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The Parochet In the Mishkan and in Shul

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Terumah

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The Torah portion of Terumah contains G-d’s instructions to Moshe Rabeinu as to how to build the Mishkan, the temporary sanctuary in the desert. One of the components of the Mishkan was the parochet (curtain) that served as the divider between the first room of the Sanctuary, the Kodesh, and the inner sanctum, the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies). This curtain was made of blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen. The verse says[1] that it was מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב, the work of a fine weaver, and that it had keruvim (cherubim, see below) designed on it.

מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב – Work of a Fine Weaver

Hanging at the front entrance of the Mishkan was a screen called the masach.The Torah writes (Exodus 26:36) that the masach should beמַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה רֹקֵֽם  , the work of an embroiderer. The Jerusalem Talmud[2] quotes two opinions as to the different meanings of מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב versus מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה רֹקֵֽם.
·        According to one opinion, מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה רֹקֵֽם had an image that was visible on only one side whereas מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב had an image visible on both sides. The Rambam (Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 8:15) sides with this view.
·         According to the second opinion, מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה רֹקֵֽם had the same image visible on both sides whereas מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב had designs on each of the sides that were different from each other. Rashi (26:31 and 26) follows this view. Rashi explains that מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב means that the images were woven into the fabric and could therefore be different on each side whereas מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה רֹקֵֽם was the work of an embroiderer and would therefore have the same image on both sides.

כְּרֻבִֽים – Angelic Forms

As mentioned above, the Torah writes that the parochet should have the images of כְּרֻבִֽים (keruvim) on it. There are, generally, three ways to translate this word.
·        Images of Young Children
Earlier in the parsha (25:18), regarding the cherubim on the Aron Kodesh, Rashi translated the word כְּרֻבִֽים to mean the images of young children. This is based on the fact that רוֹבִֽי means young children (see Mishna, Tamid 1:1) and the letter “כ” means “like.” כְּרֻבִֽים therefore means “like young children.”
·        An Image of a Lion and an Eagle
On a later verse (26:1), Rashi writes (regarding the Keruvim on the tapestries of the Mishkan) that כְּרֻבִֽים means the images of a lion and an eagle.[3] The Siftei Chachamim points out that these are two of the images of the angels that carry the Divine Chariot as recorded in the first chapter of Ezekiel. The Jerusalem Talmud (mentioned above) writes that the Keruvim on the parochetwere the images of lions (or a lion and an eagle).
·        Any Image
The Ibn Ezra says (25:18) that כְּרֻבִֽים is a generic term which can mean different images depending on the context.

Symbolism

The Kli Yakar explains the symbolism behind how the parochet was made and why it was held up by poles which had bases of silver.
As explained, the Parochet was the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies into which only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter once a year – on Yom Kippur. So the parochet was fashioned to symbolize (and remind the Kohen Gadol of) the special holiness of Yom Kippur.
·        The Keruvim, which are angelic images,[4] symbolize the fact that on Yom Kippur the Jewish people are like angels.
·        It is made of מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חשֵׁ֛ב which can also be translated as “the labor of thought.” This indicates that on the holiest day of the year, we reject all physical pleasures so that we can focus our higher elements (thoughts and feelings) on serving G-d.
·        The silver bases of the pillars allude to the fact that on Yom Kippur we are forgiven for our sins. (Silver is similar to white which represents forgiveness.)
The rest of the article will discuss the laws and customs relating to the parochet that we have in our shuls today.

The Parochet in Shul

It is customary to have a parochet (curtain) hanging in front of the Aron Kodesh(Holy Ark) which houses the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) in the shul (synagogue). The purpose of the parochet is not simply to decorate the synagogue.[5] It also for the sake of modesty – to shield the Holy Ark from being in plain view for all to see. In this respect, it is similar to the Parochet in the Mishkan which, as explained above, separated the holiest space from everywhere else. In addition, when the Holy Ark was transported in the desert, it was covered with the Parochet along with two other coverings (see Numbers 4:5-6) so that the Holy Ark not be exposed for all to see.

Names of Donors

The Rama writes (Y.D. 249:13), “One may have his name inscribed on anything he donates as a remembrance. In fact, it is proper to do so.” This will ensure that the item is not discarded or replaced while it is still functional (see below and Taz 4 on ibid). In addition, it will serve as a good example for others to make similar contributions.[6] The names of both men and women may be inscribed on such objects.[7]
It is proper that all names of donors on items in shul (or on parts of the Shul itself) should be written in the holy tongue. This is especially true regarding a parochet and the mantle of a Sefer Torah.[8]

Removing the Parochet to Show the Beautiful Aron Kodesh

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef z”l was asked (Yechave Da’at 6:9) about a shul which had a very beautiful aron kodesh which was being plated with gold. The members of the shul wanted to remove the parochet so that the beauty of the aron kodesh could be appreciated by the congregants. Rabbi Yosef commended them for beautifying the aron kodesh but ruled that they may not remove the parochet. As mentioned above, the parochet acts as a screen so that the aron kodesh should not be in plain sight. In this respect, he cites Rashi (Exodus 34:33) that Moshe would cover his face so that the people not gaze at the rays of Divine light that shone from him.
Although this matter is not a halacha, it is the custom of the Jewish people which should be followed, as all Torah customs of the Jewish people have deep halachic reasons and mystical meanings and may not be discarded or changed.

A Parochet inside the Aron Kodesh

It is customary in some shuls to have an additional parochet inside the aronkodesh.[9] This custom has a basis in Rashi on Megillah 26b (D.H. prisah). This parochet should be in addition, not instead of, the parochet that hangs outside the Aron Kodesh.[10]

Holiness of the Parochet

In ancient times, the parochet was occasionally used to wrap the Sefer Torah or as a cloth upon which the Sefer Torah was placed. In those times, the parochet had the status of a tashmish kedusah, a holy artifact, and if it was worn out would need to be placed in genizah.[11] Nowadays, however, the parochet is not used in these ways and thus does not have the holiness of a holy artifact. Rather, it has the same holiness as that of a shul because it is one the articles used in a shul.
As such, the following laws apply as to how the parochet may be treated:
·        One may use it as a cloth upon which to place and read the Sefer Torah.[12] (As mentioned above, this is no longer customary. But, it is permissible to do.)
·        In some communities, it was customary to use the parochet as a the chuppah during a wedding ceremony. Although the parochet has some holiness (as explained above), since this is the custom, it is permissible as it is considered that when it was originally sanctified it was with the understanding that it could be used for this purpose.[13]
·        In some Sefardic communities, it was customary to use the parochet to decorate the communal sukkah. In those communities it is permissible for the reason explained above regarding using it for a chuppah.[14]
·        When the parochet is worn out, one may cut it up and use the material to make Tefillin bags.[15]
·        When the parochet is worn out, it may be discarded, and it is not necessary to place it in Genizah. It should not be thrown out with other garbage, however, as that would not be respectful. Instead, it should be wrapped in a separate bag before being discarded so that it not mix with the other garbage.[16]
·        If someone donated a parochet and it is still fit for use, it is not proper to allow someone else to donate a different one and only use the new one. Rather both the new and the old parochet should be used from time to time.[17]
May we soon see the Parochet of the third Bait HaMikdash with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!
[1] Exodus 26:31
[2] Shekalim 8:2 according to the text of the Gra
[3] But see Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi on that verse who says that כְּרֻבִֽים always means the images of young children and that Rashi simply uses the examples of a lion and an eagle to explain the idea that there were different images on either side of the curtain.
[4] As mentioned above, the images of a lion and eagle were chosen to represent the angels that carry the Divine Chariot.
[5] Responsa Zera Emet by Rabbi Yishmael ben Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen of Modena Italy (1723 – 1811), siman 26.
[6] Teshuvot Vehanhagot, cited in Piskei Teshuvot 154 note 216
[7] Ibid, note 217. But see there as to the opinion of the Munkatcher Rebbe.
[8] Responsa of the Maharsham, cited in ibid note 218
[9] See Responsa Yaskil Avdi O.C. 4:7 by Rabbi Ovadia Hedaya of Alleppo and Jerusalem (1889 – 1969)
[10] The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag, O.C., page 198
[11] O.C. 154:2 and Mishnah Berurah 11
[12] Mishnah Berurah 154:29
[13] Mishnah Berurah ibid
[14] Sources cited in Piskei Teshuvot 154 note 135
[15] Minchat Elazar 1:27 cited in Piskei Teshuvot ibid note 135
[16] Piskei Teshuvot 154:3
[17] Ibid 153:31
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevroach!

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