Symbolism of the Sanctuary – Terumah 5774
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch devotes almost an entire volume (Vol. III) of his Collected Writings to the symbolism of the Sanctuary. I would like to share with you just a few insights. We note that all the dimensions of the Tabernacle, the portable Sanctuary constructed in the Sinai desert, were whole numbers except for the Holy Ark, where every dimension is a fraction, and the height of the table of show bread. The lesson here is that the Ark contains the Torah, and it’s dimensions, none of which are whole numbers, teach us that in order for one to be a container of Torah one must view every dimension of oneself as incomplete. The Table contains the bread, symbolizing wealth and royalty where the greatest moral danger is haughtiness and arrogance, symbolized by height, and therefore the dimension which is not a whole number is the height of the Table, teaching the wealthy and powerful to be humble.
The Holy Ark is made out of three boxes – the middle of wood, the outer and inner of gold. The Ark symbolizing the Torah scholar, the receptacle of Torah, must be incorruptible and pure, both inside and outside, but he must view himself only as wood, not gold. In addition, he must understand that his essence must be like wood, an organic substance which grows, not like gold which cannot grow.
The ark was covered by a cover of gold, from which are formed two keruvim (cherubs) facing each other and covering the Ark with their wings. The cover itself protects the Torah inside and the keruvim protect the cover. This shows that by guarding the sanctity of the Torah we become our own guardians and the representatives of G-d in the world meriting that the Torah in turn protects us.
The Table contained twelve loaves of bread. The bread was baked in the form of a receptacle open at the top and the ends – seen end on, looking like this – [_____] . As the verse states “Not by bread alone does man live, but by all that proceeds from the mouth of G-d.” In other words, the physical nourishment of bread is really just a receptacle for the life-sustaining Divine blessing and hence the bread is open to the heavens to receive that blessing. It is also open on the ends to teach us that the blessings should not stop at the receiver but should spill over and be shared with others.