be equipped with this important knowledge: The Torah is a gate, and is the right and suitable gate, to a world that is God-fearing, full of good traits, honesty and humility.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.