Horns of Plenty: Terumah 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: What areas in your home are particularly special to you? Do you have furniture or items that are hand-me-downs from previous generations? Or have you made a point of creating a new space that represents the values and ideas which you hold dear? 
God’s “home” is the subject of this week’s Torah portion, which is supposed to be a place appropriate for God to dwell among the Israelites. The directions for this home – and special features thereof – are explained in fine detail.

Text: “You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide – the altar is to be square – and three cubits high. Make its horns on the four corners, the horns to be of one piece with it; and overlay it with copper.” (Exodus 27:1-2) 

Commentary #1: “The horn-shaped projections at the four corners of the altar were, as archaeological investigation has established, a common feature of altars in the West Semitic world. One may surmise that the common Semitic association of horn with strength may have led to this particular practice of cultic ornamentation, the horns somehow confirming or focusing the strength flowing down from the deity to the cultic site. Blood from the sacrifices was sprinkled on the horns of the altar, and so perhaps the horns might have been regarded as the most sacred places on the altar. On that basis, some scholars have reasoned that this is why a person seeking sanctuary would cling to the horns of the altar, though a simpler explanation might be that the horns were the only places on the altar where there was something to hold on to.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary 

Commentary #2: “‘And the height thereof shall be three cubits’: This corresponds to the three redeemers, as it is said, ‘I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam’ (Micah 6:4).” – Tanhuma-Yelammedenu

Commentary #3: “The Torah speaks of ‘the altar’, instead of saying merely ‘altar.’ Perhaps this is because the Torah refers here to what has already been mentioned in 25:9, when the Torah described that God had shown Moses a blueprint of both the Tabernacle and its furnishings including the altar. When adding that the altar was to be made of acacia wood, the Torah elaborated that whereas God had shown Moses a picture of the completed altar, i.e. a structure covered with copper, He now revealed that the altar was not to be of solid copper but of acacia wood which would be overlaid with copper.” – Or HaChayim

Late-Inning Questions: To Alter, the horns of the altar represent a place of refuge. To Tanhuma-Yelammedenu, they represent the human heroes of the Exodus. And to Or HaChayim, there is more to the altar than the eye can see – much like God’s self.

What does the description of the altar mean to you? Must a special space symbolize a grandiose idea for it to be compelling? Or can it simply be a place of beauty and nothing more? Do aesthetics matter in a home, or a synagogue, or another important location? In what ways are they relevant?

On Deck at Emanu-El: The upcoming SC Republican and Democratic Party primaries are on Shabbat (Feb. 20th, Republican; Feb 27th, Democrat). You CAN request an absentee ballot or vote early in person for religious reasons. Here are details and contact information:

The Big Inning at the End: With Spring Training around the corner, I finally received my copy of the annual crown jewel of the offseason: the latest edition of Baseball Prospectus. I began to read the work of Bill James, the founder of sabermetrics (the science of baseball statistics) when I was 10 years old, and I have not lost my affection for seeing the game through the lens of mathematics. For those who still doubt the importance of sabermetrics, it’s important to remember that the numbers themselves are not what matters – it’s understanding what the numbers mean. And since my mathematical talent ceased sometime around Pre-Calculus, I count on these brilliant analysts to explain the numbers for me, and to explain what makes baseball so endlessly fascinating. Just as Judaism is greatly diminished without its minutiae from its sacred texts, it wouldn’t be February without a new edition of Baseball Prospectus. (And no, I am not receiving any money for this endorsement …) 

Shabbat Shalom!