Lecture 96a:The Structure of the Mishkan and Its Internal Division

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

 

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In loving memory of Channa Schreiber (Channa Rivka bat Yosef v' Yocheved) z"l,
with wishes for consolation and comfort to her dear children
Yossi and Mona, Yitzchak and Carmit, and their families,
along with all who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim.

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LECTURE 96a:
THE STRUCTURE OF THE MISHKAN AND ITS INTERNAL DIVISION

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In this lecture, we will discuss the structure and internal division of the Mishkan itself, examining the internal divisions of the Mishkan and their significance.

 

            It is noteworthy that the length and width of the structure are not clearly spelled out in the Torah's description of the Mishkan. These dimensions are only learned from the width and number of the boards, which indicate that the overall length of the structure (on the east-west axis) was thirty cubits, while its width (on the north-south axis) was ten cubits.

 

The length of each component of the structure (the length of the Heikhal and the length of the Holy of Holies) is also not stated explicitly in Scripture. These dimensions are learned from the fact that the parokhet was situated beneath the clasps that connected the two couplings of the Mishkan, and that it separated between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. Based on the measurement of the couplings of the Mishkan, the length of the Holy was twenty cubits long; thus, the Holy of Holies was ten cubits long.[1]

 

            It is interesting that in contrast to the structure of the Mishkan itself, whose dimensions are not spelled out in the Torah, the precise measurements of the courtyard – 100 cubits by 50 cubits – are provided.

 

In addition, the Torah does not even note where precisely the structure of the Mishkan stood in relation to the courtyard – in other words, in which part of the courtyard the Mishkan stood. Similarly, the Torah does not state the direction from which one enters the Mishkan; this is only derived from the location of the boards on the other sides.

 

Fundamentally, there is room to propose various divisions based on the materials used in the building and in the embroidery, on the holy vessels and their meaning, on the open portions and the built up portions, and the like. Our assumption, as was mentioned at the outset, is that the internal division between the various parts of the Mishkan has spiritual significance, and this is what we shall try to understand in this lecture.

 

“WHAT WAS SHOWN YOU IN THE MOUNTAIN”

 

            When the Torah records God's commands to Moshe to build the Mishkan, it uses on several occasions the expression, "what was shown you in the mountain." This expression teaches us that Moshe was commanded to build on earth an exact replica of the structure that God showed him above.

 

            Midrash Lekach Tov says as follows:

 

"According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan, and the pattern of all its vessels, even so shall you make it" (Shemot 25:9) – this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moshe the entire work of the pattern of the Mishkan; He showed it all to him in an image of fire. (Lekach Tov, Shemot 25:9)

 

And similarly in Pesikta Rabbati:

 

Immediately after Moshe ascended on high, the Holy One, blessed be He, opened the seven firmaments, and showed him the heavenly Temple, and showed him the four colors from which the Mishkan was made, as it is stated: "And you shall rear up the Mishkan, according to its fashion which was shown you in the mountain" (Shemot 26:30). (Pesikta Rabbati 20:3)

 

In Yalkut Ma'ayan Ganim (brought by Torah Sheleima on Shemot 25:9, letter 87), it is stated:

 

This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moshe an image of the Mishkan and the vessels in heaven and said: Thus do below.

 

            In other words, the Mishkan that Moshe was commanded to build was a precise replica of the Mishkan that God showed him above. These midrashim assert an essential point regarding the structure of the Mishkan - in addition to the explicit guidelines in the Torah relating to the structure, form, materials, vessels, and the like, God also showed Moshe the structure of the building and the vessels. A structure that is supposed to represent the Shekhina's presence in the world must match God's will in a most precise manner, and the earthly structure must therefore exactly correspond to the heavenly structure.

 

            Man's involvement lies in the very building of the structure – not in its form, structure, materials, and vessels, but in the precise realization of the Divine plan.

 

            This point is expressed in the fact that the Torah is not satisfied with one general statement, but rather repeats this idea several times. First, there is a general statement:

 

According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan, and the pattern of all its vessels, even so shall you make it. (Shemot 25:9)

 

Afterwards, following the command regarding the menora, it says:

 

And look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you in the mountain. (25:40)

 

Similarly, at the end of the command regarding the building of the boards, it says:

 

And you shall rear up the Mishkan according to its fashion which was shown you in the mountain. (Shemot 26:30)

 

The reiteration of this principle with respect to the various components of the Mishkan teaches us how important and fundamental it is.

