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Parshah Overview: Terumah

by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky


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God created this physical world in order to make it His home. This goal was achieved for an elusive moment when the world was first created, but the miscalculations and wrongdoings of the early generations of mankind forced the Divine presence to progressively retreat into increasingly distant spiritual realms. The reversal of this process was begun by Abraham, continued through the chain of his successors, and was consummated by his seventh-generation descendant, Moses.

The first bona fide stage of Moses’ reinstatement of God’s presence here on earth was the Splitting of the Sea, which was described in parashat Beshalach. For as long as the sea remained divided, the physical world was host to an awareness and consciousness it had not experienced since the primordial Garden of Eden: that of God’s existence and presence being readily perceptible and obvious. This consciousness in turn made the existence of this physical world—normally self-evident and beyond question—appear as it truly is, dependent and subordinate to the Divine life force pulsing within it.

But this transcendent experience was as fleeting as it was exalted; as soon as the sea returned to its natural state, “normative” consciousness returned. All that was left was the memory of the miracle, whose imprint on human consciousness paved the way for the steps to follow.

Once the sea had been split and it had been shown that Divine consciousness can indeed penetrate the entire order of creation down to this physical world, the next stages of this process could occur, namely, the demonstration that God’s presence can penetrate even further, into the realms of reality that are antagonistic to and even deny Divinity, imparting Divine consciousness even to them. This was accomplished by the conversion of Jethro, the idolatrous priest par excellence.

The Torah could at last be given to humanity. In giving the Torah, God gave mankind His instructions how to turn this world into His home on an ongoing basis. But even more importantly, He made Himself—His essence—part of the Jewish soul and psyche. The Jewish people, individually and collectively, became the walking presence of God on earth, a type of being irrevocably obsessed with Godliness and its implications for the world. This is why the laws of conversion to Judaism are deduced from the process through which God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai; it was there that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were transformed—in a quantum leap—into the Jewish people.

These two events are recounted in parashat Yitro.

However, radical as the giving of the Torah was, it still did not complete the full restoration of God’s presence on earth. This is because it was essentially an act of God’s initiative: “And God descended on Mount Sinai.”1 True, there was a certain advantage to this: the revelation, not being dependent upon the world’s prior preparation to receive it, was able to affect all aspects of reality equally. As our sages say, “no bird chirped, no ox lowed…”2 All of creation was overwhelmed and absorbed by the awesomeness of the event.

On the other hand, because the revelation was initiated entirely by God, it could not endure; it could not be integrated and incorporated into the fabric of reality. “And Mount Sinai was totally aflame”—Divinity permeated and sanctified even the inanimate rocks of Sinai, and “they couldn’t touch it,” but “when the Shofar sounds they will [again be allowed to] ascend the mountain”3 —once the revelation was over, the mountain returned to its prior profane state, as if nothing had happened.

It was therefore necessary, after the Torah had been given, for the Jewish people to make their own contribution to the return of God’s presence to earth. True, the revelation this would elicit would not permeate all of reality—since only those aspects of reality participating in the effort would be affected, and the level of Divine consciousness elicited would be only relative to the efforts expended in achieving it. Furthermore, it would have to be a gradual process. Reality would have to be elevated little by little, both qualitatively and quantitatively. But whatever would be affected would be affected permanently. Suitably prepared for and participating in the process, the people and elements involved would be able to sustain and retain their hard-earned Divine consciousness.


  • 1. Exodus 19:20. In the words of the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 12:3): “and I shall begin it.”
  • 2. Shemot Rabbah 29:9; see on 20:15, above.
  • 3. Exodus 19:12-13.


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Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Moses' father-in-law.
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
The tithe given to the priest (descendant of Aaron) from certain crops. The tithe was approximately 2% of the harvest.