Parshas Terumah - Do Jews Believe In Unicorns?
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרֽוּמָתִֽי: וְזֹאת֙ הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּקְח֖וּ מֵֽאִתָּ֑ם זָהָ֥ב וָכֶ֖סֶף וּנְחֽשֶׁת: וּתְכֵ֧לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֛ן וְתוֹלַ֥עַת שָׁנִ֖י וְשֵׁ֥שׁ וְעִזִּֽים: וְעֹרֹ֨ת אֵילִ֧ם מְאָדָּמִ֛ים וְעֹרֹ֥ת תְּחָשִׁ֖ים וַֽעֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּֽים:
"The Lord spoke to Moses saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering. And this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, tachash skins, and acacia wood;" (Shemos 25:1-5)
In this week's Parsha, Klal Yisrael is instructed to build the Mishkan as the passuk says וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם, Make for me a Mishkan and I will dwell in their midst (Shemos 25:8). Among the various items used to build the Mishkan were the tachash skins that were used as the outer covering of the Mishkan as well as a slipcover for the vessels of the Mishkan while traveling through the desert.
What exactly is the Tachash?
In this article we will discuss the various opinions as to the exact nature of the Tachash and the inner meaning of its usage in the Mishkan.
Shoes and Concubines
Two other times in Tanach we find the word Tachash.
The Navi Yechezkel (16:10) said:
וָֽאַלְבִּשֵׁ֣ךְ רִקְמָ֔ה וָֽאֶנְעֲלֵ֖ךְ תָּ֑חַשׁ וָֽאֶחְבְּשֵׁ֣ךְ בַּשֵּׁ֔שׁ וַֽאֲכַסֵּ֖ךְ מֶֽשִׁי:
"And I clothed you with embroidered garments, and I shod you with [the skin of the] Tachash, and I girded you with fine linen, and I covered you with silk."
The Navi Yechezkel is saying that Hashem, as the husband who has found his wife (Klal Yisrael) abandoned in the desert, has made her shoes from the skin of the Tachash. Rav Saadiah Gaon and Rav Avraham ben HaRambam conclude based on this passuk that the Tachash is black leather that one would use to make shoes. Others (see Targum and Mahari Kara) understand that the Navi is speaking metaphorically and that this is God's way of saying, "I placed my Mishkan, covered with Tachash skin, among you".
The Re'em (Shemos 25:5) says that there are actually two different types of Tachash. One type was used to make shoes while the other was used to cover the Mishkan.
Tachash was also the name of Nachor's concubine as the passuk says:
וּפִֽילַגְשׁ֖וֹ וּשְׁמָ֣הּ רְאוּמָ֑ה וַתֵּ֤לֶד גַּם־הִוא֙ אֶת־טֶ֣בַח וְאֶת־גַּ֔חַם וְאֶת־תַּ֖חַשׁ וְאֶת־מַֽעֲכָֽה
"And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, had also given birth to Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah." (Bereishis 22:24)
In summation we see that the word Tachash is used in connection with the covering of the Mishkan, shoes and Nachor's concubine. What is the inner connection between these three seemingly disparate concepts?
The One Horned Tachash
Before we can understand the connection between these three concepts we must first explore what exactly is the nature of the Tachash. Was it a dye? Was it the skin of an animal? If it was an animal, what type of animal was it?
The Halacha is that if a person is under an Ohel (a tent) with something that is Tamei (ritually impure) the person becomes Tamei. Based on this principle the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 2:3) brings the following discussion:
רבי אלעזר שאל מהו לעשות אוהל מעור בהמה טמאה והכתיב ועורות תחשים
Rav Elazar asked: “May one make a tent out of the hide of an unclean animal?” (i.e., would it convey and be subject to impurity like a normal tent?) Is it not written (Exod. 36:19), “Skins of techashim?”
In other words, if standing under an Ohel with a Tamei animal makes a person Tamei, what is the halacha if the tent itself is made from the skins of an impure animal? Would a person standing under such an Ohel become Tamei? And since the Mishkan was covered with the skin of the Tachash, would that not have made the entire Mishkan Tamei? Obviously this is untenable so how can we reconcile this conundrum?
The Gemara offers three answers:
1. Rav Yehuda says: “It was taynin, (a violet color) and named for its dye.”
2. Rav Nechemiah said: “It was galaktinin.
3. The Rabbi's said: “It was a clean [kosher] animal, and it lived in the wilderness.”
While the third answer clearly identifies the Tachash as an animal, the asnwers of Rav Yehuda and Rav Nechemiah are a matter of dispute.
