Lecture 202: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XI) Part 6

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

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This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev.
May the worldwide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.

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Dedicated to Maya Bernstein & Noam Silverman -
In honor of the Birth of their daughter, Niva Hallel

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In the previous shiur, we brought several proofs of a direct link between the assembly and covenant at Mount Sinai, on the one hand, and the Mishkan, on the other. In this shiur,we will adduce additional evidence to the connection between them and discuss the meaning of that connection.

 

1. The purification of Israel at Mount Sinai parallels the purity of Israel and their purification in the Mikdash during the pilgrimage festivals

 

God's revelation to Moshe at the burning bush on Mount Chorev serves as a fitting introduction to the sanctity of the place for all future generations:

 

And He said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (Shemot 3:5)

 

The emphasis placed here on the sanctity of Mount Chorev and the obligation cast upon Moshe to remove his shoes parallels the processes of sanctification and purification that Israel underwent in preparation for the pilgrimages to the Temple. This reflected in one of the laws regarding “fear of the Temple,” namely the prohibition to enter the Temple Mount wearing one's shoes.[1]

 

The preparations for going up the mountain also parallel the preparations for entering the Temple Mount. Moshe was commanded on the mountain to sanctify the people and prepare them to receive the Ten Commandments: "Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day" (Shemot 19:10). When Moshe descends from the mountain, he says to the people: "Be ready by the third day; come not near a woman" (ibid. v. 15).

 

Tosafot (Shabbat 86a, s.v. minayin) explain that the men of Israel were commanded to withdraw from their wives so that they should be able to accept the Torah upon themselves "with awe and fear and trembling and commotion."    According to the Mekhilta,the boundary was set around the entire mountain, which suggests that the camp of Israel encircled the mountain from all sides, making it necessary to establish a boundary all around the mountain.

 

The fundamentals of purity and holiness as they are presented here parallel what will happen in future generations around the Temple and in Jerusalem. Both the obligation to withdraw from one's wife in order to avoid become defiled with ritual impurity that would bar a person from entering the Temple Mount and the laws of fearing the Temple, which apply also on the Temple Mount, date back to Mount Sinai.

 

There is also a fundamental parallel between the sanctity of Mount Sinai and the sanctity of the Temple for future generations. The essential difference between them is that the sanctity of Mount Sinai was dependent upon the Divine revelation at that site. Therefore, when that ceased, the sanctity terminated as well: "No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain" (ibid. v. 13). While here there is also a prohibition of touch, as opposed to the Temple there is only a prohibition of entry, the prohibition expired when the horn was blown. This stands in contrast to the sanctity of the Temple, which is fixed and permanent.

 

2. The "priests" at Mount Sinai parallel the priests who will later serve in the Mishkan

 

When Moshe went up the mountain the third time, he was commanded to appoint priests and sanctify them: "And let the priests also, who come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves" (ibid. v. 22). The very appearance of the term "priests" heralds the selection of the priests that will take place with the building of the Mishkan. Chazal and the Rishonim have different opinions as to whether the reference here is to Nadav and Avihu or to the firstborns,[2] but the very mention of the term "priests" parallels the tribe of Levi and the priests who will perform the service after the Mishkan is built.

 

3. At Mount Sinai, Moshe authorizes seventy elders of Israel to judge, like the Sanhedrin in the Temple

 

Following the command to go up the mountain and bow down there, the Torah states: "Then Moshe went up, and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel" (Shemot 24:9). The mishna in Rosh Hashana (25a) derives from this verse that unchallenged authority was bestowed upon the Sanhedrin at Mount Sinai for all future generations. R. Dosa asks as follows:

 

Why were not the names of the elders mentioned? To show that every group of three which has acted as a court over Israel is on a level with the court of Moshe.

 

The elders who went up the mountain are referred to as "the court of Moshe."

 

All of the communal authorities are represented among those who went up the mountain: Moshe as prophet and king, Aharon as High Priest, Nadav and Avihu as ordinary priests, and the seventy elders as Moshe's court and as the transmitters of the Torah tradition from Sinai to all future generations. They all stand before the people of Israel who stand at the foot of the mountain to receive the Torah.

