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Parashat TERUMAH

Yitzḥaq Ḥayut-Man & Tirẓah Arzi 25.02.2012 23:44
Parashat TERUMAH - Exodus - Temple utensils - Book of Exodus - Bible study

Terumah - The offering; Correspondence of the Mishkan and the Human Body; Ritual in the Mishkan; The Heavenly Mishkan; Semantic Pattern of the Mishkan; Appendix: Parallels of the Creation and of Making the Mishkan.

Parashat Terumah (Ex. 25:1 – 27:19)

The Terumah weekly reading Parashah (portion) is dedicated to a single issue, although one with many details – the erection of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the whole entire long Parashah is but a small part of the repetitions and amplifications of that issue that would follow. Ostensibly, there are duplications of whole chapters in the Book of Exodus, concerned with the Mishkan, its vessels and the priests' garments. This fact causes most people to see the second half of the Book of Exodus a boring part that must just be traversed as quickly as possible, as the saying goes "we have endured Par'ọh, we shall endure also this". On the other hand, it is clear that, for the editors of the Torah and the scribes of Israel, the description of the Mishkan was the most important issue of the entire liberation from Egypt.

Already in our exegesis to the first portion of Genesis we have compared the small space that the Torah gave for the creation of heaven and earth compared with the great expanse given to the erection of the Mishkan – altogether a rather small tent or shack – and hence that the erection of the Mishkan seemed far more important to the Creator of the Universe (or at least to the editors of the Torah and the priests of the Temple). In fact, there is much parallel between the descriptions of the Creation and the building of the Tabernacle /Mishkan (see detailed appendix). Also in the Book of Exodus, it is evident that all the great dramatic acts: the Plagues of Egypt, the splitting of the Sea and the very giving of the Torah do not get a commensurate detail as the details of the Mishkan, which is repeated twice in full detail. It seems as if the entire liberation from slavery to freedom only came in order to station the Tribes of Israel around the Mishkan and receive its blissful influences. The Book of Exodus and the story of the Exodus from Egypt are popular all over the world, where there are people yearning for freedom. But the overall composition of the Book of Exodus apparently comes to teach us that exit from slavery to freedom is not enough. There is need to act systematically for human development and improvement, and these, as we shall see below, are at the basis of the Tabernacle rituals.

The description of the Mishkan in the Terumah portion (which was given to Mosheh on the Mountain) is quite similar to its description on the vaYaqhel portion (after the return of Mosheh with the second set of Tablets) – but there are significant fine differences that would be worth considering in order to better understand the building of the Tabernacle/Mishkan in the past and in the future.

Terumah - The offering

"And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering" (Ex 25:1-2) – on one hand this is the first command out of the 613 that Moshe was given at Mount Sinai. All the rest of the 612 Mitzvot are detailing and interpretation. But it can be claimed that this is no command but a request – "that they take for Me an offering", as if for the personal need of the Lord, and as a gift and not as a tax. The Creator of the Universe is asking the Children of Isral to do Him a favor and build Him a House upon earth.

"of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering" (25:2). From this we learn that the proper way of building the Temple is from contributions from distinguished people – the gift comes from the heart of the Israelite person. Terumah (offering) is from the word root of R.U.M, with the meaning of lifting (haramah) and exaltation (romemut). The generous heart gives a Terumah – and thereby rises itself. The Temple of Shlomoh (Solomon) was not based on contributions but on stiff taxes, in money and labor, which caused the secession of the Ten Tribes from Judah after the death of Shlomoh.

And here comes detailing for this first command – shopping list of the raw materials for the construction of the earthly Mishkan. In the next Parashah - Teẓaveh (thou should command) – there would already come a command about supplies to the ongoing ritual in the Mishkan. But first, for the building of the shrine itself, all is done as Terumah-offering from the generosity of the hearts.[1]

In the sequel comes the list of requested raw materials and it is almost identical in the two places. But the version of Parashat Terumah the request is followed by an addition: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, and even so – vekhen וכן - shall ye make it" (Ex. 25 8-9). It is possible to understand from the seemingly superfluous letter Waw (meaning 'also') that the erection of the Mishkan is not the sole role of the Israelites, but that God is also engaged in the work along with them, and that His actions inspire those "wise hearts" people engaged in the work.

