Insights from the Kli Yakar

Parshat Terumah 5772
From this parsha until the end of Sefer Shemot / Exodus, the Chumash focuses on building and inaugurating the Mishkan (tabernacle).

Earlier this week I gave a brief introduction to the Mishkan.

Here is the translation of a few verses from Judaica Press:

Exodus Chapter 25

Ark (Aron)

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. …
13 And you shall make poles of acacia wood and you shall overlay them with gold.
14 And you shall bring the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them.
15 The poles of the ark shall be in the rings; they shall not be removed from it.

Table (Shulchan)

23 And you shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits its length, one cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height.


31 And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall [all] be [one piece] with it. …
39 He shall make it of a talent of pure gold, with all these implements.
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Exodus Chapter 27

Altar for Offerings

1 And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and its height [shall be] three cubits.

Exodus Chapter 30

Incense Altar

1 You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke; you shall make it out of acacia wood.
2 It shall be one cubit long and one cubit wide, a square, and two cubits high; its horns shall be [one piece] with it.

The incense altar is mentioned in next week’s parsha, but it fits into the discussion here.


How big is a cubit? The estimates range from 18 – 24 inches. To keep things simple, I will assume that one cubit is 20 inches.

Here are the dimensions of these vessels in cubits and (inches):

Vessel Length Width Height
Ark (Aron) 2.5 (50) 1.5 (30) 1.5 (30)
Table (Shulchan) 2.0 (40) 1.0 (20) 1.5 (30)
Menorah any any any
Altar 5.0 (100) 5.0 (100) 3.0 (60)
Incense Altar 1.0 (20) 1.0 (20) 2.0 (40)

Kli Yakar

I am going to do something different in this post. The best answer I found to several of my questions is in the commentary of the Kli Yakar.

I have translated excerpts from his commentary on Exodus 25:10.

My Translation

Before I speak about them (the vessels of the Mishkan) I will talk in a general way concerning the three principle vessels, each of which had a golden crown: the Ark, the Table, and the Incense Altar.

Our Sages said that they correspond to three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Kingship, the crown of Priesthood.

The one who looks closely sees that these three vessels differ in their dimensions.

The Ark, all of its dimensions are “broken” (half measures). The Incense Altar, all of its dimensions are whole numbers. The Table, some are whole and some are halves.

Ark (Aron)

I say, based on what the Sages said, concerning character traits you should look above yourself. [That is, at a person who you respect for the perfection of their character and wisdom.]

By means of this he will see himself as lacking perfection and that he has not attained the level of his friend. He will then become jealous of him. This will motivate him to increase his wisdom, since jealousy amongst sages (concerning wisdom) leads to increasing wisdom.

But, concerning matters of this world, that is every physical attainment such as wealth and honor, he should look at one who is beneath him. With this he will rejoice in his portion when he sees that he has more than many other people.

Therefore, all the dimensions of the Ark were halves, to teach that every person should view himself as if he is lacking in complete wisdom and that he still needs to fill his deficiency…

That is, each partial dimension teaches about some deficiency that a person needs to rectify. The principle, “Where will wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12) concerns one who considers himself as being deficient.

One who is wise in his own eyes incorrectly evaluates himself, saying that he has already achieved the goal of wisdom. Who is wise? The one who learns from every person (Avot 4:1). That is, the one who evaluates himself as lacking in wisdom and that he needs to learn more.

Table (Shulchan)

The Table alludes to the Crown of Kingship and to all the material prosperity that the Jewish people merit from God’s table.

Some of its dimensions are whole numbers because every intelligent person should be happy with his portion and he should consider himself as if he has everything and that he is not lacking anything. …

However, some of its dimensions are “broken” (halves) to teach that a person should not completely satisfy every (legitimate) desire, rather he should break his desire.

The Altars

The Incense Altar and the Altar for Offerings, all of their dimensions are whole numbers. The purpose of each altar is to complete (reconcile) the person who is lacking because of his actions. That is, everything that comes to atone for a person eliminates his deficiencies.

The Altar for Offerings atones for the body of the sinner through offering the body of an animal.

The Incense Altar atones for the soul and Godly spirit which goes up like the smoke of the incense.

Therefore, all of their dimensions are whole numbers.

Your Turn

Please share your suggested answers in the comments.

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A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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