It’s Curtains For You!: Terumah 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What aspects of your life do you tend to keep guarded? Have you become more or less guarded as you’ve moved through life?

Part of God’s instructions for the Israelites’ portable sanctuary (mishkan) includes a curtain (parochet) to guard the Holy of Holies:

The Pitch: “You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen; it shall have a design of cherubim worked into it. Hang it upon four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and having hooks of gold, [set] in four sockets of silver. Hang the curtain under the clasps, and carry the Ark of the Pact there, behind the curtain, so that the curtain shall serve you as a partition between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” – Exodus 26:31-33

Swing #1: “In the midst of artistic attentiveness and aesthetic extravagance, we may note especially the prescribed curtain, which is different from the more numerous curtains earlier listed. This curtain [parochet] provides for a separation between ‘the holy place’ and ‘the most holy place’ (i.e., the holy of holiness), wherein are housed the ark and the mercy seat. … What is intended is the creation of the most protected, awesome place to host and entertain properly the very self-giving of God. No doubt the screen was proposed with only the best of liturgical intentions, and it seems first of all to be appreciate for that intention.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1

Swing #2: “The meaning is not that the veil should be put up first and thereafter the ark should be brought to its place, for the space between the pillars would have been insufficient. … The intention here is only to specify the place of the ark, not the order of the stages in the erection of the tabernacle. … Properly, the ark should be shut in, and it should not be possible to take it out from its place except when the tabernacle was taken down, or in abnormal circumstances, by the removal of the pillars from their position.” – Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “The origins of the Ark curtain go back to the curtain in the wilderness Tent and later the Jerusalem Temple. When the Romans came and entered its holy precincts, so the story goes, their general pierced the curtain with his weapon, firmly believing that he would thus kill off the secret being within. The parochet may be seen as a parallel to the incense which, according to most biblical scholars, was meant to hide the Divine Presence. Halachically, the parochet partakes of the sanctity of the Ark and may not be disposed of when it can no longer be used. While standing up when the Ark is opened is not, according to the Halachah, a requirement, many Jews are so accustomed to it that indeed they feel discomfited when they find themselves in the presence of the scrolls without rising in their honor. For them, standing up when the scrolls of the Torah come into view becomes their acknowledgment that they are in the presence of holy objects. Many Jews would therefore consider a see-through curtain something of an oxymoron.” – CCAR Responsa 5754.20

Late-Inning Questions: How might our commentaries summarize the purpose of the parochet? Does the fact that it protects a holy object make the parochet holy as well? How do we best guard what is sacred in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re overjoyed that so many people will join us for our Scholar-in-Residence weekend. While our Shabbat dinner is sold out, we encourage you to hear our Scholar, Dr. Mitchell Bard, tonight (he’ll start speaking in the Sanctuary around 7:30PM) and tomorrow at morning services.

The Big Inning at the End: Even though this might not have much to do with the theme of today’s post, I would be remiss if I didn’t express sadness regarding the death of Frank Robinson, one of the most underrated superstar players in baseball history, as well as the first African-American team manager. His superb talent was matched only by his fiery competitiveness.

Shabbat Shalom!