After the Lord of Israel has shown (in Paraqshat Mishpatim)  His grace and interest in the social miẓvot between a person and another person ("miẓvot ben Adam leAdam מצוות בין אדם לאדם), here came the time to give and inquire about miẓvot between a person and the Lord "miẓvot ben Adam lamakom" (מצוות בין אדם למקום) – even if this Makom[2] - even if the Palce-Maqom in the desert is a wandering location with a portable habitation for the Shekhinah (Divine Presence). The Mishkan  serves to bridge between heaven and earth.

The Correspondence of the Mishkan and the Human Body

The basic pattern of the Mishkan (and of the Miqdash-Temple, which followed it) resembles the human figure (which, in turn, is "in God's Image" - Ẓelem). The resemblance of the pattern of the Mishkan and the human figure was already noted by the sages and has recently been developed by On Zayith in his book "The Yisraeli People"[3]. I shall quote here one (translated) sub chapter of the book:

"C – Correspondence with the Human Figure

1.  The overall Division

The Mishkan is designed (or at list described) so that an alien outside observer would not comprehend immediately its meaning, unless it was explained to him. But for one who knows the meaning of the Mishkan, for him the identification of the Mishkan with the human body is simple and clear.

Protruding members in the human body – the limbs, were not represented in Mosheh's Mishkan. Whether because the designer did not want to disclose the secret of the Mishkan to every stranger or because he sought to represent only a few vital members (or perhaps actually vital systems), which he wanted to emphasize and disregard the rest since, as noted, there was no intention to sculpt a human body, but only to represent it symbolically.

Of the dimensions of the Mishkan, there stands out the length dimension, of the dimensions of the human body stands out the dimension of height. The Mishkan thus represents a supine human figure (lying on his back).[4]

The vessels represent organs of the human body, internal or also protruding. In identifying a particular vessel with an organ in the human body I shall be helped by its relative location in the Mishkan, its form (namely relations of height, length and width – and the design) and by additional details.

When we place the form of "the average human" at the center of the yard of the Mishkan, we shall immediately identify "the Holy of Holies" as representing the head, and "the Holy"as representing the torso (without the limbs).

Based on this identification, I have based the correspondence of the vessels with the organs that they represent.

2.    The Brain and the Heart.

As noted, the Holy of Holies represents the Head. The Ark of YHWH, which was the most important and 'holy" of all the vessels of the Mishkan, was the only vessel that was placed at the Holy of Holies.

The Ark of YHWH thus represents the central organ that resides in the head – the Brain. The relations of height, width and length of the Ark, which are 1 x 0.6 x 0.6, correspond well to the dimensions of "the average brain"!

The golden altar, which is the incense altar, apparently situated near the center of the"Holy", most likely represents the Heart.

3.       The Skeleton

Identification of the meaning of the Candelabra (Menorah מנורה) is fairly straightforward. The Candelabra has two main components: the central shaft and the six branches that issue from the central one, three to each side. The parallel in the human body is the spine; from which there issue to the sides 12 pairs of ribs.

The Candelabra thus represents the part of the spine. That is included in the "Holy", at least from the lower neck vertebra to the lower rib vertebra…

The main shaft of the Candelabra represents the spine. The upper pair of branches and the cup from which they issue represent the four upper rib vertebrae and their ribs. The middle pair of branches and their cup represent the four median. The lower pair and its cup represent the four lower ones.[5] This correspondence is sufficient for the seven-branched candelabra would represent that part of the spine!

