The Location of the Vessels

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l,
whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev.
May the world-wide 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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Lecture 119: The Location of the vessels

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

Introduction

 

            Having dealt with the relationship between the structure of the Mishkan and its vessels, and before we examine the vessels themselves, I wish to relate to the location and orientation of the sacred vessels in the Mishkan.

 

            This issue is directly connected to two issues that we addressed last year – the structure of the Mishkan and its orientation – and it ties these two issues together. We will discuss this question this year because we are dealing with the vessels, and the location and the orientation of the vessels is significant both with respect to the vessels themselves and with respect to the relationship between the vessels and the structure.

 

            The next two lectures will deal with the location of the vessels, based on the Scriptural verses and on the words of Chazal, and the third lecture will address the orientation of the vessels.

 

location of the Sacred vessels according to scripture

 

            In addition to the question of the Mishkan's orientation in general, there is room to consider the precise location of the Mishkan's vessels – where they are positioned and whether there is significance to the place and the direction in which they stand.

 

            The Mishkan is entered on an east-west axis; as we saw last year, as one proceeds westward, the level of sanctity rises (from the courtyard to the Holy to the Holy of Holies), and in corresponding fashion, the sanctity of the vessels found in each of the various parts of the Mishkan rises as well.

 

            It is noteworthy that the Torah describes the location of the vessels in the opposite direction – on a west-east axis – from inside outwards.

 

            1. Thus, in the initial command regarding the Mishkan, in which God commands Moshe to build the Mishkan, the first vessels mentioned are the ark, the kaporet, and the keruvim (Shemot 25:10-22). The Ibn Ezra comments upon this in his long commentary:

 

There is room to ask: Why did God mention the ark first? Because it is written: "The pattern of the Mishkan, and the pattern of all its vessels" (Shemot 25:9). And it is the common way of speaking to explain the last-mentioned item first. As in: "And I gave to Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Esav; and I gave to Esav" (Yehoshua 24:4). He therefore began with the explanation of the vessels of the Mishkan. And He began with the most venerable [of vessels], and afterwards the table and the candlestick, and afterwards: "And you shall make the Mishkan" (Shemot 26:1). But when Moshe assembled the congregation, he first spoke to them about the Mishkan and the tent (ibid. 35:11), and afterwards the ark. And there was no need for anyone to teach Moshe.[1]

 

            After the ark, the table is mentioned (Shemot 25:23-30), and then the candlestick (ibid. 25:31-40). In this command, there is no mention of the incense altar.[2] Next mentioned are the curtains (ibid. 26:1-14), the boards (ibid. 26:15-30), the parokhet, and the screen of the door of the Ohel (ibid. 26:31-37).

 

            In the command regarding the parokhet, which divides between the Holy and the Holy of Holies, the Torah notes the general location of the vessels:

 

·           The ark of the testimony is set within the bounds of the parokhet (26:33); the kaporet is on top of the ark of the testimony (26:34).

·           The table is set outside the parokhet and the candlestick is set opposite the table.

·           The candlestick is on the side of the Mishkan toward the south, and the table is on the side of the Mishkan toward the north.

 

Finally, we find the command regarding the altar of shittim wood, that is, the burnt-offering altar (Shemot 27:1-8), and after that, the courtyard of the Mishkan, including the screen of the gate of the courtyard (ibid. 27:9-19).

 

The vessels appear in a clear order from inside outwards – from west to east. In addition, following the description of the ark, the kaporet, the keruvim, the table and the candlestick, there is a description of the structure in which they are set (the curtains, the boards, and the screens, including the location of the vessels in relation to them).

 

            2. Similarly, in the account of the actual erection of the Mishkan (Shemot 40:18-33), the vessels are mentioned in this direction. It should be noted that this account also includes the golden altar, and that it integrates the veils and screens and the location of the vessels:

 

            Following the account of the erection of the structure itself – that is, the Mishkan, its sockets, its boards, its bars, its pillars, the Ohel over the Mishkan, and the cover of the Ohel – the vessels are described in the following order:

 

·            Placing of the testimony into the ark, the setting of the poles on the ark, and the putting of the kaporet upon the ark.

·           Bringing the ark into the Mishkan.[3]

·           Setting up the parokhet that covers the ark of the Testimony.

·           Putting the table in the Ohel Mo'ed upon the north side of the Mishkan, outside the parokhet.

