Parashat Teruma is the nineteenth weekly portion in the Torah and the seventh in the Book of Exodus (25:1-27:19). Though it appears halfway through the second book of the Torah, Parashat Teruma signals a shift and the beginning of a new unit. The first eighteen portion of the Torah are mostly narrative, telling the story of Israel from the Creation of the Universe until the Revelation at Sinai; the next eighteen — the rest of Exodus, all of Leviticus and the beginning of Numbers — all take place at the foot of Sinai, describing the (portable) house to be built for God, known as the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the sacrificial service to be observed there.
For this reason, we will henceforth briefly describe the topics in each portion and then focus on one aspect of the House of God. In Parashat Teruma, Chapter 25 describes the vessels inside the Sanctuary, Chapter 26 describes the structure of the Sanctuary itself, and 27:1-9 describes the main Altar outside and the structure of the Courtyard which surrounds it.
The foremost vessel of the Mishkan is one which very few people ever saw: the Ark of the Covenant, or as it is known in Exodus, “the Ark of the Testimony.” It is named this for its primary function: holding the Two Tablets of Testimony inscribed with the Ten Commandments by God’s hand. This is why the centerpiece of every synagogue is the Holy Ark, which contains the Torah scrolls.
The Hebrew word used is aron, not teiva (the term for Noah’s Ark as well as baby Moses’ basket). An aron is also what Joseph is buried in, and indeed the Talmud records a custom of bringing out a Torah scroll with the funeral bier of particularly righteous individuals. Thus, the Aron’s function symbolizes that the Word of God is the key to everlasting life.
The Aron is “guarded,” as it were, by groups of cherubim, winged angelic figures. The first set is found on the Kaporet, the Aron’s cover, made out of one piece of solid gold; from between these figures, God’s voice emerges to speak to Moses and give more commandments to the Israelites. The second set is woven into the Parochet, the curtain dividing the Aron’s chamber, the Holy of Holies, form the rest of the Sanctuary. The third set is woven into the roof which is placed over the Sanctuary. We may understand their significance by going back to Genesis 3:24; after banishing Adam and Eve form the Garden of Eden, God places cherubim to guard the path to the Tree of Life. The cherubim surrounding the Aron symbolize a new path to the Tree of Life: God’s revealed Word.
The portion from the Prophets is from the First Book of Kings (5:26-6:13). It describes King Solomon’s preparations to build a Temple, a permanent House of God, almost five centuries after the Exodus. God assures him that he will succeed—but only if he carefully keeps the Word of God.