The Resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan

  • Harav Yaakov Medan

 

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I. When Did the Shekhina rest in the Mishkan?

The inauguration of the Mishkan involved several stages that occurred one after the other. First the Mishkan was erected in its proper form as a structure. Afterwards, during the seven days of consecration, Aharon and his sons were consecrated and sanctified as priests in the Mishkan itself. Finally, on the eighth day, the Mishkan was consecrated for its spiritual purpose and mission by way of the Shekhina descending upon it.

The Torah notes the first of Nissan, at the beginning of the second year of Israel's stay in the wilderness, as the day on which the Mishkan was erected:

And it came to pass on the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was erected. (Shemot 40:17)

Chazal and the commentators dealt extensively with the question of which stages of the Mishkan's inauguration this date applies to. This might refer to the day on which the Mishkan was actually erected, before the seven days of consecration and the eighth day that followed in their wake that were required for the sanctification of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the priests. According to this, the eighth day – the day on which the Shekhina revealed itself and rested in the Mishkan, as well as the day on which Nadav and Avihu died – was the eighth of Nissan. Alternatively, the date mentioned in the verse, the first of Nissan, might be the eighth day of the Mishkan's consecration, the day on which the Shekhina revealed itself. Accordingly, the actual erection of the Mishkan took place eight days earlier, on the twenty-third of Adar.

The disagreement stems from the ambiguity of the verses in our parasha that deal explicitly with the first of Nissan (40:2). On the one hand, the verses describe the actual erection of the Mishkan:

And Moshe erected the Mishkan, and fastened its sockets, and set up its boards, and put in its bars, and reared up its pillars. And he spread the tent over the Mishkan, and put the covering of the tent above upon it, as the Lord commanded Moshe. (40:18-19)

On the other hand, with the conclusion of the actual erection of the Mishkan – and without noting the passing of eight days – the verses describe the resting of the Shekhina on the Mishkan:

Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (40:34-35)

But according to the account in Vayikra, the resting of the Shekhina took place on the eighth day following the erection of the Mishkan:

And it came to pass on the eighth day that Moshe called Aharon and his sons, and the elders of Israel… for today the Lord will appear to you.

Thus, the question naturally arises whether the notation of the first of Nissan as the day of the erection of the Mishkan relates to the beginning of the process – the actual erection of the structure – or to the end of the process – the Shekhina's resting on the Mishkan.

Chazal answered this question in different ways:

"And it came to pass on the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan" (Bamidbar 7:1) – The verse teaches that all seven days of the consecration, Moshe set up the Mishkan, and every morning he anointed it and disassembled it, and on that day he set it up and anointed it, but he did not disassemble it. R. Yose son of R. Yehuda said: Also on the eighth day he set it up and disassembled it, as it is stated: "And it came to pass on the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was erected" (Shemot 40:17). We learn from here that on the twenty-third of Adar, Aharon and his sons, the Mishkan, and all the vessels were first anointed, and on Rosh Chodesh the Mishkan was erected… On that very same day, the Shekhina rested on the house, as it is stated: "And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting" (Shemot 40:35). On that very same day, the princes offered their sacrifices, as it is stated: "And he that offered his offering the first day" (Bamidbar 7:12). "The first day" means the first day of all the days of the year. On that very same day, a fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices, as it is stated: "And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat" (Vayikra 9:24). On that very same day, the sons of Aharon offered a strange fire, as it is stated: "And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, took… and they died before the Lord" (Vayikra 10:1-2). (Sifrei, Bamidbar 44)

This midrash teaches that the first of Nissan was the eighth day of the Mishkan's consecration. On that day, the Shekhina rested on the Mishkan and the princes began to offer their sacrifices, as follows from what is stated in Bamidbar 7. In order to explain the implication of the plain meaning of the verses in our chapter – that it was on the first of Nissan that the Mishkan was actually erected – the Midrash explains that each day Moshe would erect the Mishkan and then disassemble it in the evening until the eighth day. On the eight day of consecration, the first of Nissan, the Mishkan was permanently erected for the first time. Rashi accepts this explanation, and other commentaries followed in his wake.

There are, however, three main difficulties with this approach:

1. The Torah does not explain why Moshe had to disassemble the Mishkan every evening over the course of seven days. Similarly, a question arises regarding what he did on Shabbat. Why was it necessary to disassemble and then reassemble the Mishkan with actions that constitute a desecration of Shabbat?

2. It is difficult to find an allusion in the text to the repeated disassembling and reassembly of the Mishkan for seven days.