<In the sequel the author goes deep and details the connections between the Candelabra and the spine and develops a most original model for the Candelabra>

4.  The Digestive System

Opposite the Candelabra there stood the golden table; its vessels were placed in two "ma'ạrakhot" (orders), one against the other, twelve loaves of bread, six against six. These orders also represent the ribs, like the candelabra, only that here each parallel loaves represent two pairs of ribs. If that is so, it is reasonable that the form of each loaf was like the figure of כ, square or round, whose two "hands" are turned towards the center of the table. According to the rabbinical tradition the loaves of the table were being baked this way still in the Second Temple!

The Table itself likely represents the stomach; this may be evidenced by the relations of its dimensions, which are close to those of the stomach, and its load, the loaves of bread, which is the "basic" human food.

5.  The Surrounding Tissues

The four layered envelope, by which the Mishkan was covered, represents the layers of tissues that wrap the inner human organs, as they were perceived by the designer of the Mishkan. His division is still valid in contemporary medicine.

Each of the curtains (yeri'ọt) had the color typical of the layer it represents. The curtains were arranged one upon the other according to the order in which are arranged the corresponding layers in the human body.

<in the original has a table that details the correspondences>

This correspondence is the most impressive and convincing one, because there seems no other conceivable cause, which could have caused the designer of the Mishkan to wrap it in these four layers, each one and its particular characteristics. From outside the visitors could only see the external grey-brown envelope of sealskins. Inside the Mishkan only the purple inner layer. What importance could the designer of the Mishkan have, for example, that the second layer (from outside), which was not seen at all, would be there and be painted red, what for if not for completing the correspondence?

6.  The Reproductive System

In order to find the correspondence between the altar (Mizbe'aḥ) and the wash basin (Kiyor) I did not need to make an exact parallel between the human image and the plan of the Mishkan <a picture in the original>

The brass altar was placed "before the entrance of the Mishkan" (Expdus 40:6). As noted the Mishkan represents the head and the torso, without the limbs; the altar was thus placed at the region of the lower belly, at the crouch. The location consideration is sufficient to identify the altar with the make sex organ…

<The author brings here a reason to identify the wash basin with the female sex organ, based on the female clue in Ex 38:8>

7.  The Divine Consciousness

We have thus seen that the ancient Israelite culture, the creation of Mosheh, was not puritanical and bashful at the Jewish culture, which is inclined to reject any sexual symbol, to suppress and repress the sexual energies.

In spite of this Jewish tendency, it was actually the rabbinical tradition that safeguarded us important details about "the Kerubim" (Cherubs) –a central symbol that repeats at the Israelite Mishkan. In these details we meet again the sexual symbolism – according to this tradition, whose sources and reliability are unclear […]

According to the scriptures the Kaporet (cover) that carried the pair of Kerubim was placed upon the Ark of YHWH that was situated at the Holy of Holies. The Kerubim were a pair of winged figures, turned face-to-face. According to the rabbinical tradition, the pair of Kerubim had human form, male opposite female!

According to the correspondence that was revealed in this chapter, the Ark of YHWH represents the brain. The center of human consciousness is in the brain. Upon the vessel that represented the brain there was placed a symbol that represented the Israelite self-consciousness, the way that the Israelites regarded and appreciated themselves.

This symbol was composed of two main parts: the first part was the regular human figure, make opposite female. The second part was the wings, which exalted those figures to a divine status.  […]

The Kerubim were a general symbol (contrary to the other vessels, which represented specific organs); therefore they appeared also on other components of the Mishkan: upon the purple sheets, that represented the muscle tissue, and upon the Parokhet (veil) that separated between the Holy to the Holy of Holies.

[ … ]

8.  Summary

The Mishkan thus represents seven systems within the human body:

1.      The central nervous system, the command and control system, which carries the consciousness, (the brain – the Ark of Covenant.

