A Few Thoughts on Terumah

The majority of this week’s parasha, Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19, deals with HaShem’s instructions to Moses concerning the design and construction of the Tabernacle. The first thing on the agenda was for Bnei-Israel to collect an offering, and it was to be a rather unique offering.

The word translated “offering” is terumah, a special gift, a contribution, something dedicated or set apart for sacred use. Notice first that the terumah or offering was to be given as each individual’s “heart compels” them, meaning that the individual had a degree of control over whether they gave, they gave, and how much they gave. Secondly, the terumah was NOT just anything the heart compelled; Hashem gave Moses specific instructions on what type of offerings or materials were to be received. The list was broad enough that everyone would have been able to participate in the terumah in one way or another. There were fifteen categories of items with no set amount stipulated, no minimum, or maximum. 

HaShem told Moses the purpose of this terumah,

“Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. You are to make it all precisely according to everything that I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings within—just so you must make it.”

Exodus 25:8-9

In other words, HaShem told Moses exactly what to collect from Bnei-Israel but left the act of giving and the amounts given to the heart motivation of each person. Only after this did HaShem tell Moses the purpose of the contributions, which probably motivated the people to contribute even more because we read later in Vayakhel that the skilled craftsmen said to Moses, 

“The people are bringing much more than enough for the work of this construction that ADONAI has commanded to be done.”

Exodus 36:5

So, Moses had the order proclaimed throughout the camp, telling the people not to bring any more offerings, that they had all they needed to complete the work. 

Let’s turn to the haftarah, 1 Kings 5:26–6:13. This passage shows Solomon beginning to build the Temple in Jerusalem, almost five centuries after leaving Egypt. The immediate connection between the Torah and the Haftarah reading is the building of a dwelling place for HaShem. But very soon, we see noticeable differences between the two occurrences.

The Tabernacle was a labor of love and gratitude by a people recently freed from slavery and oppression. According to Scripture, the Temple was the desire of King David’s heart, though it would be King Solomon who orchestrated the actual building (I Chronicles 22:6-7). Everyone willingly took part in supplying the materials for and the construction of the Tabernacle. In contrast, the Temple was built with forced labor and materials from Israel and Israel’s allies. And finally, the blueprint for the construction and outfitting of the Tabernacle was divinely given to Moses by HaShem, and Israel was to follow the blueprint without any deviation. The Temple was David’s and Solomon’s idea, probably based upon an amalgamation of the Tabernacle and elements from other Ancient Near East temples. 

I must admit that there have been times when my thought processes led me into areas that would cause some to turn their head sideways and say, “huh?!?” If this application causes you to join with others in this action, I pray that you do not get a crick in your neck but that you stay with me to the end.

As I read the passages concerning the Tabernacle and the Temple, my thoughts went to the Letter to the Hebrews 5:11–6:1. This passage contrasts the food required by newborns and the mature, i.e., milk and solid foods. The author desires that his readers would have grown to the point that they could handle the deeper things of God and not only milk or foundational teachings of the Messianic faith. This is the picture I saw when comparing the Wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. At the foot of the mountain, Bnei-Israel was still in its infancy in understanding their new covenantal relationship with HaShem. Even though they had affirmed at least twice, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey” (Exodus 24:3 & 7), it is a safe bet that the majority did not really understand what they were getting themselves into. HaShem told Moses that he (HaShem) would dwell in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the people. His visible presence would lead and guide the people throughout their travels, and he would continue to care for them, and they, in turn, learned what it meant to be an am segula, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).

Conversely, almost five centuries later, Bnei-Israel had walked with HaShem, made numerous mistakes in their covenantal obedience, suffered the consequences of said mistakes, repented and returned, and in the process grew and matured as the people of God. Whereas in the Wilderness, exact instructions had to be given, five centuries later in Israel, Solomon was able to exercise a degree of self-expression in the design and construction of the Temple. However, perhaps the most significant difference between the two was HaShem’s dwelling presence. HaShem chose, unilaterally, to dwell in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the camp. In the Temple, there was a requirement for his presence as he told Solomon,

“As for this House which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes, execute My ordinances and keep all My mitzvot by walking in them, then I will establish My word with you, which I spoke to your father David, I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people, Israel.”

1 Kings 6:12-13

We are each on a journey with the Lord and at different levels of maturity in our journey. Sometimes the Ruach has to show or tell us exactly what to do and define the boundaries of our actions. Other times, we are allowed, maybe even encouraged to step out in faith and follow the Lord as he trusts us to walk in the knowledge and maturity we have developed over time. Wherever we are on our journey, though, I believe that HaShem’s words to Solomon are those that we need to internalize to guide our daily walk, “if you will walk in My statutes, execute My ordinances and keep all My mitzvot by walking in them, then I will establish My word with you….” If we do so, we can rest assured that HaShem’s promise in Hebrews 13:5 will be ours, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

* All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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