Sefi Meyer
Former Shaliach inMelbourne


Parshat Terumah is the first in a series of parshiyot pertaining to the Mishkan.

Chazal compare the four main keilim (the utensils/implements used in the Mishkan) to four different aspects of serving Hashem:

  • The Menorah (the Candelabra) signifies chochmah (wisdom) and ru’ach hakodesh (Divine spirit).
  • The Shulchan (the Table), which holds the lechem hapanim (the showbread), represents parnasah (subsistence) and sovereignty over this world.
  • The Mizbei’ach (the Altar) denotes dveikut (loosely, attaching oneself to Hashem, or communion), which today is achieved through tefilah (prayer).
  • Lastly, the Aron (the Ark­), which contains the Luchot HaBrit, symbolizes the Torah.

The Torah teaches us that three of these keilim were adorned with a zer (diadem): the Shulchan, the Aron, and the Mizbei’ach. Chazal explain that these three zerim correspond to three “crowns”:

  • The zer of the Shulchan represents the crown of sovereignty.
  • The zer of the Mizbei’ach represents the crown of kehunah (priesthood).
  • The zer of the Aron represents the crown of Torah.

According to the Mishnah, the crowns of kehunah and sovereignty are hereditary crowns. However, the crown of Torah works differently:

“The crown of Torah is not so. Whoever wants can come and seize it.” (Yalkut Shimoni)

The crown of Torah is unique in that neither lineage nor extraordinary talent is necessary to achieve it.

Interestingly, this idea is cited by the very Mishnah which compares a mamzer talmid chacham to the Kohein Gadol. Unlike Judaism, in nations such as ancient Greece, only the rich and the pedigreed studied wisdom and philosophy. However, Judaism, in contrast, encourages each and every person to learn Torah. Moreover, the Gemara (BT Nedarim 81a) states:

“Beware of the sons of paupers, for the Torah shall come forth from them.”

The Torah will come forth from the lower classes specifically! The pauper and the mamzer have the potential to surpass the Kohein Gadol.

The lower classes’ ability to achieve greatness is not merely a theoretical concept. Many of our Sages had no family background. For instance, Shmayah and Avtalyon were descended from converts. Hillel HaBavli came to Eretz Yisrael from Babylonia as an unknown but eventually became the Nasi. R’ Akiva was an am ha’aretz (an ignoramus) before becoming a pillar of the Oral Torah. In fact, Jewish history is replete with many other examples. During the time of the Mishnah, the Gaonim, the Rishonim, and the Achronim, many individuals who had unexceptional backgrounds and no obvious talent were able to forge their way to greatness via hard work and determination. Even today, Torah learning is not the sole province of a certain elite. Instead, “whoever wants can come and seize it.” The sefarim are available and accessible; anyone can become the next Gadol HaDor.

Similarly, the Ramban observes that the Torah employs the singular term “v’asita” (“and you shall make”) with respect to all but one of the keilim. The lone exception is the Aron, where the Torah uses the plural “v’asu” (“and you shall make”). According to the Ramban, this comes to teach us that the Torah belongs to everyone. Furthermore, the crown of Torah’s accessibility does not detract from its significance. Rather, the crown of Torah is the most important of all. After all, the Aron with the Luchot stood in the Kodesh HaKodashim, the most sanctified part of the Mishkan.

Other nations featured golden and silver idols in their temples. In contrast, Am Yisrael knows that gold and silver are not the main thing; the Torah contained inside is our focus. Thus:

“Nothing was in the Ark save the two tablets of stone.” (Melachim I 8:9)

And also:

“‘It is more precious than pearls, and all your desires cannot be compared to it.’ (Mishlei 3:15) – It is more precious than the Kohein Gadol who enters the Innermost Sanctuary.” (BT Sotah 4b)

One who toils and strives to learn Torah reaches heights beyond the reach of the Kohein Gadol as he stands before HaKadosh Baruch Hu, in the Kodesh HaKodashim on Yom Kippur. No one is closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu than the Kohein Gadol at that point – except one who learns Torah. “Whoever wants can come and seize it.”