2.      The blood nutrition system, (the Heart – the Incense Altar).

3.      The digestion system, (the stomach – the Table).

4.      The skeleton system, (the Spine and Vertabre – the Candelabra)

5.         The reproductive system, (the male and female sex organs – the brass altar and brass washbasin).

6.      The muscle system, (the bottom sheet).

7.      The skin system, (the three upper sheets).

8.      [ … ]

The Ritual in the Mishkan

What is the significance of the anthropomorphic pattern of the Mishkan? The Mishkan, and following it the Miqdash (Temple),[6] were intended to operate as a kind of large Adam (human) that consists of many persons, where his various organs represent different kinds of activities and rituals (the principle of "248 positive commandments as corresponding to 248 organs in the body[7] is fairly well known).  The ritual activities might have been performed in correspondence with the basic tripartite structure of head, breast and belly (or "MeLeKh" (King) system of Mo'aḥ (Brain), Lev (heart) and Kaved (Liver), that also correspond to three layers of the soul – Nefesh, Ru'aḥ & Neshamah), or the seven systems we've regarded above, or all the 248 organs and 365 tendons.

The Mishkan (and in more detail, the Temple (Miqdash) was supposed to demonstrate and serve the healing/perfection of Adam (all humankind) and of human collectives. The Mishkan was situated in the middle between the Twelve Tribes of Israel and brought blessings to all of them. It is possible to regard it as a bed with canopies around (which is the yard of 50 by 100 cubits). Upon this bed-shrine a great human-like figure (made of light pixels), and the priests doing their functions seem like doctors and nurses inside the ambiance of a hospital: preparing the candles, raising some incense and changing the twelve loaves in the shrine, and deal with raising the smoke (pillar of cloud) from the sacrifices in order to draw in the lights of heaven (pillar of fire).

"And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (25:8) – this is the recompense for those who volunteer to donate and who participate in the making of the Mishkan, that a personal Mishkan is made in their heart. The more that the heart gave of itself, there formed in it an inner space that can fill with the Light of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence).

The Heavenly Mishkan

"According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it" (25:9) – from this we learn that Moshe in the mountain saw a model, "a Heavenly Mishkan", and learned how to reflect and demonstrate it in the earthly Mishkan (the entire ending of the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 40 to 48, is a similar process of presenting a heavenly temple as model). In the sequel the demonstration through a heavenly Mishkan is mentioned three more times: "And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount" (25:40), "And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which hath been shown thee in the mount" (26:30),  "Hollow with planks shalt thou make it (the table); as it hath been shown thee in the mount, so shall they make it"(27:8).

The Aggadah (legendary scriptural exegesis) tells about "The Heavenly Temple", which is oriented to the earthly temple.[8] A heavenly apparatus already appeared in the Sinai desert – a mobile pillar of cloud – from which appears the Glory (Kavod) of the Lord (YHWH). Already Noaḥ's Ark was a mobile device (at least during the flood), and the Mishkan that Mosheh was ordered to build was a mobile Mishkan. The heavenly Mishkan, and Miqdash, is a structure of lights. The descriptions of the Miqdash (Temple) in the Book of Ezekiel 40-48, can be understood as relating to a heavenly temple, and the Ramḥal, in his book Mishkanei Ẹlyon, interprets the Temple in Ezekiel as a Temple of Lights.

The Semantic Pattern of the Mishkan

An important detail is contained in the word Tavnit – pattern – that has to do with both Bniyah – building – and with Binah – Understanding; building with a full understanding of the task. To understand (lehavin) something means to comprehend its pattern (tavnit). The Tavnit is not identical with an illustration; it gives the geometrical essence ("the Platonic Object"), which can be realized in various shapes. The Mishkanim at Sinai, Shiloh, Gilgal and Beit-El, as well as the First and Second Temple had different shapes, but all of them are supposed to reflect and illustrate the same Tavnit that Mosheh was shown in Sinai.