 

            This principle arises with respect to the Mishkan, but in a more fundamental way it arises with respect to the Mikdash in general. Thus, for example, in the description of the First Temple in I Divrei Ha-yamim (28:11-19), the term "pattern" (tavnit) repeats itself several times (vv. 11, 12, 18, 19):

 

And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the holy things… All this, said he, is put in writing by the hand of the Lord who instructed me, all the works of this pattern.

 

Rashi explains:

 

All this he put in writing – Shmuel the seer arranged it all for him in writing, the weight of each and every vessel.

 

All the works of this pattern – He enlightened me regarding the pattern of the house, e.g., the length, the width, and the height. Shmuel expounded it all from the Torah by way of the holy spirit, as we have learned: The Temple mount was five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits. He expounded: "The length of the courts shall be a hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty by fifty" (Shemot 27:18) – fifty times fifty, i.e., twenty-five hundred. He cut them into strips, so that they were five hundred by five hundred… Shmuel expounded it all by way of the holy spirit, and taught it to David.

 

In other words, there was an exposition of the pattern of the Temple by way of the holy spirit. Similarly, we find in the midrash:

 

R. Yirmiya [said] in the name of R. Shmuel his son: The Holy One, blessed be He, transmitted the scroll of the Temple while standing. This is what it says: "But as for you, stand here by Me" (Devarim 5:28). Moshe transmitted it to Yehoshua while standing, as it is stated: "Call Yehoshua and stand" (Devarim 31:14). Yehoshua stood and transmitted it to the elders while standing, as it is stated: "And Yehoshua gathered all the elders of Israel and they stood before God" (Yehoshua 24:1). The elders stood and transmitted it to the prophets while standing. The prophets stood and transmitted it to David while standing, but we don't have a verse. David stood and transmitted it to his son Shlomo while standing, as it is stated: "But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may pay them back" (Tehillim 41:11). And it says: "All in writing," which teaches that the Torah was given for exposition; "by the hand of the Lord," which teaches that it was given by way of tradition; "who instructed me," which teaches that it was given by way of the holy spirit." (Yalkut Shimoni, I Divrei Ha-yamim, no. 1081)

 

            It follows from this midrash that the scroll of the Temple was transmitted from one generation to the next by way of the holy spirit, and it was given for exposition.

 

            It is interesting that it is not only with respect to the physical structure of the Mishkan and the Mikdash and their vessels that the Torah emphasizes that they must conform to what God showed Moshe at Sinai. With respect to the precise location of the Temple as well, the Torah strongly emphasizes God's choosing of the place. This point is expressed in various places:

 

  • Chazal interpret the name Moriya: "R. Yudan said: To the place that will be shown (mur'eh) to you" (Bereishit Rabba 25:7).
  • The entire length of the book of Devarim, the Torah speaks about "the place that the Lord shall choose," the place chosen by God and not by man.
  • When the angel tells the prophet to instruct David to build an altar at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, it says: "Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Yevusi" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 21:18). Thus, the precise location of the Temple was determined when the prophet pointed out to David the place where he should set up an altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.
  • Interestingly, the gemara says about the period of the return to Zion:

 

Rabba bar Bar Chana said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three prophets went up with them from the exile: one testified to them about [the dimensions of] the altar; another testified to them about the site of the altar; and the third testified to them that they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple. (Zevachim 62b)

 

Rashi explains:

 

Another testified to them about [the dimensions] of the altar – that there is room to enlarge it up to sixty cubits.

About the location of the altar – where it is.

That they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple – that the sanctity of the Temple was for its own time and for the future.

 

During the time of the return to Zion, the prophets Chaggai, Zekharya, and Malakhi pointed to the precise location of the altar (similar to the prophet Gad, who pointed to the precise location of the altar that would be built by David).[2]

 

            From here we may conclude that all the details relating to the building of the Mishkan, the First Temple, and the Second Temple were given by way of prophecy to Moshe, to David, and afterwards to the leaders of the return to Zion – Chaggai, Zekharya and Malakhi.

 



[1] An interesting question is whether this fact in itself teaches that the length, width, and internal division of the structure have no meaning based on the verses themselves, or perhaps this has some other meaning.

[2] In this context, it is interesting to note the words of the Rambam in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira (2:1): "The altar is [to be constructed] in a very precise location, which may never be changed, as it is said (II Divrei Ha-yamim 22:1): 'This is the altar for the burnt offerings of Israel.' Yitzchak was prepared as a sacrifice on the Temple's [future] site, as it is said (Bereishit 22:2): 'Go to the land of Moriya,' and in Divrei Ha-yamim (II 3:1), it is said: 'Then, Shlomo began to build the House of the Lord in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriya, where [the Lord] appeared to David, his father, in the place that David had prepared, in the threshing floor of Ornan, the Yebusite.'"