Read This First

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at

Parshas Terumah #1

First On Line

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, speak to the Children of Israel, and they will take [for] Me a donation… And this is the donation that you will take from them: gold, and silver, and copper… and [jewels] for the Ephod and the Choshen” (Shmot 25:1-7).

The Torah lists the materials the Jews in the desert were called upon to donate for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), from precious metals, fine fabrics and hides, to oil and spices. Last on the list are the jewels for the Ephod and the Choshen.

The Ohr HaChaim (Shmos 25:7) notes that these articles are listed in descending order. Gold and silver, the most valuable items, are first, and spices, the least costly item, are last. There is one exception: the jewels, even more valuable than the gold and silver, are at the very end. Shouldn’t they have topped the list, even before the gold and silver?

One answer suggested by the Ohr HaChaim is that the stones are last because of the story behind this particular donation. The jewels for the Ephod and Choshen were contributed by the Nesiim, the Princes of the Twelve Tribes (Shmos 35:27) – but they arrived a bit late. When Moshe, at Hashem’s command, announced that donations should be made for the Mishkan, the Nesiim decided to wait; they would see what came in and what was missing, and then contribute whatever was still needed. They failed to take one possibility into account: there was an immediate flood of donations, enough for the Mishkan, its sacred Keilim (Vessels), and the Bigdei Kehunah (Priestly Garments). Only two days after Moshe’s announcement, there was nothing left for them to give! The only item still outstanding was the most expensive of all, the jewels for the Ephod and Choshen, and that is what they gave (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:16).

Coming In Last

The Torah is critical of their approach, as evident from the way the word “nesiim” is spelled in the passuk concerning the contribution of the jewels. It lacks the letter yud (נשאם) which would ordinarily be included in the word (נשיאים), indicating a deficiency on their part. The contribution of the Nesiim had monetary value, but lacked the enthusiasm and quick action which would have made their mitzvah “top of the line.” This is why the jewels are last – not first – on the Torah’s list.

The Nesiim learned their lesson and did not repeat their mistake. When the Mishkan was complete, it was time to donate sacrifices for the inauguration of the Mizbeach (Altar). This time, they made sure to be the very first to give.

There are many ways to do mitzvos. We can seek out opportunities, take the initiative, and give a mitzvah our best effort, comparable to the Jews in the desert who hurried to donate their most prized possessions to the Mishkan. Or – we can drag our feet, doing only what we have to, when we really have to. Assuming that we get around to it, in this case too the mitzvah is fulfilled, but it will be counted as last on line.

Question for Discussion:

In many areas in life, we can make the most of opportunities and take the initiative. What is one area where you would like to take the initiative and be “first on line”?

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Parshas Terumah # 2

On the Table

“And you will put the Showbread on the Table before Me, at all times” (Shmos 25:30).

Every article in the Mishkan, and later in the Beis HaMikdash, had profound symbolic significance. The Shulchan (Table) in the Mishkan which held the twelve loaves of Lechem HaPanim (Showbread) represented Hashem’s blessing of livelihood (see Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 13). It was never empty; the Torah commanded that these special loaves should be in their place on the Table “tamid”(“continually” or “at all times”). The Jewish people’s “Table” should always be full, so to speak.

We can learn another lesson from the Showbread on the Table, concerning the obligation to learn Torah. The Showbread was on the Table continually; our involvement in Torah should also be continual. How does the Lechem HaPanim on the Shulchan parallel Torah learning?

Day and Night

No one is exempt from Torah study. Every Jewish man, young or old, rich or poor, “must set aside a regular time for Torah study, during the day and during the night, as it says, ‘and you will study it day and night’ (Yehoshua 1:8)” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:1). This time slot for Torah is so important that one of the first questions asked by the Heavenly Court is, “Kavata ittim l’Torah – did you establish times for Torah study?” The Maharsha points out that the question is phrased in the plural, implying that we should designate two daily time slots for learning, by day and by night (Chiddushei Aggados, Shabbos 31a). If we maintain both a daytime and a nighttime learning session, we are considered to be constantly involved in Torah.

This principle is derived from the Lechem HaPanim on the Shulchan. The twelve loaves of the Lechem HaPanim were replaced every week with fresh ones. According to the Tanna Kamma (first opinion) in the Mishnah (Menachos 99b), the new loaves were slipped into place from one side of the Table as the old ones were removed from the other, so that the Table was never without the Showbread. However, according to Rabbi Yosse, even if the old loaves were removed in the morning, and the new ones were only placed on the Table in the evening, it was still considered that the Showbread was “before Me at all times,” as long as the Table was not left bare overnight.

Based on this understanding of “tamid,” Rav Ami rules that even if our Torah learning consists of only a single chapter studied in the morning and a single chapter at night, we have fulfilled the mitzvah of “This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you will study it day and night” (ibid.).

Question for Discussion:

Maintaining consistency come what may, day in and day out, is not easy. A commitment to Torah study should be able to withstand the challenge, remaining in place day and night, every day without fail. What is another daily commitment that should be honored without fail, and what can we do to stay with it?

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