Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Terumah

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God teaches Israel how to create holy space. We’re taught how to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, a place for rituals. In these instructions are the details of the Menorah, the main light source, but the descriptive language is striking because it is describing a tree.
The Menorah is to have “branches,” “calyx,” “petals,” “stems” and “almond blossoms.” The wicks are to sit inside ‘almond blossoms’ and give light forward. In fact, much of the language used to describe the entire Mishkan is the language of nature and relationships. While most of the Mishkan objects are lost to us, the image of the Menorah has sustained into our world and into our homes.
But when we think of trees, we do not think of them as giving us light, we think of them as giving us oxygen. We have a physically symbiotic relationship with trees because we exhale carbon dioxide, which they absorb to form oxygen, which they release into the air that we then breathe. We inhale what they exhale, and they inhale what we exhale. We need each other to breathe.
Jewishly, when we think of light, we think of knowledge, the understanding of the word ‘enlighten.’ Light is also symbolic of our souls. We light candles in memory of others, and we light two Shabbat candles for the enhancement of our souls that we experience each Shabbat –the ‘twin’ soul we all welcome for the hours of Shabbat. Light, in Judaism, is strongly Kabbalistic, mysterious and symbolic of the infinite.
But the Torah has told us to create the Menorah, our source of light, and symbolically think of the trees. Is this not a mixed symbol?
Judaism always teaches that our bodies and our souls are equally holy, and we must treat them both with awe. The air we breathe sustains our bodies while the symbols of light, knowledge and spirituality sustain our souls. We must never think of ourselves as divided beings, but as holistic creations with Divine Intent.
The Menorah is perfectly described to us as the combination of air and light. Each time we saw it, we would remember our own holiness, and that every breath we take is an opportunity to bring more light to the world.          
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat­ – our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.
Shabbat shalom,

1 thought on “Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Terumah”

  1. This is a beautiful commentary, and very timely. I am reading “To Speak for the Trees” by Diane Beresford-Kroger. The ancient wisdom of Judaism always astounds me in how it pre-dates later cultural beliefs and scientific knowledge.

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