Midrash Tanchuma Terumah — overcoming setbacks: woven into the Mishkan’s fabric

Midrash Tanchuma makes an unsettling assertion. The destruction of the Mishkan (and, ultimately, the First and Second Temple) was, literally, built into its construction. The Jewish People hadn’t even made their way to the land of Israel and the world powers that would exile them were already foretold. The Midrash sees a hint of what’s to come in these verses:

וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵאִתָּ֑ם זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֹֽשֶׁת׃ …..וְעֹרֹ֨ת אֵילִ֧ם מְאָדָּמִ֛ים.

And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper… And tanned ram skins” (Exodus 25:3 & 5)

Midrash Tanchuma sees a reference in each word to a different exile:

 זָהָב, כְּנֶגֶד מַלְכוּת בָּבֶל, דִּכְתִיב בָּהּ: אַנְתְּ הוּא רֵאשָׁה דִּי דַהֲבָא. (דניאל ב, לח). כֶּסֶף, כְּנֶגֶדמַלְכוּת מָדַי, דִּכְתִיב: וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר כֶּסֶף (אסתר ג, ט). נְחֹשֶׁת, כְּנֶגֶד מַלְכוּת יָוָן, שֶׁהִיא פְּחוּתָה מִכֻּלָּם. וְעֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים, כְּנֶגֶד מַלְכוּת אֱדוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֵּצֵא הָרִאשׁוֹן אַדְמוֹנִי (בראשית כה, כה) 

The gold corresponds to the kingdom of Babylon, as it is written concerning her: ‘You are the head of gold’ ‘(Daniel: 2:38); the silver corresponds to the kingdom of Medea (Persia), as is written: ‘And I will pay ten thousand talents of silver’ (Book of Esther: 3:9); and the brass corresponds to the kingdom of Greece, which was the least (powerful) of all. And rams’ skins dyed red ‘corresponds to the kingdom of Edom (Rome), for it is said: ‘And the first came forth ruddy ‘“(Genesis: 25:25).”

 Didn’t God promise to dwell in our midst

 The commentator Be-er Ha-amarim asks the obvious question. God declared וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ 

And let them make Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.”(Exodus 25:8). But now God seems to be condemning the Mishkan and the future temples to certain destruction. He answers that God’s promise to “dwell within us” is referring to Messianic times. The Mishkan is just a glimpse of Messianic times.

 Furthermore, Midrash Tanchuma answers another question about the Mishkan. If it is filled with God’s light, why do we need to light a Menorah. The answer is the light of the Mishkan is the light hidden away for Messianic times: 

  אָמַר הַקָּבָּ’ה: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאַתֶּם רוֹאִין אַרְבַּע מַלְכֻיּוֹת מִתְגָּאוֹת וּבָאוֹת עֲלֵיכֶם, אֲנִי מַצְמִיחַ לָכֶם יְשׁוּעָה מִתּוֹךְ שִׁעְבּוּד. מַה כְּתִיב אַחֲרָיו, שֶׁמֶן לַמָּאוֹר, זֶה מֶלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ,. 

God said: Even though you suffered because of the four arrogant kingdoms that attacked you, I will bring salvation to you from the midst of servitude. As it is written: ‘The oil for the light,’ (Exodus. 25:6). This refers to the Messiah”

 The relationship between exile and the divide between Yehuda and Yoseph

The Be-er Emorim further suggests that the inevitable destruction of the Mishkan and the future Temples of Jerusalem might be related to an unresolved feud between Yehuda and Yoseph which won’t end until the advent of the Moshiach. This implies that when ancient Israel was split into two countries — Yisrael and Yehuda — it was a direct outgrowth of the ongoing division between Yehuda and Yoseph. Indeed, when the 10 tribes were attacked and ultimately exiled by Assyria, the country of Yehuda did not go to war to help their brothers in the North. Once Israel was divided, it was easier for a world power to sack Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. Of course, on a spiritual level, the “Churban Habayit” — the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash is solely related to our misdeeds and not to military ‘facts on the ground’ that Israel was divided into two countries.

 The Be-er Emorim also references the Zohar on Parshat Pinchas (221a) which says that only a Temple built by God, the third Temple, will endure. Of course, if the Jews didn’t sin with the “Golden Calf” and the “Spies” their destiny would have been far different. The fact is, God is beyond time and space and “knows” the future even as the Jews had the free will to follow the Torah or not.

 How do we reconcile the combination of joy and impending doom?

 Despite all the ominous symbolism embedded in the Mishkan, its dedication was celebrated with great joy, with all of Israel contributing the required materials. How do we reconcile the joy of building a physical manifestation to bring God into our midst and the foreboding symbolism of future calamities?  

 The dichotomy seems reminiscent of King Chizkiyahu who did not want to bring a child into the world who would drag the nation into idol worship. Yet the prophet Yeshayahu essentially told him to do his part and leave the future to God. Moshe also foretold of future exiles and horrendous suffering before the Jews even crossed the Jordan River into Israel.

 Perhaps embedded in the materials of the Mishkan is a critical message for us to embrace life and move forward despite what difficulties might lie ahead. Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik ZT”L described Jewish destiny as a process that moves in a zigzag – lurching forward, suffering setbacks and retreating. We are always moving closer to fulfilling our destiny but never in a straight line. 

We can’t be blind to the obstacles in life, they are as much a part of God’s plan as the gold, silver, copper and red-dyed leather of the Mishkan. Yet, somehow, we have to rise above these obstacles and push forward, undeterred, towards our spiritual destiny.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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