 

This structure represents the proper and permanent order of Israel standing before God for all generations.

 

4. Moshe establishes the seat of the Sanhedrin on the mountain adjacent to the altar

 

Moshe says to the elders: "Wait here for us, until we come back to you. And, behold, Aharon and Chur are with you; if any man have any matters, let him come to them" (ibid. v. 14). From here the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 3:8) learns the rules of procedure, the court, and the Sanhedrin. It is possible that the words, "Wait here for us," allude to the place where they had been earlier – next to the altar. If so, this is a source for the law that the seat of the Sanhedrin must be close to the altar.[3] Thus, the obligation falling upon the Sanhedrin to sit close to the altar in the Chamber of Hewn Stone begins at Mount Sinai.

 

5. The place where Moshe went at the top of the mountain – the Holy of Holies

 

Moshe entered the camp of the Shekhina, as is explicitly stated: "And the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud" (ibid., v. 16). Chazal derive from here (Yoma 3b) that anyone entering the camp of the Shekhina must separate from his wife for six days. Similarly, for all generations, the High Priest must be separated from his house to the Palhedrin Chamber six days before Yom Kippur (Yoma 1:1).

 

The ranking among the people accompanying Moshe, the place where they each stand, and Moshe's very ascent to the top of the mountain parallel the High Priest's entry into the innermost chamber on Yom Kippur.

 

We find three parallels:

 

1. The cloud that covers the mountain parallels the cloud covering the Ohel Mo'ed (Shemot 24:15-18).

 

2. The glory of God that rests upon the mountain parallels the glory of God that fills the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34-35).

 

3. God's calling out to Moshe on the seventh day out of the midst of the cloud parallels God's calling out and speaking to Moshe from the Ohel Mo'ed (Vayikra 1:1).

 

These similarities clearly indicate the full parallelism between the resting of the Shekhina on Mount Sinai and its resting in the Mishkan, and between God's calling out to Moshe in these two places out of the midst of the cloud.

 

In this sense, the top of Mount Sinai and the Holy of Holies parallel each other and are identical in their essence and function. In addition, there is an essential correspondence between Mount Sinai, the place that served as the source of prophecy at the time of the revelation of the Torah, and the place where God met with Moshe from between the two keruvim (Shemot 25:22).

 

6. The altar that Israel is commanded to build immediately following the revelation at Mount Sinai

 

The Torah records God's command to Moshe immediately following the revelation at Mount Sinai:

 

An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt-offerings, and your peace- offerings, your sheep, and your oxen. In all places where I cause My name to be pronounced, I will come to you, and I will bless you. (Shemot 20:21)

 

The Rishonim disagree about whether we are dealing here with an allowance of bamot or about the altar in the Mishkan. According to those who say that we are dealing with the altar in the Mishkan, it turns out that the direct continuation of the revelation on Mount Sinai is the obligation to build an altar. The assembly at Mount Sinai is made complete with the command to build an altar.

 

The Midrash Ha-Gadol (ad loc.) says:

 

Great is the [sacrificial] service, for Scripture opens with: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it" (Shemot 20:20)… And similarly you find when [Israel] entered the land that they began with the [sacrificial] service… And similarly you find when they returned from the exile that they began with the [sacrificial] service… And similarly in the future they will begin with the [sacrificial] service. (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Shemot 20:21)

 

According to this understanding, the assembly at Mount Sinai was directly connected to the offering of sacrifices. (According to those who say that the events described in chapter 24 preceded those described in chapter 19, the covenant of the basins was made before the Ten Commandments, and the whole event began with the offering of sacrifices.) It concludes with a commandment for future generations to build an altar for the service of God in His Temple.