·           Putting the candlestick in the Ohel Mo'ed opposite the table, on the southern side of the Mishkan.

·           Putting the golden altar in the Ohel Mo'ed, before the parokhet.

·           Setting up the screen of the door of the Mishkan.

·           Putting the burnt-offering altar by the door of the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed.

·           Setting the laver between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar.

·           Erecting the courtyard around the Mishkan and the altar and setting up the screen of the gate of the courtyard.

 

The location of the ark

            Here too, there is a difference between the command and the execution. Whereas in the command it says, "That you may bring in there within the parokhet the ark of testimony" (Shemot 26:33), in the execution the wording is more general: "And he brought the ark into the Mishkan" (ibid. 40:21), without explicit mention that it was brought into the Holy of Holies.[4]

 

            It is possible that the Torah wishes to emphasize a fundamental point – namely, that there is a connection between the ark and the Mishkan (especially according to the understanding that the reference is to the Holy of Holies).

 

            In addition, it may be suggested that in the command itself, it is necessary to define the structure and especially the parokhet that divides between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. But in the execution, where the structure is already standing, the emphasis is placed on the Mishkan – the resting of the Shekhina.

 

The relationship between the ark and the Parokhet

 

            In the command regarding the building of the Mishkan, it says:

 

And you shall make a parokhet of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen with keruvim shall it be made of artistic work: and you shall hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon four sockets of silver. And you shall hang up the veil under the clasps, that you may bring in there within the veil the ark of the testimony: and the veil shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy. (Shemot 26:31-33)

 

Making the parokhet and hanging it on the pillars precedes bringing the ark into the Holy of Holies.

 

In Parashat Pekudei, in the account of the construction of the Mishkan, we read:

 

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “On the first day of the first month, you shall set up the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and hang the veil before the ark.” (Shemot 40:1-3)

 

Here, the ark is brought in before the parokhet is hung.

 

What is the significance of this change?

 

The Ramban writes as follows in his commentary:

 

"And you shall bring in there within the veil the ark of the Testimony." He did not now command Moshe to do it in this particular order, to hang up the veil under the clasps and only afterwards to bring in the ark inside the veil, for the commandment now does not refer to the erection of the Mishkan, but to the making thereof. Similarly, "And you shall put the ark cover upon the ark of the Testimony in the most holy place," does not mean that he is to put the kaporet upon the ark of the testimony when the ark has already been brought into the Holy of Holies [screened by the veil]. But the purport of the verse is to command Moshe to hang up the veil under the clasps in order that the ark be there within the veil, and the veil will thus divide between the holy place and the most holy. Similarly, he says, "And You shall put the ark–cover upon the ark of the Testimony in the most holy place," in order to inform us that the kaporet with its keruvim on the ark should all be there in the Holy of Holies mentioned, which means within the veil. But when He came to command the erection of the Mishkan, He said, "And you shall put therein the ark of the Testimony" (ibid. 40:3) And afterwards, "You shall screen the ark with the veil" (ibid.). Similarly, at the actual construction, it is said, "And he put the ark cover above the ark" (ibid. v. 20), "And he brought the ark into the Mishkan" (ibid. v. 21), and afterwards "He set up the veil of the screen." (Shemot 26:33)

 

The Ramban distinguishes between the stage of the command and the stage of the execution. In the command, the intention is not that the parokhet should first be hung up, and then the ark should be brought in, nor is the intention to put the kaporet on the ark after the latter had already been placed in the Holy of Holies. Rather, the intention in placing the parokhet under the clasps is that the ark should be within the parokhet that divides between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.

 

In the actual construction, on the other hand, the ark should first be placed in the Holy of Holies, and afterwards the parokhet hung. Similarly, the kaporet is first placed on the ark, and afterwards the ark is brought into the Mishkan.

 

The Netziv in his commentary explains the matter differently:

 

"And you shall hang up the veil" – The verse means that he should first hang up the parokhet and afterwards bring the ark into the Holy of Holies, which is "within the veil." And the meaning of "And the veil shall be for you as a division" is that it will by itself be divided. But in God's command about the construction (40:3), it is written: "And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony," and afterwards "and hang the veil before the ark."

Rather, the meaning of "And you shall hang up the veil" is to hang the parokhet, and it should be rolled up to the top, and it should not be spread out yet until the ark is brought in, and afterwards "And the veil shall be for you as a division," that is, that it should hang down and divide. And it will become clear that perforce this is the explanation of the verse. And this is what Moshe did. First, "And he brought the ark into the Mishkan" (40:21), and afterwards "and he set up the veil of the screen." And the meaning of "and he set up" is that he set it in its proper position, as I wrote above… That is to say, that he unrolled the parokhet downwards.

