Parshas Terumah begins the story of the construction of the Mishkan. In his introduction to Sefer Shemos, the Ramban explains that the Galus of Mitzrayim did not fully end until Hashem’s Shechinah was dwelling amongst Bnei Yisrael. In this world, the Shechinah can only fully dwell in the Beis Hamikdash. Until the Beis Hamikdash was built, the Mishkan served the same purpose. That is what makes this parshah so important.
Three of the most well-known and important utensils used in the Mishkan were the Aron (Ark), the Shulchan (Table), and the Mizbach HaZahav (The Golden Alter). A common feature amongst these three items was that each one had a golden crown built around its’ outer edge. Chazal explain that this was in reference to the three crowns we have in Judaism. The crown of the Aron represented the Crown of Torah study, the Shulchan’s crown represented the Crown of Royalty, and the crown of the Alter represented the Crown of the Kehunah (Priesthood).
The Torah gives very precise measurements for each one of these items in amos (cubits). The dimensions of height, width and length, are written very clearly in the pesukim. The Kli Yakar makes a connection between the measurements of these items and the crown they represent.
For each of the three dimensions listed by the Aron, each one includes a half amah in its measurement. For example, the length of the Aron was two and a half cubits. We mentioned earlier that the Aron represents the Crown of Torah study. The Kli Yakar explains that these partial amos are coming to show you that no matter how much you learn, your wisdom will never be complete. As we learn in Pirkei Avos, “Who is wise? He who learns from all men.” (Avos 4:1). There is always more to learn. The dimensions of the Aron were given in halves to remind us of this idea.
The Shulchan represented the Crown of Royalty. In reality, this crown applies to every single Jew because, just like a king lacks nothing, so too every single Jew should recognize that Hashem gives him everything he needs. Therefore, he too lacks nothing! For that reason, the Shulchan’s length and width were in full measurements. However, the Shulchan’s height includes a half amah. This, explains the Kli Yakar, is so a person should realize that while he may have the opportunity to satisfy himself fully, a person should be careful not to completely give in to his physical desires. By building the Shulchan with a “broken” amah, we are reminded to break the hold our desires have over us.
Finally, we have the Mizbach HaZahav, which represented the crown of Kehunah and contained only complete amah measurements. Its’ connection to the Kehunah is because only a Kohen was able to bring the incense offering on it, but the reason for its’ complete measurements is something deeper. Not only this mizbe’ach, but the Mizbach HaNechoshes (The Copper Alter) as well was comprised only of complete amah measurements. The purpose of both the mizbe’achs was to atone for man’s sins and bring him back to a level of “completeness”. The Mizbach HaNechoshes atones for the physical body of a person through animal sacrifices, while the Mizbach HaZahav atones for his spiritual self through the incense offering. In order to show us this great chesed He does for us, Hashem told Moshe to build the Mizbe’ach with only complete amos, just as we are made complete again by the korbanos.