The Korban Ha'eida understands both Rav Yehuda and Rav Nechemia to mean that the tachash refers to a pigment that was used to dye the goat skins. Their only dispute is regarding the nature of the color of the dye.
The Pnei Moshe understands both Rav Yehuda and Rav Nechemia to mean that it was indeed some sort of non-kosher creature. Their only dispute is regarding the identity of the animal.
Regarding the final explanation of the Rabbi's that it was in fact a Kosher animal the Gemara says:
ותיי כיי דמר ר’ לעזר בי ר’ יוסי ר’ אבהו בשם רבי שמעון בן לקיש בשם ר’ מאיר כמין חיה טהורה ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה במדבר כיון שעשה בה מלאכת המשכן נגנזה. ר’ אבון אמר קרש היה שמה. תני רבי הושעיה דחדא קרן [תהלים סט לב] ותיטב לה’ משור פר מַקְרִן ומפריס. מקרן כתב רחמנא.
This fits with that which Rav Eleazar bar Yose stated, R. Abbahu in the name of Rav Shimon ben Lakish in the name of Rav Meir: The Holy One, blessed be He, created a clean animal for Moses in the wilderness. Once [Moses] had constructed the mishkan with it, it was hidden away.
Rav Avon said it was called a Keresh.
R. Hoshaya taught, It had [only] one horn. “It shall please the Lord better than a bullock with horn and hoof” (Psalm 69:32) –and מַקְרִן is written defective (i.e., without a yod between the resh and the final nun, suggesting the singular noun קֶרֶן, “horn”).
There is a parallel discussion in the Bavli (Shabbos 28a,b) regarding the nature of the Tachash.
There the Gemara quotes Rav Nechemiah who explains that that the Tachash was a Kosher animal that had a skin with many colors. Rav Yosef explains that the Targum (traditional Aramaic translation of the Torah) of the word Tachash is Sasgona which is a conjunction of the words sas (rejoice) and gevanim (colors). The Tachash is an animal that rejoices in its many colors.
Like the Yerushalmi, the Bavli maintains that the Tachash had a single horn on its forehead and it only existed in the times of Moshe so that it could be used to serve as a covering for the Mishkan. After it had served its purpose the Tachash was hidden away.
Similarly, the Medrash Tanchuma (Terumah 6) tells us that the Tachash was a large wild kosher animal that had a single horn, its skin was made up of six colors (The Radak explains that sasgonna can be read as sheish gavnim six colors), and its length was 30 amot (nearly 50 feet long!). The Medrash also quotes Rav Nechemiah who says that the Tachash was a miraculous creation, created specifically for the Mishkan and then hidden away.
The Gemara in Shabbos (28b) connects the single horn of the Tachash to another animal that had a single horn. Upon being expelled from Gan Eden (see Targum Yonasan ben Uziel Bereishis 8:20) Adam brought a sacrifice of an ox with a single horn (see also Avodah Zara 8a, Chullin 60a). The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (34:9) explains that Adam sacrificed this single horned ox in Yerushalayim as the passuk in Tehillim (69:32) states, "And it shall please the Lord better than an ox or a bullock that has horns and hoofs."
The Alshich HaKadosh (Toras Moshe, Shemos 26:14) connects the Tachash to the coming of Mashiach. There are two ways Mashiach can arrive; in the proper time (in the normal process of the world) or אחישנה, swiftly (see Yeshaya 60:22, Sanhedrin 98b). The word אחישנה shares the same root as the word Tachash.
As we explained the word Sasgona, the Aramaic translation of the Tachash, is a conjunction of two words, Sas and Gona. The Yalkut Teiman explains that the word gona does not only mean colors, it also means mourning. Whomever looked upon the Sasgona would immediately rejoice (Sas), removing any sense of sadness that they were feeling.
Finally, as mentioned above, the Targum for the word Tachash is Sasgona. The the word sas also means a worm making a Sasgona a multicolored worm.
Let us review what we have thus far learned.
The Tachash, according to most opinions, was a large animal with a skin of many colors and a single horn upon its forehead (it seems unicorns are real after all!). The reason we do not know about the Tachash today is that it was miraculously created only for the time of the Mishkan so that it skin could be used as a covering for the Mishkan. After it had served its purpose, the Tachash was hidden away. The Alshich connected the Tachash to the coming of Mashiach. The Yalkut Teiman taught us that seeing the Tachash removed any sadness a person was feeling. The word Sas also may indicate that the Tachash is connected to the worm.
