This week’s parshah is Parshat Terumah, which means “offerings”. It begins in Exodus 25:1 and ends on 27:19.
We last left the Israelites on the foot of Mount Sinai, where they received just a fraction of the 613 commandments. Now, they are being called upon to contribute goods to the building of the Mishkan, the mobile sanctuary that is to be used during their time in the desert. The Israelites are instructed to bring thirteen items: gold, silver, copper; blue, purple and red wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices and gems.
Moses receives instructions on the top of Mount Sinai on how to build the mishkan. G-D goes into great detail on the construction of the mishkan, because it has to be readily dismantled, transported and reassembled. It is described that the mishkan’s inner chamber contained the Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments inside of it. On the ark were two winged cherubim, winged celestial beings, which were made out of pure gold.
In the outer chamber, separated by the inner by an ornately woven curtain, stood the seven-branched Menorah as well as a table of “showbread”. The Torah goes into further detail on the structure of the Mishkan, saying that the walls were fitted together by 48 upright wooden boards, each of which was overlaid with gold and held up by a pair of silver foundation sockets. The roof was made up of three layers: a tapestry of multicolored wool and linen, a covering made of goat hair and a canopy made of tachash (which is an unidentified material) and ram skins. The front of the Mishkan had an embroidered screen which was held up by five posts.
When I was in Israel over winter break, I had the opportunity to tour the tunnels underneath the kotel, or the Western Wall. This is the holiest place for the Jewish people, as the wall was once a part of the Holy Temple. The tunnels beneath tell of the history of the Israelites building the Temple and then being ransacked by the Romans. At one point in the tour, we came upon a part of the wall which looked different somehow. Our tour guide stopped and said that this wall was made by the Romans, and it is said that behind the wall stands the Ark. I was shocked, and maybe even a tad skeptical. After all, the Ark’s location, and whether or not it was still in existence at all, has long been speculated. I asked what I thought to be the obvious question: why doesn’t someone just break through it? Why aren’t we scrambling to do all we can to check if the Ark is really truly there?
The answer lies in the very reason that the Ark is so special; it is holy, and incomprehensibly so. The Ark contains the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses by G-D. That is something that we cannot even begin to understand. It was G-D’s hand which inscribed the Ten Commandments, that kind of sanctity is impossible for a regular human to understand, let alone be witness to. That is why the Commandments were kept inside the Ark, both so that the tablets did not fall into ruin and also because the power of them was simply too much to be looked upon.
Alternatively, from an anthropological perspective, the Ark and its contents would be an amazing find. It would change and expand the knowledge of Ancient Israel and the history of the Jewish people forever. And yet, there is not a notable push from archeologists or anthropologists to search the tunnels.
There are political reasons for this, of course. The discovery of the Ark could lead to in-fighting, and more turmoil in Israel and the greater Middle East. But, as much as this is a pragmatic decision, I see this also as a test of faith. We are being challenged, long after the time of Moses and receiving the Commandments at Mount Sinai, to believe what the Torah is saying. We cannot see G-D, the Temple has been long destroyed, Mount Sinai’s true location is a mystery. The list of the missing pieces of Jewish history goes on, and yet the Jewish people prevail. We prevail not because we have hard and fast evidence of our history, but because we have faith in it. The Ark’s possible yet unsearched location is a testament to that. It is not the tangible relics which have allowed the Jewish people to survive and thrive, rather it is a strong belief in Torah and in the commandments and a love of tradition.
Hadass Galili is a senior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili