Parshat Trumah describes the construction of the Mishkan and its various vessels. One after the other, each and every one is described in minute detail. The erection of the Mishkan can be divided into two distinct units- the Mishkan and the Chatzer (the courtyard).
In the first section (25:10-26:37) we have both the vessels of the mishkan and the structure itself. The order of the vessels, as it appears in the parsha is: Aron, Shulchan and then the Menorah. The structure of the Mishkan itself, the coverings and the beams follow these.
The second unit (27:1-27:19) describes the outer mizbeach and the curtains that formed the framework defining the courtyard itself.
[In other shiurim we have already discussed the difference in symbolism between the two sections of the Mishkan, that of God’s abode and that of the human’s service of God. This is most clearly seen in these two different units. ]
I would like to focus on the end of the first unit (26:31-37):
The Torah tells us to make a Parochet (what it should be made out of and how we are to put it up). The Parochet is to be put up between the Kodesh and the Kodesh HaKodoshim. We are then to place the Kaporet on the Aron.
Afterwards we are to: (passuk 35)
1. Place the Shulchan outside the Parochet.
2. Place the Menora opposite the Shulchan on the southern side.
3. Place the Shulchan on the northern side.
The questions that these pessukim raise, I think, are clear. Why is the positioning of the various vessels a function of the Parochet? Why is the Kaporet placed on the Aron only after it has been put behind the Parochet? What is the significance of the relative positions of the Shulchan and the Menora? What is meant by the double “placement” of the Shulchan (numbers 1&3 above)?
Some of these questions are dealt with by the commentaries on the parsha, some in a direct manner and others in an indirect fashion. For instance see the Ramban who notes that the actual application of this, as described by the Torah, was different. The Kapporet was indeed placed on the Aaron before it was put into the Kodesh Hakodoshem.
I would like to share with you and idea that the Netziv promotes in his comments on the parsha, relating to the relative placement of the Shulchan and Menorah.
The Gemara in Baba Batra (25b) tells us that “he who wishes to gain knowledge should go south and he who wishes to become rich should go north”. The Gemara goes on to give us a “siman” (in this case probably best translated as a mnemonic) from the Shulchan which was placed in the north and the Menorah in the south.
The Netziv explains that the Menorah represents the Torah with all the stress on purity and the symbolism of lighting up the world.
The Shulchan has a dual symbolism when it comes to prosperity. On one hand the Shulchan is meant to be associated with the most basic level of sustenance. The Lechem Hapanim is simply bread (or more precisely- matza). This bread is meant to be an offering to Hashem in order to insure, at least, this basic level of existence for Am Yisrael. The term “rich” in this context is clearly based on the famous Mishna in Avot that tells us that true richness is to be satisfied with that which one has.
On the other hand the Shulchan represents a real and tangible form of richness. The golden, crowned table symbolizes the hope to be rich in the standard sense of the word.
The Torah tells us first that the Shulchan was placed outside of the Parochet, in no obvious location. This first mention corresponds to the first and simple element of the Shulchan. A human being needs to meet certain basic needs. A simple diet of bread the global staple is step one. The Shulchan must be placed first as the Mishna states “If there is no flour there is no Torah”
The next stage is to place the Menorah. The bread is insufficient by itself. The Menorah had to be placed next to the Shulchan, the Shulchan set the stage for the Menorah but the Menorah gives the Shulchan meaning.
The final placement is the Shulcahn once again. This time we are dealing with an elevated level of richness. “If there is no Torah there cannot be any flour”. The Mishna is not simply stating that there are two sides to the coin. The flour in the two phrases is very different. (Seeing as though it is Adar I will allow myself to say that the first one is flour and the second one is “dough” “If there is no flour there cannot be any Torah, if there is no Torah there cannot be any “dough”). The true ability to reach real prosperity is only if the Menorah, the Torah, plays a central role.
[In a similar manner the Chizkuni makes a very strange statement, that the purpose of the Menorah is to light up the Shulchan. I am not sure how he comes to this conclusion, except for the description of the placement of these two vessels. Even if we assume that their relative positions connect the two it is still not at all clear what their relationship is. Is there is a primary and secondary relationship or they “separate but equal”. The Chizkuni clearly sees a hirearchial relationship. Perhaps we can understand his words based on the above idea of the Netziv.]