3. The verses in Vayikra that describe the seven days of consecration indicate that the Mishkan stood seven days in a row and was not disassembled:

And you shall not go out of the door of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the days of your consecration be at an end; for seven days shall he consecrate you… And you shall abide at the door of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, that you die not, for so I am commanded. (Vayikra 8:33-35)

These verses expressly state that Aharon and his sons abided at the door of the Mishkan for seven consecutive days. How then can we say that the Mishkan was disassembled at night?[1]

R. Akiva explains the verses differently, and the Ibn Ezra follows his view. We read in the Sifre:

"And there were certain men who were defiled by the dead body of a man" (Bamidbar 9:6). Who were they? They were the ones who bore Yosef's coffin; these are the words of R. Yishmael. R. Akiva says: They were Mishael and Elitzafan, who were defiled by Nadav and Avihu. R. Yitzchak says: It is not necessary; if they were the bearers of Yosef's coffin, they could have purified themselves, and if they were Mishael and Elitzafan, they could have purified themselves. Who were they? They defiled themselves to a mitzva corpse [who had no one to bury it]. As it is stated: "That could not keep the Passover on that day" (ibid.). They could not keep the Passover on that day, but they could keep it the next day. Thus, we learn that the seventh day [to their impurity] fell out on Erev Pesach. (Sifre, Bamidbar 65)

 

According to R. Akiva, the men who were ritually impure were Mishael and Elitzafan, who defiled themselves for Nadav and Avihu, and they were impure on the fourteenth of Nissan, the day of the sacrifice of the Passover offering. Accordingly, it turns out that Nadav and Avihu died on the eighth of Nissan, and not on the first of Nissan, and that the fourteenth was therefore the seventh day of the impurity of Mishael and Elitzafan. According to R. Akiva, then, the Mishkan was erected on the first of Nissan, and the Shekhina rested on it on the eighth of that month. R. Yitzchak disagrees with R. Akiva and argues that Mishael and Elitzafan could have purified themselves before the day of the offering of the Passover offering. He clearly assumes that the eighth day was before the eighth of Nissan, and from this it follows that it was on the first of Nissan.

II. God's Revelation in the Cloud with the Attribute of Justice and with the Attribute of Mercy

Yom Kippur and Sukkot, despite their proximity to each other, constitute in our minds polar opposites with regard to our service of God. We associate Yom Kippur with fasting, confession, and repentance, with dread and fear and actions, with the Ten Martyrs and with R. Amnon of Mainz and the piyyut that he authored (U-Netaneh tokef), who are associated with cruel deaths for the sanctification of God's name. In contrast, Sukkot is "our day of joy;" it is all praise, song, and thanksgiving, mitzvot that are associated with eating, drinking, and sleeping in the sukka, and a deep feeling of reconciliation between us and our Father in heaven.

At the same time, there is a similarity between the two proximate holidays, both of which are connected to clouds of glory. The cloud of incense replaces the cloud of glory, and in it God reveals Himself on the kaporet when Aharon enters the innermost chamber to perform the Yom Kippur service (Vayikra 16: 2, 13, and elsewhere). The sekhakh of the sukka, according to Rabbinic tradition, also represents the clouds of glory that God spreads over us in His sukka of peace (Sukka 11b and elsewhere). How do the clouds of glory represent two opposite ideas?

The revelation of God's glory in a cloud in the wilderness also reflects opposites. Sometimes, the glory of God reveals itself in order to save His people who are suffering from hunger or thirst. This is the case in the context of the revelation in the wilderness of Sin (15:10) to give the people of Israel manna and quail, in Kivrot Ha-Ta'ava (Bamidbar 11:25, thirty days before the plague), and in Mei Meriva[2] (Bamidbar 20:7-8). And sometimes the glory of God reveals itself in order to judge His people, as happened in the context of the sin of the spies (Bamidbar 14:10) and the company of Korach (Bamidbar 16:19, 17:7).

In the cloud we find these two aspects and a difference between its appearances. We find it in connection with the attribute of justice – as it appears on Yom Kippur in His glory that fills the Holy of Holies – as well as in connection with the attribute of the mercy – as a roof and covering for the Mishkan, with which He spreads His tent of peace over His nation. We will try to explain this duality in the verses that close the book of Shemot.

III. Two Clouds

The book of Shemot ends with God's revelation in a cloud at the dedication of the Mishkan:

(34) Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (35) And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.

(36) And when the cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys. (37) But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. (38) For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Shemot 40:34-38)

(1) And the Lord called to Moshe and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying. (Vayikra 1:1)

The first five verses are in the book of Shemot; the sixth opens the book of Vayikra. However, apart from the fact that they are found in different books, the six verses constitute a sequence.

The six verses are written in the Torah in one continuum, if we ignore the division of the books. They constitute two sections that deal with different functions of the cloud. The first section is made up of the first two verses, along with the first verse in Vayikra; the second section is comprised of the three verses with which the book of Shemot ends.

The first two verses together with the opening verse of Vayikra parallel what is stated immediately after the revelation at Mount Sinai:

And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day He called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud. (Shemot 24:16)

The glory of God rests upon and covers a particular place - Mount Sinai and the Mishkan - and Moshe cannot enter that place. God calls to him, Moshe goes in, and God speaks with him. Accordingly, there is a clear continuation between the end of the book of Shemot and the beginning of the book of Vayikra; this continuity joins the two books together.

