Gathering Sources: Terumah

This is the first of what I hope will be a post per week “gathering sources” from previous material on the weekly Torah portion. This is is response to one reader’s confusion about navigating what is now more than a decade of posts and pages and project and portfolios (depending on WordPress organizational flavor of the season), and to my own realization that I rely on “A Song Every Day,” more and more, to find — and remember — things I cannot.

As it happens, this is the anniversary of my first dvar torah, so it seems a good place to start. In addition, beginning here gives me the opportunity to honor Esther Ticktin (z”l, 1925-2017), who provided moral support for that first presentation, Max Ticktin (z”l, 1922-2016), who spoke while others were “gathering their thoughts,” so I wouldn’t be too freaked out by the silence that followed my remarks; and the Fabrangen community for listening on Shabbat Terumah 5758 (2/28/98) and responding after Max gave folks a moment.

Here is the first drash, “I will meet with you there.” And a follow-up missive in response to a request for my materials.

Here are four posts in an old Weekly Torah series: Great Sources, Great Sources-2, Language and Translation, and A Path to Follow.

And, just for the sake of organization, ultimately, I am including a link to “The wingCatz of Terumah” so it will be with other Terumah resources later on.

Graphic: 1728 illustration of the Ark at the erection of the Tabernacle and the sacred vessels, as in Exodus 40:17-19. By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728 –

The wingCatz of Terumah

Instructions for crafting a place for God to dwell include a pair of hammered-work creatures, with upward spreading wings, facing one another above the cover of the Ark. Between the two sculptured figures is where God promises to meet Moses to deliver further Revelation (Exodus 25:10-22, in parashat Terumah: Ex 25:1-27:19). The imagery is intriguing, if disconcerting: too close to forbidden graven images, too similar to idols of neighboring ancient cultures, and, ultimately, too erotic for prime time. But I’ve I recently learned some new perspectives on the hammered-work creatures and, more generally, the way religious imagery can work for us or not.

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Terumah: Great Source(s)

Notes on Terumah from study partners, a rabbi and a playwright —

LK —

For a religious culture obsessed with prohibiting (and obliterating) any graven image, how curious that winged golden statues be set above the ark. Even more fascinating is the statement that not from inside the Ark nor even from above it, but instead between the statues will God speak. this “in between” the two cherubim, two statues, two graven images, is the locus of the voice. As Martin Buber taught us, God is uniquely present in the space in between. And, as Kabbalists imagined, the Shekhina, the feminine, indwelling presence of God, resides between the cherubim.

Neither from one cherub nor the other, but from the space created between them — when they confront each other — issues the revelation. Only relationship can imitate life and growth and revelation. And relationship can be created only when one ego realizes that there is another ego of equal importance. It can only be discovered in the presence of another. You simply cannot get there alone, there must always be someone else; it takes two to tango.

Perhaps that is why the prohibition against idolatry does not apply here. Truth be told, we are all only lifeless graven images until we face another and, in so doing, bring our selves and the other to life. And from between that meeting the divine voice issues.

DM–

The Ark of the Covenant and Ezekiel’s wheel could both be called fantasy. But the second is a vision, and the first is a divine instruction. To say an instruction is beyond our understanding is not to say it is impossible of execution.

We say “I do not understand” of the natural world cheerfully, and endeavor to better understand ourselves and call it “science.”

To be dismissive of “natural” evidence is called “ignorance.” To dismiss the divine is called “sophistication.”

–Lawrence Kushner and David Mamet

While reading Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (NY: Schocken Books, 2003), the deepest, most interesting spot to inhabit is often, much as Kushner notes above, “between” the offerings of these study partners. Several reviews note differences in the styles of the co-authors. Stan C. Denman of Baylor University notes, in [contemporary review — can no longer (2019) find working link] that Kushner’s insights “often innovative and unconventional, stay within accessible distance from the text of study,” while Mamet’s sometimes seem more tangential, “against the grain of conventional erudition, often with favorable results.”

Denman also discusses a tendency in this book to focus on “‘we Jews’ and the particularities of Jewish ‘victimization,'” a practice the reviewer believes will turn-off non-Jewish readers. In my reading, however, the “victimization” tendency appears almost exclusively in the comments of Mamet: God introduced the name “YHVH,” he tells us at one point, e.g., because “El Shaddai” was too Jewish. Kushner, on the other hand, (simply) reads the bible as a conversation between God and “Israel,” with any reader expected to take spiritual and ethical lessons from their position as part of that collective noun. And so, between — between their religious and more secular writing, between the particular and the universal, between them — we are privileged to witness relationship… the only place, Kushner says above, where the divine dwells.

Five Cities of Refuge is available in hardcover or ebook. At $21.00, this might not be at the top of everyone’s “must-purchase” list, but I recommend checking it out, if you’re able.

See Source Materials for more information/links on this title and others.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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Naso: A Path to Follow

This portion closes (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:89) with a note about God speaking to Moses from between the Cherubim on the cover of the Ark.

There are cherubim set up to block the entrance to Eden at Breishit/Genesis 3:24. We first learn of the cherubim on the Ark cover in the Exodus chapter 25. The Ark and its cover are mentioned again in First Kings (cf chapter 6), 1 Chronicles 13, 2 Chronicles (cf. chapter 5) and in Psalms 80:2.
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