 

7. The Shekhina passes directly from Mount Sinai to the Mishkan

 

According to Chazal's calculation, the Torah was given on the 6th of Sivan, and according to the verses, the dedication of the Mishkan took place at the beginning of Nissan of the second year (the Tanna'im disagree regarding whether it was the 1st or the 8th of the month). Thus, ten months passed between these two events.

 

The Torah announces in advance that the sanctity of Mount Sinai is temporary: "When the horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain." The Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) explains:

 

[God's] glory was always on the mountain until the Mishkan was erected, as it is written: "And the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:34). Then He spoke with Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed. Perhaps then Moshe sounded the horn, and [God then] granted permission to go up the mountain now that the glory was removed.

 

Rashi writes in his commentary to tractate Ta'anit (21b, s.v. el mul):

 

All winter, while they were occupied with building the Mishkan,the glory rested on the mountain, and from there were all the commandments given with thunder and lightning, from the day when they received the Ten Commandments until the 1st of Nissan, when the Mishkan was erected. Then the Shekhina moved from the mountain and rested on the kaporet.

 

Rashi describes a direct passage from the mountain to the Mishkan. Until the Mishkan was built, the Shekhina rested on the mountain; as soon as the Mishkan wasbuilt, the Shekhina moved from the mountain to the Mishkan.

 

The Ramban (Shemot 25:2, s.v. ka'asher) explains that the parallelism between the verses at the end of Parashat Mishpatim, which describe the resting of the Shekhina on Mount Sinai, and the verses at the end of the book of Shemot, which describe the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan, teaches that the Shekhina passed from a revealed state on Mount Sinai to a more concealed state in the Mishkan. This accords with the Ramban's general position that the Mishkan served as a continuation of the revelation of the Shekhina at Mount Sinai. The Ramban in his introduction to the book of Bamidbar writes that together with the Shekhina's move to the Mishkan, the special arrangements that had been in force at Mount Sinai –the boundaries around the mountain, the appointment of the priests, and the like – were also moved from Mount Sinai to the Mishkan.

     

8. God's meeting with Moshe from between the two keruvim was a continuation of God's revelation to Moshe at Mount Sinai

 

The Torah relates:

 

And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the kaporet that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two keruvim; and it spoke to him. (Bamidbar 7:89)

 

The Tanchuma (Vayikra 1) explains this verse:

 

You might say that when [God] spoke to Moshe, He spoke to him in a low voice, and therefore he could hear. [But in fact], He spoke in the voice used when giving the Torah, [that about which it is said] that they heard His voice, and died with the first commandment… And similarly it says: "My soul failed when He spoke" (Shir Ha-Shirim 5:6)… And similarly it says: "And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him" (Bamidbar 7:89), the voice that he heard at the giving of the Torah…

You might say that Israel would hear the sound from the outside. Therefore, the verse states: "He heard the voice" – he alone heard the voice. But if He spoke in a loud voice, why did they not hear? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, decreed that the words should issue forth and go to Moshe, and the Holy One, blessed be He, made a path for them, through which the words would go out until they reached Moshe.

 

This means that even with respect to the quality of the sound that Moshe would hear from between the two keruvim in the Holy of Holies, there was a direct continuation from the sound of the resting of the Shekhina on Mount Sinai and the sound of the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan. This strengthens the idea that the Mishkan served as a continuation of the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan.

 

9. On Mount Sinai, Moshe received the general principles, while in the Ohel Mo'ed he received the details

 

The gemara in Chagiga (6a) cites in the name of R. Yishmael that "the general principles were given at Sinai and the details in the Ohel Mo'ed." Rashi (ad loc., s.v. kelalot) explains:

 

Many things were stated in ambiguous manner at Sinai without adequate explanation, and they were explained to him in the Ohel Mo'ed after the Mishkan was erected. For the laws governing the [sacrificial] service were not adequately explained there, but only: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it" (Shemot 20:21). There is no explanation of the sprinkling of the blood on the altar, the flaying and cutting of the burnt-offerings, or the offering of the sacrificed portions of the peace-offerings.

 

The Mishkan served as a sort of "wandering Mount Sinai," where many mitzvot were given that explain and expand upon the mitzvot that were given on Mount Sinai.