Now "it shall be as a division" is written at the end, in order to teach that it is not immediately after the ark is brought in that the parokhet should be unrolled so that it may divide, but after the placement of the kaporet that is written afterwards. If so, it would have been fitting to write first, "And you shall put the covering," and afterwards, "And it shall be for you as a division." Rather, it comes to teach that as soon as the ark is brought in, the parokhet is ready "to be for you as a division between the holy and the most holy." And this is only possible after the placement of the poles. If so, from here Moshe learned to place the poles even before the ark is brought in, so that as soon as the ark was brought in, the parokhet was fit "to be for you as a division," as stated above. This is what it says at the time of the construction (40:20) – first, "And he set the poles on the ark," and afterwards, "and he brought the ark into the Mishkan," and afterwards, "and he set up the veil of the screen," i.e., he unrolled it downwards. (Shemot 26:33)

 

The Netziv repeats this explanation in his commentary to Shemot 39:34 and Shemot 40:3.

 

            According to the Netziv, the order of events was as follows: They first hung up the parokhet in such a way that it was rolled up to the top. Then they brought in the ark, and finally, they unrolled the parokhet and let it hang.

 

            The Or Ha-Chayyim explains that in Parashat Teruma, the hanging of the parokhet is mentioned before the placement of the ark in order to finish the discussion of the parokhet, whereas in Parashat Pekudei, the events are described in their chronological order:

 

"And you shall hang up the veil… that you may bring in there" – It would seem that the hanging of the parokhet is mentioned before the placing of the ark because He wanted to finish the discussion of the parokhet. But the chronological order is brought in Parashat Pekudei… The bringing of the ark is only mentioned here in order to explain that the parokhet serves to divide between the Holy and the Holy of Holies, which is the site of the ark. For this reason, He was not particular about saying which comes first, as this will be learned in its place. (Shemot 26:33)

 

The Location of the Table and the Candlestick

 

            It is interesting that in the account of the location of the table and the candlestick, there is a slight difference between the command in Parashat Teruma and the actual erection at the end of Parashat Pekudei. In the command, the table is set outside the parokhet on the north side (tzela) of the Mishkan, and the candlestick is set opposite the table on the side (tzela) of the Mishkan toward the south. In the execution, on the other hand, the table is outside the parokhet on the north side (yarekh) of the Mishkan, whereas the candlestick is opposite the table on the south side (yarekh) – both of them in the Ohel Mo'ed.[5]

 

            It is possible that the command suffices with the general location of these two vessels (tzela), whereas the execution gives a more precise location (al yerekh). The matter requires further clarification.

 

THe table before the candlestick

 

            In all of the accounts of the table and the candlestick, the table precedes the candlestick. What is the reason for this?

 

            This may be connected to the understanding that the table of the showbread reflects a special covenant with God.[6] The table gives expression to our gratitude to God for the material food that we have been given, whereas the candlestick relates to the light, the wisdom, the spiritual side. Nevertheless, the table comes before the candlestick.

 

            In addition, it is possible that the Torah is alluding here that the Mishkan's primary objective is to connect heaven to earth or earth to heaven. Therefore, the greatness of the Mishkan lies in its capability of taking bread from the ground and raising it heavenward. This is greater and more comprehensive than the raising of light, which is by definition more spiritual and sublime, more separate and less comprehensive.

 

            Thus, for example, in the account of the creation of the world, following the opening verse, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," the Torah begins with a description of the earth. So too, in our case, the account begins specifically with the table, before the candlestick, in the sense of heaven and earth.

 

            Owing to the fact that the table is mentioned before the candlestick, the Torah does not repeat all the details regarding the precise location of the candlestick, and it contents itself with the statement, "opposite the table."

 

THe Golden altar

 

            As opposed to the table and the candlestick, regarding which the Torah delineates a relatively precise location, the statement regarding the golden incense altar in the account of the construction of the Mishkan is very general and non-specific: "In the Ohel Mo'ed before the veil" (Shemot 40:26).

 

            In contrast, in God's initial command to Moshe regarding the making of the incense altar (Shemot 30:1-10), the Torah describes its location in detail: "And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the Testimony, before the covering that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you" (30:6).