As we consider these facts, several questions jump out at us.
1. What is the significance of the single horn of the Tachash?
2. What is the significance of the fact that Adam brought an ox with a single horn as a sacrifice?
3. What is the significance of the fact that the Tachash was made up of many colors? Why does it rejoice in its colors?
4. What is the significance of the fact that it only existed for that period of time and then was hidden away? This is especially puzzling in light of the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 35:1) that quotes Reish Lakish as saying, א” ר שמעון בן לקיש לא היה העולם ראוי להשתמש בזהב ולמה נברא בשביל המשכן ובשביל בית המקדש, “Reish Lakish says: The world was not worthy of using gold. Why then was it created? For the purpose of the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash.” Interestingly it is also Reish Lakish who says that the Tachash only existed for the time that it was needed in the Mikdash. It seems then that Reish Lakish has contradicted himself! If the only reason gold was created was to be used in the Mishkan or the Beis HaMikdash, why was it not created specifically during that time period and then hidden away as the Tachash was?
5. What is the connection between the Tachash and the swift (early) arrival of Mashiach?
6. How exactly does the seeing the Tachash remove any sense or mourning?
7. What is the connection between a worm and this massive one horned animal we have been describing?
8. Why does the Navi identify the Tachash with the leather of a shoe ?
9. What is the connection between the Tachash and Nachor's/Reumah's son being named Tachash?
Building a Home For God
In order to understand the nature of the Tachash we must first examine the very reason for the creation of the world.
The Medrash (Medrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3) explains that God created the world because he desired a dirah, a dwelling place, in the world down below (dirah bitachtonim).
What exactly is the nature of a dirah? What does it mean that God desires a dirah specifically in the world "down below?"
A dirah is a home. It is a place where someone can be completely comfortable. In our homes we are uninhibited, totally unafraid to be our truest selves. God desires that our coarse physical world should become a place where He feels comfortable so to speak. Of course no place is devoid of God. From God's perspective, even after creation, there is nothing but Him. However, from the perspective of creation, the world is real and appears to be other than God. The initial light of creation (that vitalizes our physical world) was filtered over and over again until darkness appeared. When the Torah describes creation, its first words are not “Let there be light.” Instead, it speaks of “void and darkness." Our physical world is a product of the concealment of the light and exists in such a state of descent that the world declares itself to exist on its own. In such a state of concealment, God does not feel welcome. His presence is not comfortable so to speak. The Shechinah (the indwelling of God's presence) is not clearly manifest. Thus our "lowest world" appears to be disconnected from its source. It is our job to unify the source of creation known as Kudsha Brich Hu and His Shechinah which exists within creation. (This explains why before performing certain Mitzvos we recite a prayer which concludes “For the sake of the union of Kudsha Brich Hu with His Shechinah...”) When Kudsha Brich Hu is united with the Shechinah we will have successfully created a dwelling place for God. In this time, our material existence will not be nullified, rather God's presence will be clearly manifest within the limitations of our physical world. It can then be said that God dwells in the lowest world.
How do we build a home for God? How do we make our world, a place that appears to be devoid of Godliness, into a place where God's presence is clearly manifest? How can we make God's presence in our world manifest without diminishing our very existence?
To bring God into our world we must develop the world until “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” (Yeshaya 11:9) The world remains our world but God's presence is completely manifest. Developing the world into a dwelling place for God requires recognizing the connection between creation and the Creator. This is no small feat because the world proclaims itself to be its own creator. The Torah begins with the letter Beis, indicating that there appears to be two totally disparate realms, the spiritual and the physical. Our job is to harmonize that which appears to be opposites; fusing the spiritual world and the physical world.
The Medrash (Tanchuma, Vaeira 15; Shemos Rabbah 12:4) explains the giving of the Torah with the following parable. "Once there was a king, who decreed: 'The people of Rome are forbidden to go down to Syria, and the people of Syria are forbidden to go up to Rome.' Likewise, when God created the world He decreed and said: 'The heavens are God's, and the earth is given to man.' But when He wished to give the Torah to Israel, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: 'The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms.'"
For the first twenty five centuries of the world, the physical and the spiritual worlds could not be fused. The spiritual world could not be materialized and the physical world could not become transcendent. With the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai everything changed. God revoked the decree which confined matter and spirit to distinct realms and now the physical world was ready to become a dirah bitachtonim, a home for God.