 

10. Israel was not punished for transgressing the mitzvot commanded on Mount Sinai until they were learned again in the Ohel Mo'ed

 

Midrash Shir Ha-Shirim states as follows:

 

R. Elazar said: Even though the Torah was given at Sinai, Israel was not punished because of it until it was explained to them in the Ohel Mo'ed. This may be compared to an edict that was written and sealed and brought into the city, but the inhabitants of the city are not liable for it until it is explained to them in the city.

So too, even though the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, they were not punished because of it until it was explained to them in the Ohel Mo'ed. This is what the verse states: "Until I had brought him into my mother's house" (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:4) – this is Mount Sinai; "and into the chamber of her who conceived me" – this is the Ohel Mo'ed, from which time Israel was liable for the teachings. (parasha 2, s.v. me-ohel)

 

The relationship between Mount Sinai as "my mother's house" and the Ohel Mo'ed as "the chamber of her who conceived me (horati)" is interesting. The Torah that was explained in the Mishkan and the mitzvot that were given to Israel require study and understanding of how they are to be kept in reality. "The chamber of her who conceived me (horati)" is also the place of "teaching (hora'a)" proper conduct. Not only is the Mishkan a continuation of Mount Sinai, but Mount Sinai is the source and the Mishkan flows from it in a more detailed and binding manner.

 

11. The manner of the revelation of the Shekhina in the Mikdash is identical to the manner of the revelation of the Shekhina on Mount Sinai

 

a.     Revelation of the Shekhina in a thick darkness (arafel). At Mount Sinai, it says: "And Moshe drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Shemot 20:18); and regarding the house of God it says: "The Lord said He would dwell in the thick darkness" (I Melakhim 8:12). In Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer (chap. 8), the Temple and site of the resting of the Shekhina are called "thick darkness."

 

b.     "The day of his wedding" (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:11) – this is the giving of the Torah; "the day of the gladness of his heart" (ibid.) – this is the building of the Temple. The connection between the two stages is clear, with one leading directly to the other.

 

Summary

 

Following in the footsteps of R. Yisrael Ariel, we have dedicated the last two shiurim to an analysis of many sources that point to an essential connection between the assembly and covenant at Mount Sinai, on the one hand, and the Mishkan, on the other. The first communication between God and the people of Israel following the miracles associated with the exodus from Egypt and the parting of the sea is by way of a public revelation to the entire nation through the giving of the Ten Commandments. This continues with the building of the Mishkan, where the forms of revelation are similar to the forms of the revelation at Mount Sinai. As we saw in the Ramban, the continuation of the revelation in the Mishkan is more concealed than the revelation at Mount Sinai, but in principle the presence and revelation of God perpetuate the Mount Sinai experience for future generations. The Mishkan serves as a sort of "wandering Mount Sinai," a continuation of the Divine revelation that accompanies the people of Israel in its various stations in the wilderness and afterwards in the Land of Israel.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] So rules the Rambam (Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 7:2): "How is reverence for it manifest? A person should not enter the Temple Mount holding a staff, or with sandals on his feet, or wearing only underwear, with dust on his feet, or with money wrapped in his kerchief. It is superfluous to say that it is forbidden to spit on the entire Temple Mount.”

[2] We discussed this issue at length in the previous shiur.

[3] As is stated in the Mekhilta (Massekhta De-Ba-Chodesh 11, s.v. ve-eleh): "'Now these are the judgments that you shall set' – we learn from this that the Sanhedrin convenes next to the altar. Even though there is no proof for the matter, there is an allusion to it, as it is stated: 'And Yoav fled to the tent of the Lord, and caught hold of the horns of the altar' (I Melakhim 2:28).” See also the mishna in Sanhedrin 86b: "Three courts of law were there, one situated at the entrance to the Temple Mount, another at the door of the Temple courtyard, and the third in the Chamber of Hewn Stone." For an expanded discussion, see our shiurim in last year's series that discuss this issue.