Teruma – Spatial and a Half
The reading of Teruma cites the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. It lists everything from the basic materials required for the construction to the details of the finish on the furnishings. The first piece of furniture detailed in the Torah is the ark of the covenant.
There is a midrash in the Talmud (Yoma 21a) stating that the position of the ark miraculously took up no space despite that fact that the ark clearly had physical dimensions. The Alshei”ch, in his Torah Moshe, states that this Midrash expresses the concept that the Torah has no dependence on any particular place or time. A Jew is obligated at every time and in every circumstance to make the effort to study Torah. Furthermore, a student of Torah has the ability to excel in his studies wherever he is. Indeed, there is no place in the world where Jews have gone which has not produced scholars of note in the area of Torah study. I was delighted to discover this idea since this Midrash has always been difficult to explain and understand. With the benefit of this Alshei”ch the Midrash has now a beautiful and quite meaningful lesson. There is no designated space for Torah. One must not necessarily live in scholarly circles or in a place saturated with Torah learning in order to acquire a portion in it (although that can help). The ark did not take up any space in the Tabernacle even though it was housed there, to teach us that Torah study is not dependent on being in the proximity of G-d’s house. It is available everywhere, in every household and for every person, wherever one may be.
Another lesson about Torah can be gleaned from the ark of the covenant: All of the dimensions in the Tabernacle are in cubits. A cubit is an average arm’s length, from the tip of the elbow to the end of the hand. Yardsticks and other measurement systems were not yet in use and it was typical for body limbs to be used for keeping measurements. The Torah instructs that the ark shall be made in the following dimensions: Two and a half cubits is the length, a cubit and a half its width and a cubit and a half its height.The Ba’al Haturim notes that this is the only piece of furniture to have exclusively broken measurements. Each of the dimensions includes a half cubit. Why is that? The Ba’al Haturim explains that a student of Torah must always be broken in his own eyes, never feeling complete from any side. The ark represents the Torah and its students. It must never be of whole measurements therefore. I later saw this same idea brought in the name of the Shela”h.