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Terumah 5773

Haftarah Parshat Terumah
(1 Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 16, 2013
6 Adar 5773

Solomon’s Temple was a grand building for its times. It certainly out-measured the portable Sanctuary which it replaced. At the beginning of chapter 6, we are given the Temple’s dimensions: “The House which Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.” (verse 2) Later on in the chapter (not included in the haftarah), we are informed of the size of the Dvir – the Holy of Holies: “The interior of the Dvir was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high.” (verse 20)

Commentators have noted a discrepancy regarding the height of the Temple as a whole (thirty cubits) and that of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits). Rashi resolves this inconsistency quite simply: “the height of the Holy of Holies would be lower than that of the remainder of the Temple.” This solution, while elegant in its simplicity, apparently seemed odd to other commentators, who must have thought it strange that the holiest precinct could be lower than other parts of the Temple. Rabbi David Kimche notes: “Is it possible that the Dvir was lower than the Temple precinct. When the measurement of sixty cubits was given, wasn’t the Dvir included? So didn’t the measurement of thirty cubits for the height also include the Dvir?” He continues, basing himself on 2 Chronicles 3: “[What verse 20 must mean is,] that twenty cubits of the wall was covered with gold and the final ten cubits were covered in precious stone.”

The Talmud offers up a more fantastic resolution: “Rabbi Hanina [once] went out to the country, where they pointed out to him a contradiction between [the following] verses. It is written: ‘The House which Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.’ (6:2), but it is [also] written: ‘The interior of the Dvir was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high!’ (6:20) He answered them: [The last mentioned verse] reckons from the edge of the Cherubim upwards.” [Solomon had set up large copies of the cherub figures found on the top of the Holy Ark, one on each side of the Ark. These figures were ten cubits high. (See verse 26) Rabbi Hanina asserts the measurement of twenty cubits was made from the top of these cherubim to the ceiling.] The Talmud asks: “What do these measurements come to teach us? It teaches us this: [The space taken up by the Cherubim] below [was] like [that] above. Just as [the space] above served no [material] purpose, [namely, it was empty], so, too, [the space] below [which was taken up by the Cherubim miraculously] served no material purpose, [namely, it was empty].” (adapted from Baba Bathra 88b-89a)

What were these miraculous Cherubin? They were winged angelic representations, one male and the other female, which originally graced the top of the Holy Ark, each facing the other. There are voices in the rabbinic tradition that saw in them a representation of the love relationship between God and Israel. (See Heschel, Torah Min Hashamayim 1, pp. 62-4) This might account for the desire to portray them as miraculous, for it is our hope that this love relationship will perpetuate itself beyond the borders of time and space.

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.

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