In Parashat Terumah, we encounter one of the most mysterious creatures in all of Tanach. The beginning of the Parashah describes the different types of materials needed to create the Mishkan. One Pasuk states (Shemot: 25:5), “VeOrot Eilim Me’odamim VeOrot Techashim VeAtzei Shittim.” “Red-dyed ram skins, Tachash skins, and acacia wood.” An obvious question on this Pasuk is: what is a Tachash? Rashi comments on this Pasuk that this creature only existed at the time of the building of the Mishkan, and it was a very colorful animal. Other commentaries believe that the Tachash is an animal that has waterproof and protective skin. Because of this, it was used for the curtains of the Mishkan.
The Talmud Bavli (Shabbat 28b) writes that the Tachash was a unique species, but the Chachamim couldn’t determine whether it was a domesticated or wild animal. It also states that it existed only for the construction of the Mishkan. In the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 3:2), Rabi Yehuda and Rabi Nechemiah try to describe what the Tachash was. Rabi Yehuda says it is a huge kosher animal in the desert, with one horn on its forehead, and has six colors from which the curtains of the Mishkan were made. Rabi Nechemiah asserts that it was a miraculous creature that disappeared after it was used for the Mishkan. Why, then, was it necessary to create the Tachash just for the curtains in the Mishkan? The curtains of the Mishkan measured thirty cubits long, and the skins of the Tachash, miraculously, measured to that exact measurement. This proves that it must have been a miracle that was performed just for its use in the Mishkan.
There are various attempts to associate the Tachash with an animal in existence today. One attempt is made by Rav Sa’adia Gaon who identifies the Tachash as a Zemer, a giraffe. This animal fits well with the description of the Gemara. A giraffe is a large animal, it has a multicolored coat, and it also has an irregularly shaped bone protruding from the crown of its head. However, the majority of opinions still identify the Tachash as a non-kosher animal unique to the times of the Mishkan.
These opinions now raise a new issue. How could the hide from an animal being used for the Mishkan, come from a non-kosher animal? I suggest making a comparison to the Pitum HaKetoret. The Pitum HaKetoret contained one spice that had an absolutely awful smell, but nevertheless was included in the ingredients. Why would such a terrible smelling spice be used for such a holy thing?
As Modern Orthodox Jews, we choose to embrace the world and many of its amazing technology and feats. This can be dangerous sometimes for the fear of assimilating and becoming too secular. However, we try to use the world’s advancements to our spiritual advantage and benefit. The Internet is a prime example of this. Of course, there are things on the Internet that can be to our detriment. However, we choose to use it to share a Torah thought or to listen to Shiurim online. Everything in this world can be used to our advantage if we just look for it. The Mishkan represented all the values of different things in the world all coming together to build Hashem’s house. It represents how we can take things that might not look like they can be used for religion, and find their use in our world of Torah and Avodat Hashem.