The Sinai Mishkan was "a Hebrew Temple" – it served as passage from the slavery in Egypt (symbolized by the Pyramids) and the Temple in Ẓion, about which it was prophesied "Out of Ẓiyon will issue Torah (Instruction) and the Word of the Lord (YHWH) from Jerusalem". The patterns (tavniyot) that Moshe was shown in the mountain were perhaps formal and perhaps semantic (Shemiyot) – as is implied by having the teachings of the Mishkan the main contents of the Book of Shemot. The future Temple would not look the same as the Mishkan, but would certainly contain elements that issue from the elements of the Mishkan – be they by their geometrical form or by their name.



Appendix: Parallels of the Creation and of Making the Mishkan

It has already been shown by Buber that there are particular words and expressions that show parallel between the acts of Creation and the building of the Mishkan. Neḥamah Leibowitz, in her book 'Studies in the Book of Shemot/Exodus' has summed his findings in the following table:


In the Creation it was written (Genesis)

In the making of the Mishkan (Exodus)

And God made the firmament (1:7)

And let them make Me a sanctuary (25:8)

And God made the two great lights (1:16)

And they shall make an ark (25:10)

And God made the beast of the earth (1:25)

And thou shalt make a table (25:23) 


And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold (25:31)

And so on seven times

And so on almost 200 times

for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them, (Ex. 20:10)

and the cloud covered it six days; and He called unto Moses (24:16)

and rested on the seventh day

On the seventh day out of the midst of the cloud (24:16)


And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud  (24:18)

And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (2:1)

Thus was finished all the work of the tabernacle (39:32)

And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made (2:2)

So Moses finished the work (40:33)

And God saw every thing that He had made,

And Moses saw all the work,

and, behold, it was very good.

and, behold, they had done it ; as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it.

And God blessed the seventh day (2:3)

And Moses blessed them. (39:43)


[1] There seems to be a hidden message for the future temple. It is hard to believe that the Israeli government will proceed to building the Temple – even if it would be a mere "Heavenly Temple" of lights. But contributors for the model virtual temple may well be found within the framework of the expanded "Klal Yisrael" of the Twelve "Tribes".

[2]  Maqom is a Hebrew word that means "a Place" - and in rabbinical sources also means the "The Lord God".

[3] On Zayith: "The Yisraeli People" pages 98-111. Author's description of the book: "This book is the first to expose the ancient Israelite culture, which was founded by Mosheh in the desert, as an anarchistic culture, which denied on principle any form of laws and government, and this because it belief in YaHaWaH – a divine power that resides within human beings and is in constant direct connection with each person. A human being who is obligated to obey only that power that resides in him is not subject to laws or to their enforcers. The book shows that this was the reason why the Tribes of Israel have not established a kingdom or a state, and did not have army, police' judicial system and an educational system for several centuries after Mosheh". To read a complete version (in Hebrew and part in French) and to buy the book, see

[4]  The Hebrews identified the four cardinal directions with the sides of the standing human body facing the risin sun: North to his Right and South to his Left, West behind and the East ahead of him. Because the Mishkan does not represent a standing body, the identification of North to the Left and the South to the Right, but now the face faces the skies and the back to the earth.

[5]    The division of the 12 ribs vertebrae to this three groups still persists in medicine, thus in "An Atlas of Anatomy" page 370.

[6]  Whereas On Zayith distinguishes between the Mishkan and the Miqdash (the latter he rejects), but other independent researchers confirmed the anthropomorphic pattern of the Temple. The work of Schwaller de Lubicz about the Egyptian temple (and Solomon's Temple was much like an Egyptian temple - Schwaller de Lubicz: "The Temple In Man" Inner Traditions, Rochester VT, 1971. Another independent researcher, Toni Badillo, showed this pattern in commensurate detail in the Temple of Solomon -

[7]  The Talmud (Ohalot 1 8) counted 248 organs in the human body, which are actually like the number of bones. About the number of organs counted by the sages, and their agreement with contemporary medical knowledge see Talmud Encyclopedia vol. 1, term Evarim.

[8] The definitive article on this is Aptowizer, Avigdor: "The Heavenly Temple according to the Aggadah". Tarbitz, 2, 1931 (in Hebrew).

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