 

            As opposed to the table, which is on the north side, and the candlestick, which is on the south side, the golden altar is located before the parokhet and before the kaporet that is over the ark. In other words, opposite the place where the kaporet stands in the Holy of Holies, the golden altar stands in the Holy.

 

            No precise information is given as to the distance between the various vessels or between the vessels and the walls of the structure; their locations are described in general terms. Likewise, there is no direct reference to the question of whether or not the table and the candlestick are closer to the parokhet than the golden altar.

 

            On the assumption that the Torah's description goes from west to east, it is presumed that the golden altar is located further east than the table and the candlestick, and further away from the parokhet.

 

The Burnt-offering Altar

 

            The location of the burnt-offering altar is mentioned after the screen of the door of the Mishkan: "And he put the altar of burnt-offering by the door of the Mishkan of the Ohel Mo'ed" (Shemot 40:29). As we have already noted, the Torah locates the altar in relation to the door of the Mishkan, and not in relation to the courtyard.

 

            From here it may be understood that the altar is located outside the structure of the Mishkan, next to its door, to the east. Nothing, however, is said about the altar's distance from the structure or where it is located on the north-south axis.

 

LAver

 

            The laver is set between the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar. It is found there in both the account of God's command to Moshe (Shemot 30:18) and in the account of the Mishkan's construction (Shemot 40:3).

 

            Here too, like almost all the other vessels, the Torah locates the laver on the east-west axis, and even this only in general terms, for there is no mention of distances or of the altar's location on the north-south axis.

 

            The Torah emphasizes that the priests must wash their hands and feet both when they enter the Ohel Mo'ed and when they approach the altar. Thus, the location of the laver must relate to and take into account the locations of the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar, and with the possibility of serving both from the same place.

 

            Thus, the Torah emphasizes the location of the vessels of the Mishkan from the inside outwards, from the most sanctified in the Holy of Holies to the outer courtyard from west to east.     The Torah's account allows us to understand the general location of the various vessels, but not the precise location; it does not relate to the distances between the vessels themselves, or between the vessels and the walls surrounding them.

 

            What the Torah leaves vague is in great measure filled in by Chazal. Their views will be the subject of the next lecture.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] The Ibn Ezra supplies here another reason for the difference between Parashat Teruma and Parashat Vayakhel regarding the order of building. Parashat Teruma begins with the vessels and ends with the structure because it is the common way of speaking to explain the last-mentioned item first, and it was stated: "The pattern of the Mishkan, and the pattern of all its vessels" (Shemot 25:9). In contrast, Parashat Vayakhel begins with the structure and then continues with the vessels, as there is no need there for anyone to teach Moshe.

[2] When we discuss the incense altar, we will begin the discussion with the significance of the fact that the command appears only at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh (Shemot 30:1-10), following the concluding verses describing the resting of the Shekhina at the end of chapter 29.

[3] It is interesting that here the ark is located in the Mishkan, whereas the table and the candlestick are located in the Ohel Mo'ed. We suggested last year that the term Mishkan refers here primarily to the Holy of Holies, whereas the term Ohel Mo'ed refers primarily to the Holy. In any event, the ark is brought into the Mishkan, which is a very general term, whereas the table and the candlestick are brought in to the Ohel Mo'ed, northward and southward respectively.

[4] The location of the ark may, however, be inferred from what is stated in the continuation: "And he set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord commanded Moshe." Since, as we have emphasized, the description is from inside outwards, from west to east, the parokhet must be located to the east of the ark, and it serves it as a screen.

[5] It is interesting that the Torah uses the terms "tzela" and "yarekh," which are parts of the body, to describe the structure of the Mishkan. This fits in well with the understanding of the Malbim and others that the Mishkan is modeled after the human body.

Along with the description of the location of the various vessels, the Torah also describes the service that was performed at each one – on the table, the showbread was arranged before God; the candlestick was used to light lamps before God; the golden altar was used for the burning of incense; and the burnt-offering altar was used for burnt and meal-offerings. We will not discuss here the significance of the Torah's relating to the service in the course of an account of the construction of the Mishkan, beyond noting the fact that this is a description of the dedication of the Mishkan.

[6] This is explained at length in Chovav Yisraeli's article on the table: "Ta'arokh Lefanai Shulchan – Ha-Shulchan Ve-Lechem Ha-Panim," Megadim 44 (Elul 5766), pp. 33-50.