Parshat Tetzaveh

“ Terumah and Tetzaveh: Elevation and Dedication”
By Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, AJRCA Professor of Hebrew
The construction and dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert takes up a good deal of the latter portion of the book of Exodus. The stated purpose of the Tabernacle was to create a sanctified space in which the Divine may dwell with the Human: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25:8)[1]. The Tabernacle reminds us that no matter what literal or figurative desert we are in, there is still the chance to create a space in which to keep company with the Divine.
The two Torah potions of Terumah and Tetzaveh represent two processes in the creation of this dwelling place for the Divine. The first, Terumah, describes a process of elevation: physical materials such as gold, silver, and animal skins become elevated by the good intentions of those who donate them and by their incorporation into a structure built to house the revelation of the Divine Presence. The word Terumah itself comes from the root √רום, which has the meaning of elevation. Terumah teaches us that the first step in embodying the Divine is to dedicate ourselves and the objects of our lives as instruments of divine service, opportunities to celebrate the Divine and to revel in the possibilities therein for holy connection. When we redefine our lives as a holy endeavor, we and our lives become elevated above the ways in which habit and mundane occupation can devalue them.
The portion of Tetzaveh shifts the focus of the Tabernacle from the structure itself to those who serve in it. Those who serve in the Tabernacle are sanctified thereby: “And this is the thing that you shall do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me in the priest’s office” (Ex 29:1)[2]. There is a distinct equivalency between service and sanctification. This is seen particularly during the seven days during which the Tabernacle was dedicated. The priests become priests, hallowed ministers to the Divine, through serving in the Tabernacle. These seven days of consecration are known the period of מִלֻּאִים, literally meaning “fillings”. They are called this because the hands of the priests are filled with the responsibility of divine service during them. Moses is commanded, “and you shall fill the hands of Aaron and his sons” (Ex. 28:9)[3]. Aaron and his sons become priests by serving in the Tabernacle, not merely by appointment or ancestry. Since we are enjoined to be “a nation of priests” (Ex. 19:6)[4], we fulfill this through action, by service to G-d and dedication to divine precepts. It is by fillings our hands with the responsibilities of ethical behavior and compassionate dealings with others, and by dedicating ourselves to G-d’s commandments, that we become “a nation of priests” with our lives a hallowed dwelling place for the Divine.

[1] וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם.

[2] וְזֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה לָהֶם, לְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתָם–לְכַהֵן לִי

[3] וּמִלֵּאתָ יַד-אַהֲרֹן וְיַד-בָּנָיו.

[4] מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים

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