Ex. 25:1 – 27:19
Rabbi Gary Pokras
My father is a retired architect, and he used to keep an extra drafting table in our basement. As a child, I loved to play at designing grand structures and would use his drafting table to create many “masterpieces.” What I did not enjoy was figuring out all the specs – nor did I even try. For each building my father designed, there would be an accompanying set of several, exceptionally long and dense books containing the specifications necessary for construction, like how many and exactly what size screws or nails were required to safely secure each joint (which changed depending on the kind of joint being described) or the specific cement mixtures and amounts to be used for various sections of the building, or the type and length of wiring for each room. Every tiny little detail had to be laid out to build a structure to last, and to be safe. This is a smart way to build, people have used this approach for millennia. The Torah itself has three full Torah portions to detail the specs for the construction of the mishkan, the special tent which would serve as the place reserved for God at the center of the Israelite tent. This week’s portion, Terumah, is the first of the three.
As you might imagine, I used to skim through these portions, so that I could quickly get back to what I considered to be the more interesting narratives that follow. Now I know better.
It probably is no surprise that the specs for the mishkan include a copious amount of gold. Rabbi Amy Scheinerman asks us to consider the construction of the ark itself: “Over [the Ark] with pure gold – overlay it inside and out – make upon it a gold molding round about.” [Ex. 25:11] She wonders why we need to cover the inside of the ark with gold, after all, it will be sealed and then never opened. She finds the answer in the Babylonian Talmud, which comments on the commandment with the following teaching: “Any Torah scholar whose interior is not like his exterior is no Torah scholar.” [Talmud Bavli, Yoma, 72b]
We have all seen leaders who lead with cynicism, who present a façade that does not reflect the reality of their purpose or intent. If we are serious about following let alone teaching Torah, then we must also be serious about our integrity. A life lived with integrity is a life well-lived, in every detail.