Judaism is not a religion that believes that God can only be found in the upper spiritual worlds. An infinite God would be found everywhere, even in the lowest worlds. So who is closer to God? The philosopher who spends their time living on an uninhabited mountaintop pondering the loftiest spiritual concepts or the simple person who lives in our world doing Godly deeds? Since it is the lowest world that God desires we are "closer" to God when we do what He desires. In other words, to truly build a home for God we would have to engage our physical world and mine its inner Godliness.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Judaism is very much focused on engaging the world around us. Our world can be divided into two categories; Kellipas Noga and Shalosh Kellipos HaTameios. A Kellipa means a shell or a peel. Like a fruit that is surrounded by a peel, there is a spark of holiness that is hidden inside of the shell. Our job is to release that spark of holiness.
Noga means light. Kellipas Noga is therefore a shell that can be illuminated. It is the shell that is in direct contact with the spark of holiness. The Shalosh Keillpos HaTameios (the three completely impure shells) surround Kellipas Noga and since they are further removed from the spark of holiness they cannot be illuminated.
Practically what this means is that anything that is prohibited by the Torah (forbidden objects, actions etc...) emanate from Shalosh Kellipos HaTameios whereas anything that is permitted by the Torah derives from Kellipas Noga. So for example, if one were to eat Kosher food it in order to gain energy with which they can serve God they have released the spark of holiness that was in that food. In contrast, food that is not kosher (descends from Shalosh Kellipos HaTameios), even were it to be used for the sake of Heaven, it would not be elevated because by definition it is non Godly.
When a Jew not only performs the Mitzvos (which are inherently holy) but also engages those parts of the mundane physical world which can be elevated (Kellipas Noga) and uses them in the service of God, they transform this world into a dwelling place for God. They have fused the physical world, which appears to be other than God, and the spiritual spark that dwelled within the material. In this way, the physical world retains its finite limitations and at the same time its inner spiritual spark is revealed. In such a world God's presence becomes clear and can serve as Dirah Bitachtonim.
The Mishkan/Beis HaMikdash represents the model for what our world will one day look like when God's presence is clearly manifest. It is a place within our physical world and yet it is not confined by the space it takes up. One example of this is the Aron that sat in the Kodesh HaKedoshim. The Gemara (Yoma 21a) explains that the place taken up by the Aron was not included in the measurements of the Kodesh HaKedoshim. Although there were 10 cubits from each wall to the Aron and the Aron itself was two and a half cubits long, the width of the entire Kodesh HaKedoshim was only twenty cubits. Thus we see that while the Kodesh HaKedoshim existed within the physical space of this world, it was not confined to the limitations of our world.
The Tachash Covers the Mishkan
The Arizal (Eitz Chaim 49:3) says that the Tachash is the spark of holiness in Kellipas Noga. With this in mind we can see that the Mishkan itself was inherently Kadosh (like the Mitzvos) whereas the covering of the Mishkan represents the Kedusha that in unleashed when we elevate the physical world (Kellipas Noga).
What is the inner meaning of this structure?
When Adam HaRishon sinned, the world became a place where the presence of Godliness was even further diminished. The job of mankind would now be to fuse that which appeared to be devoid of Godliness with the inherent spirituality that lies within. With this in mind we can understand why Adam goes to Yerushalayim, the epicenter of the entire world, and sacrifices an ox with one horn. The ox represents the most physical animal. The single horn of the ox represents the one eternal truth. In sacrificing a one horned ox, Adam is expressing mankind's mission. While the world may now appear to be other than God, in truth nothing has changed. The inner essence of all things remains unchanged. In Yerushalayim, the world will reveal its true Godly character.
The Gemara in Shabbos (28b) compares the one horned Tachash to the sacrificed one horned ox because they share the same inner message. The Mishkan itself was completely transparent Godliness. The Tachash represented the harmony of that which appeared to be opposites. Just as Adam HaRishon brings the one horned ox as a korban to express the connection between the material and the spiritual, so too do we cover the Mishkan with the Tachash to express that the Kedusha of the Mishkan is one with the world around it.
This is the inner meaning of the many colors of the Tachash. When white light is refracted it produces a spectrum of colored light. If one were to take a second prism and refract the colored light it would create white light again. In other words, while the colors appear to be different, in truth it is merely one refracted white light. All of the various colors of the Tachash, represent all of the various forces of the world. Just as the different colors we perceive in the world are actually just refracted white light, so too all the various movements of our world share one Godly essence. The Tachash with its many colors and its one horn represented the fusion of multiplicity and oneness. Of matter and spirit. Of our world and God.
