“Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you.” (Exodus 25:21)
Parashat T’rumah introduces a complicated building project: the mishkan, or Tabernacle. It requires a variety of sumptuous materials. Most are familiar (gold, silver, copper, wood, wool, linen, ram skins) but one is a complete mystery: the tachash (Ex. 25:5), whose skins comprise the outer layer of the mishkan’s overhead covering (Ex. 26:14). It is described variously as a six-colored animal thirty cubits long (Midrash Tanchuma 6), or as a unicorn that may or may not be kosher (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 28 a,b). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) claims it is a multi-hued animal created for this one purpose only and then disappears. The tachash skins offer a powerful lesson about the relationship of purity to sanctity and the mishkan’s unique nature.
Generally, impure objects may not be used when performing mitzvot, or commandments. So, the Torah usually speaks of purity in binary terms (pure or impure). But Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine) maintains purity exists on a continuum; nothing created is completely impure, and only God (or the Torah), is completely pure. The Torah’s distinction between pure and impure is only for comparison’s sake.
Kook asserts the mishkan is unique: it represents a timeless morality and is the nexus of all time and all space and all things. It celebrates the underlying unity of all creation. Therefore, an exception to the prohibition of impure objects in achieving sanctity is allowed. It is permitted, and even fitting, for the mishkan’s outer layer to incorporate tachash skins, impure objects, as visible reminders: every object reflects God’s glory.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom