Midrash and Method
Midrash and Method
on the weekly parasha by
Meir Levin

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Terumah 5764

Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that gives it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which you shall take of them; gold and silver and brass... ( Shemos 25, 2-3).

There is no Mekhilta on Parshas Teruma; we will therefore, discuss a passage in Yalkut Shimoni 5, 7.

This teaches that the Holy One Blessed He showed them three offerings: one of tabernacle, one of the First Temple, and one of the Second Temple, as it says: gold, silver and brass.

Gold- to reflect the Tabernacle that Moshe made, which was beloved by the Holy One Blessed be He as gold.

Silver-this is the First Temple that Shlomo built of which it is written: silver was not valued at the days of Shlomo at all (Chronicles 9).

Brass- this is the Second Temple that was missing five things: the Ark, the Ark-cover, Cherubim, (heavenly) Fire and Holy Spirit[1].

This particular midrash is best understood as belonging to a group of Midrashic comments that can be termed responsive rather than exegetical. In other words, they respond or echo outstanding structural, linguistic or stylistic features of the passage under discussion. One can extract the stimulus that lead to a misdrashic comment of this kind but the point of the midrash itself is to respond rather than expound. Among Western literary forms it is closest to a meditation, a poem or essay inspired by another poem or essay. This process is a kind of conversation between the reader and the text; while listening to the exchange, the original text can be seen to yield up hitherto only implicit possibilities. It is quite worthwhile to try to determine to what the midrash is responding. Trying to find the stimulus leads to a richer and more varied understanding of the text.

On the simplest level the midrash takes note of the unusual structural pattern in the first several verses of our parsha. Whereas the more common structural convention of Biblical writing is parallelism, or groupings of two units in a sentence, our passage employs groupings of 3.

Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring me an 1.offering: of every man that gives it willingly with his heart ye shall take my 2.offering. And this is the 3.offering which you shall take of them;
1.gold and 2.silver and 3.brass.
And 1.rams skins dyed red, and 2.badgers skins, and 3.shittim wood.
1.Oil for the light, 2.spices for anointing oil, and 3.for the sweet incense. 1.Onyx stones, and 2.stones to be set in the ephod, and in the 3.breastplate...

The midrash reacts to this structure by responding with the 3 holy sites to which these offerings may be related: the tabernacle and the two temples.

On a deeper level the offerings are characterized as an offering, my offering and the offering. Correspondingly, there is the tabernacle which is usually used with an indefinite participle (mishkan) and the Temple, which is always used with a definite article (Beis Hamikdash). More, the middle offering specifies that its source is an individual- every man whose heart moved him, and it corresponds to the second temple, which was uniquely built by an individual and out of his own funds - Shlomo. As described in Kings I, 9-11, however, Shlomo built other palaces as well and the tone of that account is rather flat when compared, for example, with the pathos and feeling with which David's attempt to build the Temple is recounted. The mention of from each man whose heart moved him is significant for Shlomo is the King of whom it states: his wives turned aside his heart... and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his G-d as was the heart of his father, David (Kings I 11, 3-4).

It worthy of note that the verse cited can be read as minimizing Shlomo's contributions. It essentially suggests that silver was not worth much to him and that is hardly what we would have expected. There are quite a few other more complimentary mentions of silver in the passages of Kings and Chronicles; yet this is the one that the midrash selects. The midrash deliberately discounts the value of Shlomo's contribution. It brings out the latent discomfort in the account in the book of Kings in response to the salient features of our passage. Again, the method is to note unusual features and employ and intensify them in its own meditation upon the text.

This discomfort is fairly close to the surface of the account in Kings and had been picked up by others. Siforno to Shemos 39, 21 explains that the Tabernacle was built by righthouse people and it contained the tablets of the law, therefore it has never been destroyed and will exist forever. ...But the temple of Shlomo whose builders were from Tyre, even though Shekhina came to dwell there, parts of it came to be worn out and it required a renewal (Kings II, 22, 5) and at the end it fell into hands of enemies. However, the second temple that did not have either of this two conditions (tablets of testimony and having been built by tsaddikim; instead it was generated by the Persian monarch Koresh), Shekhina did not dwell therein.

The midrash goes on to note the definite article used with the third mention of the offering (hateruma) and connects it to the 5 (hei) things that were missing in the Second Temple[2]. This homiletic comment rounds off the message.

The Midrashic comment in the Yalkut illustrates a particular genre of midrash, one that responds rather than explains. It organically extends the range of meaning inherent in the stylistic peculiarities of the text under discussion, in the process sensitizing us to the wider issues reflected in a particular text.

Good Shabbos,

M. Levin

1 The Talmud in Yoma 21b adds also Shekhina and Urim vTumim. Other sources vary in other important details in regard to what was missing - see Yafe Einaim ibid.

2 We find the reading of the definite article hei as number five in other places as well, for example, the hei of hasadeh referring to the five sins that Eisav committed on the day Avraham died, Yalkut Shimoni Breishis remez 79 and Targum Yonasan to Breishis 25, 29. As Rashi explains in Yoma 21b, the omission of a hei is the scriptural source for the five things that were missing in the second temple.