Interestingly, when Adam and Chava are expelled from Gan Eden, Hashem fashioned clothing for them. The Medrash tells us that the clothing was made from the skin of the Tachash. This garment was passed down through the generations until finally Yaakov gave it to Yosef as a gift. There the Torah describes this garment as a Kesones Pasim, which some understand to mean a coat of many colors. If this is the same garment that Hashem made for Adam we can understand why it had so many colors, after all it was made from the skin of the Tachash! And what better material could there be from which to fashion these clothes as Adam and Chava now go out to engage a lower world! (We should add that it is also appropriate for Yosef who saw it as his mission to find God in the world around him though it is beyond the scope of this article.)
This explains the happiness of the Tachash and the role it played in the Mishkan. The Beis HaMikdash is called, “The cause of happiness for the world.” (Tehillim 48:3). What is the nature of the happiness that one experienced in the Mishkan/Beis HaMikdash? True happiness is what occurs when two things that appear to be opposites reveal their inner unity and merge. For example, when two distinct people find that they share a common root soul and get married there is a tremendous simcha. When one came to the Beis HaMikdash, they were able to see that what appeared to be two disparate entities, our world and God, were actually one. As one approached the Mishkan and saw the multicolored skin of the Tachash, the inner spark of Kellipas Noga, they were reminded that everything in this world exists harmoniously with God. Even those in mourning were able to rejoice as they took solace in the fact that everything is part of God's plan. The Tachash itself rejoiced in its colors knowing that they were all merely expressions of its essence. There was no better animal to express the joy that comes with the harmony of opposites than the Tachash.
With this in mind we can understand the connection between the Tachash and the shoe. The inner meaning of the shoe is that it represents separation. Because we are separated from the ground, the shoe is an appropriate instrument to traverse our world. When Moshe Rabbeinu encounters Hashem at the burning bush he is instructed to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. In this place of Kedusha, Hashem wants there to be no separation between Moshe and the ground he walks on. Our world appears to be separate from God but in the space of that separation (Kellipas Noga) we discover God. Thus the Tachash that is the covering (separation) of the Mishkan is conceptually connected with the shoe that separates us from the world and allows us to engage with the world at the same time.
This also explains the inner connection between the worm and the Tacash. Dovid HaMelech compares himself to the worm when he said, וְאָֽנֹכִ֣י תוֹלַ֣עַת וְלֹא־אִ֑ישׁ חֶרְפַּ֥ת אָ֜דָ֗ם וּבְז֥וּי עָֽם, But I am a worm and not a man; a reproach of man, despised by peoples. (Tehillim 22:7) Even in our lowest state, when we feel lowly like a worm, completely distant from God, it is important for us to remember that in our essence we are deeply connected to God.
We are now ready to understand the inner connection between the Tachash used to cover the Mishkan and Nachor and Reumah naming their son Tachash. Earlier we mention that Reumah was the concubine of Nachor. The Zohar (2:147b based on the explanation of the Ohr HaChamah) tells us that the story is actually more complex. Reumah in fact is none other than Hagar, the expelled wife of Avraham Avinu! When Avraham sent Hagar away she yearned to maintain her connection to Avraham Avinu and therefore became the concubine to Avraham's brother Nachor. From this union she produced a child that they named Tachash. Whereas Avraham Avinu represented kedusha, transparent Godliness, Nachor represents the world that conceals Godliness. Hagar is the spark that yearns to connect to the Kedusha of Avraham Avinu. In her union with Nachor she was able to reveal her true Godly essence. What better name for the child could there be then Tachash, the animal that represents the inner Godly connection that exists beneath the concealment.
We can now understand the connection the Alshich HaKadosh made between Mashiach coming before his time and the Tachash (recall that they share the same shoresh). When we actively seek out God in this world, using those things that are permissible to serve God exclusively, we hasten the redemption. Of course we believe that Mashiach is coming either way but if we want to bring Mashiach swiftly we must engage the world around us and mine the nugget of kedusha that inheres within.
With this in mind we can understand why the Tachash existed only during the time of the Mishkan and afterwards it was hidden away. As long as the Tachash existed it was clear to us that hidden within our world there is a spark of holiness. The Tachash was like a living Mishkan in that way. In a world where a Tachash is walking around, Godliness is too transparent. Our world would cease to be the lower world that God desires to dwell within. As such the Tachash could only exist as long as the Mishkan existed. Ultimately, the Tachash is hidden away for the times of Mashiach when our world will have become a dwelling place for God. In that time the Tachash will express the truth of the world that it lives within. Namely that the world which appeared to be other than God was hiding God all along. In such a world Kudsha Brich Hu and the Shechina will be totally unified.