Terumah – What We See Becomes Who We Are

Posted on February 23, 2023

By Rabbi Alex Freedman

It makes perfect sense that people internalize their externalities. For example, children raised in homes with lots of books on the shelves tend to become readers. People who grow up with art around the house tend to appreciate art as adults. And so on.

This week we begin not only Parashat Terumah but an entirely new section of the Torah. G-d gives Moses instructions on how to build the Mishkan/Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites through the desert. The very first item to build is the holy Ark, which speaks to its prominence. Precisely because it is supremely holy, the Ark is kept indoors and inaccessible, save for only the High Priest only on Yom Kippur. But if the Torah were truly central to Israel, how could it be kept out of sight?

That is true in a limited sense but not a global sense. This is because when we zoom out, we see that the Mishkan is located at the center of the Israelite camp. The 12 tribes are arranged in a square all facing the Mishkan, similar to how New York City is arranged around Central Park. In this sense, the Mishkan was the heart of the Israelite camp, and thus became embedded in the hearts of the Israelites.