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8 Adar I 5784 - February 17, 2024

Parshat Terumah

Rabbi's Reflections

-Precious Metals or Precious Stones: Which Goes First?-

Parshat Terumah describes all of the donations the Jewish people made towards the building of the Mishkan in magnificent detail. However, upon examining the materials needed for the Mishkan, its sacred vessels, accouterments and even the clothing of the High Priest, we discover something rather odd concerning the order in which they appear. According to our parsha, “Gold and silver and copper; and turquoise wool, and purple wool; and linen and goat’s hair; and ram’s skins that are dyed red, and techashim skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for raising the smoke of the incense; onyx stones and the filling stones, for the vestment and the breastplate” (Shemot 25:3-7). Upon studying the list of materials required, it seems peculiar that the “Avnei Miluim,” or the “Filling Stones,” are listed last. Surely, these precious stones which were placed upon the breastplate of the High Priest, are of a higher value than gold and silver! Why, then, are they listed last? 

This question confounded the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, who writes, “We need to understand why the Torah listed the onyx stones and the filling stones after the other eleven types. It would have been more proper to list them before gold and silver, for they are surely more precious!” (Ohr HaChaim on Shemot 25:7). In his masterful way, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers his own question by saying that while the onyx stones and the filling stones were necessary for the Bigdei Kehunah, the priestly garments, they were not necessary for the operation of the Mishkan itself, therefore, the gold and the silver attained a higher status. What is more, he quotes the Talmud which says that the onyx stones and the filling stones were brought by the Clouds of Glory (B. Talmud, Yoma 75a).  Also, the Targum Yonatan writes, “And the Clouds of Glory went to the Pishon River (in the Garden of Eden), and drew up from there onyx stones, and stones for infilling, for the vestment and the breastplate, and spread them upon the face of the wilderness; and the princes of Israel went, and brought them for the need of the work” (Shemot 35:27). If this is so, then collecting these precious stones meant that the people neither toiled for them nor did they incur any personal cost. The gold and silver, however, required the people to search, sieve and realize the cost to their own personal finances. This, the Ohr HaChaim HaKoadsh explains, is why these materials are listed before the onyx and the filling stones: The most precious gifts we can bring to God as individuals and as a people, are gifts that mean something to us, requiring us to show effort, thereby demonstrating our sincerity, our devotion and our love.

This Shabbat, let us embrace the idea that sometimes, the greatest gifts we can give are not the most ornate or grand, but the ones that simply come from the heart. Because the Jewish people worked to provide the gold and silver, those materials meant more to God than even the stones worn by the High Priest! This Shabbat, let us realize that every gift we give is a reflection of our investment in the receiver, and that the effort we make into bringing a gift, whatever it may be, says more than precious stones ever can!

Shabbat Shalom!

-Rabbi Dan

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