Parashat T’rumah 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Finding our Strengths and Accepting our Weaknesses
This week’s parashah, parashat T’rumah, deals with the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, and for the making of all the sacred elements and furniture necessary for the rituals performed in the Mishkan.
One piece of the sacred furniture was the Menorah (a lampstand with seven branches), which is one of the most ancient Jewish symbols.
There is an interesting situation with the Menorah and Moses that I would like to focus on in these Torah Thoughts.
It is written in Midrash Tanhuma: Three things Moses found difficult and the Holy One, blessed be He, showed them to him with a finger and these are them: The making of the menorah, the moon, and creeping things.
In the making of the menorah, how [was it]? When Moses ascended [Sinai], the Holy One, blessed be He, was showing him on the mountain how he would make the tabernacle. When He showed him the making of the menorah, Moses found it difficult. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “See, I am making it before you.” What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He showed him white fire, red fire, black fire, and green fire. Then from them He made the menorah, its bowls, its knobs, its blossoms, and the six branches. Then He said to him (Numb. 8:4), “This is the making of the menorah.” This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him with a finger. But nevertheless, [Moses] found it difficult. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He engraved it on the palm of Moses’ hand. He said to him, “Go down and make it just as I have engraved it on your hand.” Thus it is stated (Exod. 25:40), “Observe and make them [by means of] their pattern.” Even so, he found it difficult and said (Exod. 25:31), “with difficulty will the menorah be made,” meaning to say, how difficult it was to make. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Cast the gold into the fire, and it will be made automatically.” So it is stated, “with difficulty will the menorah be made.” This teaches that Moses had difficulty with the menorah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, showed it to him with a finger, as stated (Numb. 8:4). (Midrash Tanhuma Shemini, Siman 11)
Apparently, despite God’s efforts to show Moses how to make the Menorah, Moses found it difficult to understand how to make it. Why was this so hard for him?
Commentaries explain that the challenge of the Menorah was in the requirement that it had to be built out of one piece of pure gold (Maharsha Menachot 29a)
Despite its elaborate and intricate structure, all the Menorah’s components – its base, stem, decorative cups, spheres and flowers – had to be hammered out of a single piece of gold, all an integral part of a single gold Menorah (Exodus 25:31; 36).
As Rashi explains, the Menorah was not to be made “of sections,” nor should “its branches and lamps be separate pieces that are connected afterward in the style of metal-workers which they call ‘solder’ in Old French. Rather, it should all come from a single piece. He (the craftsman) beats it with a mallet and cuts it with craftsman’s tools, separating the branches to either side… The craftsman draws the parts of the menorah out of the solid block of gold.
How is it possible, Moses wondered, to build the complex Menorah out of a single piece of gold? Thus, God showed him several times how to build the Menorah.
There is another Midrash that says: Rabbi Levii says: A pure Menorah came down from heaven, as the Holy One Who is Blessed said to Moshe, “You will make a Menorah of pure gold [alt: a pure Menorah of gold]” (Shmot 25:31) [Moshe] responded: how will we make it? [God] responded, “It will be made of hammered work [mikshah]” (Shmot 25:31). Nevertheless, Moshe struggled and went down and forgot its manner of work. He went up and said: My Master, how will we make it? [God] said “It will be made of hammered work.” Nevertheless, Moshe struggled and went down and forgot. He went up and said: My Master, I forgot it. [God] showed Moshe and Moshe still struggled. [God] said to him: “See and do” (Shmot 25:40) and took a Menorah of fire and showed him how it was made. Nevertheless, it was a struggle for Moshe. The Holy One Who is Blessed said to him: Go to Betzalel, and he will make it. [Moshe] told Betzalel and he immediately made it. [Moshe] was amazed and said: For me, how many times did the Holy One Who is Blessed show me and I struggled to make it, but for you, who never saw it, you make it from your thoughts! Betzalel, you were standing in the shadow of God when the Holy One Who is Blessed showed me how to make it. (Bamidvar Rabbah 15:10)
According to this Midrash, it was so difficult for Moses to remember how to make the Menorah, that God suggested that Moses ask Betzalel, who was an artist, to make it.
How could such a skilled and gifted person like Moses have trouble remembering the details of the Menorah?
This week’s parashah teaches us that even the most gifted among us has both strengths and weaknesses. Moses was a great leader with so many skills, but he was not good in making the Menorah. He was not skilled in building. God realized Moses’ weakness, so he suggested that Betzalel, who was the great artist of that time, should make the Menorah.
This teaches us that every person has a special ability or gift that he or she should develop and do good and meaningful things with. As the Talmud says, God stamped all people with the seal of Adam, the first man, as all of them are his offspring, and not one of them is similar to another (Talmud Babli Sanhedrin 37a). Every human being was created different, with a unique treasure to develop and share in this world. It is our challenge to find our strengths and accept our weaknesses, as Moses did.