The tenor of the parshiyot changes this week and for the remainder of the Book of Shemot. Except for the episode of the Golden Calf which will take place in two weeks, the main theme is the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them during their 40 year sojourn through the desert. This week we read Parshat Terumah which describes the various vessels the Israelites were commanded to construct for the Mishkan, as well the instructions for the Mishkan itself.
The Torah describes the materials used for the Mishkan one of which is the skin of a Tachash. This is an animal, which according to the Talmud, existed only during the time of Moshe and apparently only to be used for the Mishkan. Rashi quotes the Talmud which describes this animal as a multi-colored one with a horn in the middle of its forehead. Commentators say that the beautiful skin of this Tachash was used for the uppermost cover of the Mishkan.
As with many of the episodes in the Torah, there are so many lessons to be gleaned. The same is true here. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Palestine, taught one such lesson. He writes that the skin of the tachash with its many colors represents the talents of many people to be used together for one purpose.
In Parshat Noah, the people of the earth united and built a tower to the heavens. Unfortunately, that venture ended up as a failure, for even though they had a sole purpose, "to make a name for ourselves," it was ultimately a selfish one and the people were scattered and given different languages to keep them separate. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth makes the point that the construction of the Mishkan, which unified people as well, was different. The construction of the Mishkan was the "first great project" of the Jewish people. While the Mishkan was temporary to be sure, it brought the Israelites together for one united purpose. People brought materials, in fact they brought so much that Moshe had to ask them to stop, they brought their time and they brought their talents, with one Divine focus.
The Mishkan united the people. This period in many ways was one of preparation of the people for the time when they would enter the Land of Israel and create a new society there based on the teachings of the Torah. The difference was that the miracles that occurred during the 40 years in the desert were more overt than those later on. The people needed to learn to work together, and the Divine request for people to donate to this Mishkan teaches that everyone has something significant to contribute. There will always be challenges to be sure, but when people unite their talents, as represented by the Tachash, when there is a common, noble (in this case Divine) aspiration, unlike the Tower of Babel incident, greatness shines forth.
This is our mandate here at GBDS. May we continue to unite, to pool our collective talents, to work as one so that a rich, meaningful, beautiful Judaism emerges in all its splendor.
Wishing all a wonderful and restful Presidents' Week vacation