by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
The Hebrew month of Adar, the holiday of Purim and Parshat Terumah. What do they all share in common? It's all about giving. Our natural inclination is to take. But where love is involved, whether Divine love or human love, oxytocin aside, we transform our desire to take into a desire to share.
The showbread makes its debut in Parshat Terumah. Also known as shewbread, it figures prominently in the Temple iconography, along with the cherubs and the menorah/candelabrum. In Hebrew, showbread is called Lechem HaPanim, or Bread of the Faces. This at least gives us something to work with, to understand its deeper meaning and significance.
Whose faces? The first time we see a word in the Torah informs us of its deeper significance in all subsequent usages."Panim," or "faces," first appears in the Kayin/Hevel (Cain and Abel) narrative, where Kayin is despondent and depressed for having lost out over G*d's selecting Hevel's offering as the Offering of Choice.
Lamah Naflu PANecha? "Why has your face fallen?," Hashem asks Cain (Gen 4:5,6). G*d chose Hevel's animal-based offering over that of Kayin's earth-based offering. Hashem saw where this jealousy led and so, just as he came to regret creating life as it became mired in violence and evil in His ante-diluvian misgivings, so too we see Hashem realizing that man's propensity for jealousy caused him to reconsider the nature of offerings in general.
It's no longer about which offering pleases Hashem more, but recognizing that all offerings are worthy of recognition. Therefore in Parshat Terumah we see BOTH earth-based and animal-based offerings freely given- and accepted. The flour/oil offering (minchat solet) is equally as valid as any animal offering. (Full disclosure: the name Melman -flour man- is a priestly family name alluding to the priestly duties of the Temple Service, where my ancestral lineage specialized in the minchat solet, the flour and oil offerings).
The cherubs over the Ark represent the original brotherly Children of Eden. The cherubic iconography therefore alludes to the power of repentance for both Man and G*d that the Temple represents. One day in the future, brother will love brother despite all jealousies and paternal favoritism. The Temple reminds us of this future goal. No one can get back in to the Garden of Eden, as the cherubs do guard it so, but once having become cherubic in the future, we will have so spiritually morphed that we will fool the security sensors and gained readmittance as a collective humanity; the Children of Eden as guides for the Children of Israel and for all humanity.
In this sense, then, we see that the Menorah's seven branches allude to the sevenfold curse awaiting Kayin's future slayer. Perpetual wandering awaits those that slay their brothers. Hence the bitterness of the captive Judaeans as they marched under Titus' Roman arch (figuratively speaking, as the arch was built later to commemorate the victory) bearing the captive menorah, the price of the bitter sinat chinam, the causeless hatred between brothers. Our disunity and infighting led to our downfall and defeat!
The opening words of parshat Terumah use the verb "LeKaCh" in its call for freewill offerings: Daber el B'nei Yisrael vayiK'CHu Li terumah me'et kawl ish asher yidvenu libo tiKCHu et terumati. "Speak to the Israelites and have them bring me an offering. From everyone whose heart impels him to give, TAKE my offering ."- Ex 25:1,2
When do we FIRST see the word LeKaCH (take)? Again, in the Creation/Garden of Eden narratives, where woman is created from the man's tzela bone. "And He took one of his tzela bones..(vayiKaCH)"-Gen 2:21. And then shortly thereafter we see Eve herself take the forbidden fruit of the tree in the garden- "vatiKaCH mipiryo vatochal..." "And she took of its fruit and she ate."- (Gen 3:6) leading to the expulsion. "When you eat of it, MOT TUMAT - you will surely die."
But they didn't actually die! Rather, they became imbued with the overweaning consciousness of their own mortality. That is even worse than death! This mortality consciousness is our greatest source of despair and that which most markedly sets us apart from the carefree creatures of the animal kingdom.
But the Temple Service (avodah) and Shabbat observance (shemirah) are the two basic devices we are given by Hashem to counter this depression. They are fundamental to our assignment in the Garden of Eden Le'AVDO u'l'SHOMRO. (Gen 2:15) - literally, "To Serve and Protect," with apologies to the LAPD. Therefore, the Temple Service - the AVODAH - of the Kohanim and the observance of Shabbat - the SHEMIRAH - (whose 39 laws are defined by the construction of the Temple) by all Israel restore mankind's original role in the world.
B'nei Yisrael are given the means to restore the HARMONIC BALANCE that was once humanity's birthright through the sanctification of the TAKING process. KICHA, the act of taking, central to marriage (kiddushin) itself, is now the key to the Kedusha (holiness) of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Precisely for this reason the phrasing of choice in the opening sentence of the parsha contains the word for "taking" and NOT for "bringing" or "giving." "...Vayikchu lee terumah...." In other words, course taking is debasing and negative, whereas sanctified taking is redemptive and healing. A man takes a bride, but only through giving can he hope to keep her! But the taking of the bride itself is a holy taking.
Finally, we see that the Yiddish word for prayer (daavenin) comes from these same opening lines. "...asher yiDVenu libo.., whose heart volunteers him to give.."-Ex 25-2. The root is NaDaV, meaning to volunteer (mitnadev)- hence "freewill" or voluntary offering without compulsion.
In sum, the Torah is giving us the tools to by which to restore the purity of our collective Edenic souls through the agency of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. By absorbing the true meaning of giving, in the true spirit of Purim, we allow our petty jealousies to recede and fall away as so much vestigial emotion of an earlier bygone age. And so what is prayer but our own freewill offering?
© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
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