Thursday, February 10, 2005

Teruma #1: You Have To See It To Understand It

With parshat Teruma, we transition into boring territory. Before we had stories, and thus action, and laws, which require detailing of the cases in which they apply as well as frequent changes of subject matter. In parshat Teruma, we hear a list of donated raw materials, followed by detailed instructions of the dimensions and construction of various parts of the Mishkan and its vessels.

A sample of this subject matter (Shemot 26:1-4)
1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains: of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim the work of the skilful workman shalt thou make them.
2 The length of each curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall have one measure.
3 Five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and the other five curtains shall be coupled one to another.
4 And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the first set; and likewise shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is outmost in the second set.
and it goes on in this manner. Getting through this is more difficult because technical terms for parts of building and methods of construction are used - words that are not encountered every day, and the result is that it is very difficult to read through the parsha without skipping over psukim without really understanding them.

I think that this difficulty is due in large part to the inadequecy of the medium (that is, Hebrew text, or even words in general) to convey the intricacies of contructing the Mishkan and its vessels.

Text has difficulty explaining certain things that are more easily demonstrated. For example, consider a text explaining something as simple as typing a shoelace (an analogy oft cited in discussion of memetic, rather than text based, (Jewish) traditions).

With the magic of the Internet, there is actually a web site dedicated to how to tie a shoelace - Ian's Shoelace Site. On the page dedicated to the standard shoelace knot, Ian has the following instructions:
  1. Tie a Starting Knot as shown, then make the right (blue) end into a "loop" by simply doubling it back onto itself.
  2. Take the left (purple) end and pass it around to the right, going behind the right loop.
  3. Continue the left (purple) end around the right loop to end up in front.
  4. Start to feed the left (purple) lace into the "hole" that has just been made.
  5. With the left (purple) lace now through the "hole", grab hold of both loops and start to pull the knot tight.
  6. Continue pulling on the loops until the knot is firmly tied.
His mention of blue and purple corresponds to his diagram, and he keeps these colors so that you don't lose track of which was the original left and right end of the lace.

He mentioned a starting knot. From his Starting Knot page we have the following instructions:
  1. Hold one end of the lace in each hand.
  2. Cross the left (blue) lace over the right (purple) lace to end up on the right side.
  3. Begin to wrap the right (blue) lace around the left (purple) lace and feed the end through the gap between the laces.
  4. Start to pull the right (blue) lace out the right side.
  5. Having formed an overhand knot, continue pulling on both ends of the laces.
  6. The completed starting knot after the ends have been pulled tight.
Now, tying a shoelace is not hard, but it requires all these instructions. I'll bet you cannot really follow these instructions easily either. Instructions in plain text are hard to follow. It becomes much easier when you visit his site and see that he has a diagram corresponding to each step. (Right-) Click on the link above to visit his site, or see Figure 1:

Figure 1: How to tie a shoelace
It takes a certain type of mind to read the psukim and keep track of the details and a certain spatial ability to use those details to contruct a 3-D image in your mind's eye.

A drawn diagram makes things easier. You can immediately see and understand the dimensions of an object, or various parts of an object, and how those parts fit together. Rather than reading "The length of each curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall have one measure" you could have a rectangle on paper, with the length and width marked down, perhaps in Arabic numerals rather than spelled out in words.

Indeed, the best way to go through the parsha is with a book (or Chumash) with diagrams.

We see that this idea is in fact mentioned in the parsha and midrash.

First, we read in Shemot 25:9:

ח וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם. 8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
ט כְּכֹל, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אוֹתְךָ, אֵת תַּבְנִית הַמִּשְׁכָּן, וְאֵת תַּבְנִית כָּל-כֵּלָיו; וְכֵן, תַּעֲשׂוּ. {ס} 9 According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it. {S}
and then in Shemot 25:40, in regard to the very complicated menorah:
מ וּרְאֵה, וַעֲשֵׂה: בְּתַבְנִיתָם--אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה מָרְאֶה, בָּהָר. {ס 40 And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount. {S}
and finally in Shemot 26:30:

ל וַהֲקֵמֹתָ, אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן: כְּמִשְׁפָּטוֹ--אֲשֶׁר הָרְאֵיתָ, בָּהָר. {ס 30 And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which hath been shown thee in the mount. {S}

Ibn Ezra says mareh implies seeing with the eye, so based on that it would seem to be something visible, rather that just the text description. Perhaps he was granted visions of the constructed items, or perhaps the תַּבְנִית, the pattern, is some sort of diagram.

Rashi on pasuk 40 brings down a midrash:

וראה ועשה.
ראה כאן בהר תבנית שאני מראה אותך.
מגיד שנתקשה משה במעשה המנורה
עד שהראה לו הקב"ה מנורה של אש
And see and do:
See, here on the mountain, the pattern that I am showing to you.
This informs us that Moshe had difficulty in the creation of the menorah (candelabrum)
Until Hashem showed him a menorah made of fire.
The menorah is particularly complicated, and we see Moshe didn't understand it until he was shown a "diagram." (This would seem to imply that the others he was not shown, but what about the words implying seeing there?)

Siftei Chachamim cites an expanded version of the midrash:
והקדוש ברוך הוא כשראה שנתקשה בה הראהו מנורת אש
ואף על פי כן נתקשה בה
אמר לו השלך את הככר לאור
וזה היה על ידי בצלאל
והיא נעשית מאליה בפועל
אבל לא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה בפירוש שתיעשה מאליה
ודרשו כן מדכתיב תיעשה ביו"ד ולא תעשה
הרא"ם האריך כאן ואני קצרתי
And Hashem when He saw that he {Moshe} had difficulty with it, showed him a menorah of fire.
And even so he had difficulty with it
He {Hashem} said: throw the kikar {a measure of gold} into the fire,
And this was via the hand of Betzalel,
And it came into being of its own accord in actuality
But Hashem did not tell Moshe explicitly that it would be made of its own accord
And they darshened this from the fact that it says תיעשה with a yud {implying the nifal=passive} and not תעשה {which would be the active, which would have him =Moshe doing it, rather than it being made}
Mizrachi elaborates here, and I shortened.

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