Terumah: Even Moses Can’t Do It Alone

Table for Five: Terumah

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And you shall erect the Tabernacle according to its proper manner, as you have been shown on the mountain. -Ex. 26:30


Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple

It is often hard to accept that we learn in different ways. Sometimes, we immediately grasp material and on other occasions, we struggle. We find ourselves envious of someone else’s talents, neglecting the merit of our own gifts, placing spotlight on what seems to be missing, concentrating on our shortfalls and deficiencies.

Earlier in Parashat Terumah, God articulates to Moses the same phrase used in Shemot 26:30: “as you have been shown on the mountain.” Bamidbar Rabbah offers a beautiful anecdote in which God shows Moses the exact plans to build the menorah. Moses descends from the mountain and forgets the instructions. Again, Moses ascends, God repeats the instructions, Moses descends, and Moses forgets. Finally, God tells Moses to ask Betzalel to make the menorah. Within seconds, Betzalel understands the job and proceeds to complete the task. In the midrash, God does not remark on Moses’ intellect or inabilities. God merely suggests that perhaps, this task is meant for someone else. Moses continues to serve as the leader of our people. Being everything to everyone and effortlessly gleaning information are apparently not required to serve as God’s most esteemed messenger and prophet.

May we breathe a sigh of relief with this poignant lesson. As we are “shown on the mountain,” our lives are not defined through perfection. Sometimes, our own inabilities lead to the opening of someone else’s opportunity. And when we choose to focus on our abilities, that is when our true purpose can come to fruition.


Rabbi David Stein, Director of Judaic Studies, Shalhevet High School

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will learn.” It’s almost as if our Torah portion anticipated this famous quote (commonly attributed to Ben Franklin) about education. In order for the mishkan to be built “properly,” it’s not enough for God to tell Moshe the plan – it must be shown to him as well. As an educator, I spend my time thinking about how to teach ideas and facilitate learning, and it turns out that the pedagogical lesson behind this verse has made deep inroads into the world of social emotional learning: if we want our students to deeply understand and internalize Jewish texts and values, it’s not enough to simply preach them – we must live and model those ideals as well.

Yet I think there is also another lesson contained in this verse: “proper” education is inherently about “building the Tabernacle.” Learning requires active construction of ideas. To be sure, the educational debate continues to rage about the value of direct instruction (picture a college lecture hall) versus student centered approaches (perhaps best represented by “Montessori” style schools). Yet it seems that the Torah makes room here for both approaches: an emphasis on guided instruction paired with an insistence upon personal construction. In this reading, then, Jewish education isn’t just about what students know – it’s about how they use knowledge to build their own tabernacles – constructing a personal identity to guide decisions and articulate values as they interact with and encounter the world around them.


Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, ahavattorahla.org

Rashi, the medieval French commentator on the Bible and Talmud, tells us that God taught and showed Moses at Mount Sinai the seder (the order) in which to erect the Mishkan. If you ever were involved in building a synagogue you know that one goes through an emotional, spiritual, and physical process to build one.

We first dream and visualize it. What will it look like? Who will it serve? How best would it serve its users? Which architect will attend to all the details? Who will be the builder to finally fulfill our dream?

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b) tells us that God was the architect who held the blueprint to construct the Mishkan. The purpose was to build it not only for the generation in the desert but also for all future generations of the People of Israel. Ebn Ezra (Middle Ages-Spain) tells us that Chachmey Lev, those with a Wise Heart (not mind), would erect the Mishkan. The Wise-hearted knew they could not do it themselves, but rather needed the support of the community.

The Gemara (Menahot 29a:13) tells us that Moses followed “God’s exact pattern” in the building of the Mishkan. This holy blueprint was shared with him for the benefit of all generations. May we be blessed to build a community of Wise Hearts who follow the blueprint of the Torah and whose center is a Mishkan. Amen.


Kylie Lobell, Contributing Writer, Jewish Journal

Parsha Terumah details how the Jews need to build the Mishkan, the place where they would worship HaShem. It has to be portable so that it can be carried in the desert, showing that we can feel G-d everywhere and take Him with us wherever we go.

This past year, we’ve had to build tabernacles within our homes. It’s easy to feel spiritual in a nice clean synagogue, surrounded by other worshippers and in the presence of the holy Torah scrolls. It isn’t so easy to feel spiritual when you’ve got a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and children screaming in the background and dogs barking at every passerby. We’re also davening outside so we can meet in a minyan. When I go to outdoor minyans, I hear the sounds of helicopters flying overhead, loud lawnmowers in the next yard over and fireworks going off in the distance. It’s not exactly conducive to concentration, but I’ve survived. We’ve survived.

We’ve proven throughout the pandemic that G-d truly is with us no matter where we are. We may have previously thought that holiness only exists in the synagogue, but that’s just not true. It’s all around us. We may be in the desert now and waiting for the Holy Land – the time when the pandemic is over and we can get back to normal – but it will happen soon. In the meantime, we just need to keep building.


Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi, mashpia, writer, businessman

G-d appointed Moshe Rabbeinu to build the tabernacle, G-d’s home in the desert. Though G-d was the architect, Moshe was the fundraiser and general contractor. He delegated and supervised the myriad of individual projects to the artisans and craftsmen, an endeavor which took 3 months. As rabbi and teacher of the community, he did not have a task in the actual construction. So when the construction was completed, G-d told Moshe “You—Moshe—shall erect the tabernacle.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was the intermediary between the Jewish people and G-d (Deut. 5:5). At times he served as marriage counselor, at times protector and at times provider; he was more than G-d’s emissary, he also nurtured the Jewish people’s faithfulness and inspired their relationship. Thus, G-d needed Moshe to do the ultimate task of erecting the tabernacle, symbolically throwing the circuit breaker to electrify it with G-d’s spirit (Exodus 40: 18:34).

Moshe said, “It is too much for me to erect;” the walls of the tabernacle were made of boards of acacia wood, 15′ tall, 2 ¼’ wide and 1′ thick, each one too heavy for one person to raise up, let alone all 48. G-d said, “You do your part and I will raise it with you,” miraculously.

This Friday, the seventh of Adar (2/19/21) is Moshe Rabeinu’s birthday and yahrzeit, 3,293 years ago. He passed away on his 120th birthday. This Torah portion is always read in the week of Moshe Rabeinu’s Yahrzeit. What a fitting commemoration and tribute!

With thanks to Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Rabbi David Stein, Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, Kylie Lobell, and Rabbi Gershon Schusterman. 

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