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Terumah 5763

Parshat Terumah
(I Kings 5:26 – 6:13)
February 8, 2003

Solomon’s Temple was an architectural wonder which inspired awe and majesty. It served as the sacred center of the Israelite nation, the house of God in the world. This week’s haftarah discusses its architectural details including the structure of the windows which brought light to the Temple precincts: “He [Solomon] made windows for the House, recessed (sh’kufim) and latticed (atumim)” (1 Kings 6:4)

This description of what these windows looked like is not clear because of the obscurity of these two words. The interpretation of these two terms among the various commentators reflects the technology available in their own day. Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the Prophets, explains that the windows were open [broad] on the inside and closed [narrow] on the outside. This particular design was thought to provide the maximum amount of light from the outside while providing for the maximum protection inside. The Rabbinic tradition adapted the same technological understanding. However, the sages maintained that the source of light was not found outside the Temple precinct but rather inside, provided by God. The windows were constructed, according to the sages, in the opposite manner in order to provide the world with God’s light, as we note in the following midrash:

Rabbi Hanina said: The Holy Temple had windows through which light went out into the world. As it is written: “He [Solomon] made windows for the House [ the Temple], recessed and latticed. This is understood to mean that the windows were both narrow and wide – narrow on the inside and wide on the outside so that the light from the Temple would go out into the world. Rabbi Levi said [by way of analogy]: When a king when he builds a room makes the windows small on the outside of the building and large on the inside so that the maximum amount of light will enter the room, but the windows of the Temple were not built this way. They were built narrow on the inside and wide on the outside, so that the light from inside would spread out into the world. (adapted from Leviticus Rabbah 31:7)

Rabbi Levi ben Geshom, the 13th century French interpreter and philosopher, accepted the architectural design found in this midrash, but rejected their explanation as “midrashic”. Instead he explained that according to the “latest engineering advances of his day”, the design described by the rabbis really provided the maximum light inside the building. These windows, he asserts, were designed for maximum light and beauty.

Each of these interpreters sought to apply the best technology available to Solomon’s project. It was unthinkable to do less.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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