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Rabbi Shekel on Parashat Terumah

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(Wikimedia Commons photo - Daniel Ventura - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en )

As a reader of science fiction, I find myself enthralled by ideas that often become reality. These days, many sci-fi stories take the mingling of biology and technology for granted. Examples include using brain tissue to spark a revolution in artificial intelligence, or using technology to enhance our biological abilities.

While I often wonder about the moral and halakhic implications of such possibilities, this idea drew my attention to Parashat Terumah’s focus on the construction of the mishkan, the Tabernacle where God dwelled. Specifically, the parashah discusses the details of the mishkan’s construction, the materials that were used and how everything was put together.

Amid all the talk of wood, metals and textiles in Exodus 26 and 27, the descriptive language is distinctly biological. The walls of the Tabernacle are called tselah, meaning “ribs.” The edge of a cloth is safah, or “lip.” The hangings for the enclosure are placed on the katef, or “shoulder.” My favourite description is of the cloths that are connected “as a woman is joined to her sister.”

From ancient midrashim to modern commentaries, numerous connections have been made between the building of the Tabernacle and the creation of the world. In a chaotic universe, God brings order through creation. In a world threatened by evil and immorality, God commands our ancestors to bring spiritual order through holy construction work.

The building of the mishkan was done with the deepest spiritual attention, love and care. Using language related to biological morphology acts as a reminder that if we care so much about inanimate construction items, we should show even greater concern for those who possess actual ribs, lips and shoulders. When we succeed in joining one person to another, we truly
create a sanctuary for God to dwell in our midst. 

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