The last three verses in Shemot are not part of this continuity. Actually, these verses connect to the book of Bamidbar, and especially to the beginning of the narrative that follows the sections dealing with the count of Israel and with the preparations made for the journey. Let us compare them:

And when the cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; but if the cloud were not taken up then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Shemot 40:36-38)

And on the day that the Mishkan was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan, namely, the tent of the testimony; and at evening there was upon the Mishkan as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the Mishkan, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped. At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they encamped; as long as the cloud abode upon the Mishkan they remained encamped. And when the cloud tarried long upon the Mishkan many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. And at times it was, that the cloud was a few days upon the Mishkan; according to the commandment of the Lord they remained encamped, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed. And at times it was, that the cloud abode from evening until morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, and they journeyed; whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the Mishkan, remaining over it, the children of Israel remained encamped and journeyed not, but when it was taken up, they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moshe. (Bamidbar 9:15-23)

Here we see the book of Shemot continuing into the book of Bamidbar in one continuum.

IV. The Cloud of the Glory of the Lord that Fills the Mishkan at the Time of its Dedication

The first cloud - described in the first two verses in the passage cite above – covers the Tent of Meeting and even fills the Mishkan itself with the glory of God. God's appearance in this manner casts dread similar to that of the cloud on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies is not sure that he will emerge alive. This cloud represents the appearance of the glory of God in a manner similar to the way it appeared during the incident involving the spies and that involving Korach's company, a revelation connected to the attribute of justice. This appearance requires immediate penance and prayer. This explains the nature of the seven days of consecration. The future appearance of the glory of the Lord which will fill the Mishkan requires that Moshe immediately – even before the cloud appears – atone for the altar and for the priests for seven days so that they be fit to atone for the people of Israel:

And thus shall you do to Aharon and to his sons, according to all which I have commanded you: Seven days shall you consecrate them. And you shall offer every day a bullock for a sin-offering for atonement; and you shall cleanse the altar, when you have made atonement for it, and you shall anoint it, to sanctify it. Seven days you shall make an atonement for the altar and sanctify it. (29:35-37)

These verses describe the seven days of consecration that precede the eighth day, the day on which the glory of the Lord will appear in the Mishkan. God's appearance with the attribute of justice is familiar to us from deaths of Nadav and Avihu. The gemara at the beginning of tractate Yoma compares these seven days to the seven days of separation observed by the High Priest prior to his entry into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. This comparison accords well with what we have said. The High Priest awaits the attribute of justice, similar to that which was revealed on the eighth day, and he must atone and purify before he reaches the encounter with the glory of the Lord that appears in the cloud.

The book of Vayikra is a continuation of the verses that describe the glory of the Lord that fills the Mishkan. Therefore, the essence of the book is the atonement and purification that is cast upon a person who stands before God's Mishkan and wishes to enter it without becoming liable, God forbid, for death.

V. The Cloud Above the Mishkan

The verses at the end of the book of Shemot bring to mind another cloud, besides the cloud of the glory of the Lord that fills the Mishkan:

Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting… because the cloud rested on it…

And when the cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; but if the cloud were not taken up then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

This cloud has been Israel's guide ever since they left Egypt. It protected them in their encounter with the Egyptian army on the banks of the Red Sea, and it will protect them when they move forward from Mount Sinai in the book of Bamidbar:

And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp. And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moshe said: Rise up, Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let those who hate You flee before you. (Bamidbar 10:34-34)

The role of this cloud, which connects the book of Shemot directly to the book of Bamidbar, is to fight the wars of Israel, as took place at the Red Sea, and to lead them to their destination. The cloud reflects another aspect of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is not only a sacred place and a place of atonement needed in advance of a threatening meeting with God, but also the tent of the Shekhina of God, who tends Israel as a shepherd tends his flock in the wilderness. That shepherd leads his flock to safety through places that have water and food, and protects it from wild beasts, robbers, and other dangers.

This aspect of the cloud does not require seven days of penance and preparation. The cloud rests on the Mishkan immediately upon its erection – on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, according to R. Akiva, whose approach we have followed. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan of the second year, it was appropriate that they should start preparing for the journey to the land of Israel, similar to what happened on Rosh Chodesh of the first year, when Israel was command to prepare for the exodus from Egypt. The cloud that symbolizes God's relationship to Israel as their shepherd and guide regarding the path that they should take appears on the day that the preparations for entering the land of Israel begin. Only on the eighth day, after they underwent another seven days of preparation, did the glory of God move from the top of Mount Sinai into the Mishkan (24:15), as it had appeared in the sight of Israel on the mountain at the time of the giving of the Torah.

This cloud, which is described in the verses cited below, covered the Mishkan immediately upon its erection on the first day, according to the plain meaning of the verses in this chapter. In contrast, the glory of the Lord that filled the Mishkan that is mentioned in the same verses filled the Mishkan only on the eighth day. But Moshe needed permission to enter the Mishkan because of the cloud that rested above the Mishkan on the first day, as is explained in the verse.

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The cloud that rested on the Mishkan on the first day is the royal cloud with which God leads His people. In this context, we can make a sort of a "verbal analogy"[3] between the expression found in our parasha regarding the end of the first day of the seven days of consecration:

So Moshe finished the work (40:33)  

and what is stated in the book of Bamidbar in the section concerning the tribal princes about that very same day:

And it came to pass on the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan. (Bamidbar 7:1)

The similar wording links the two verses together and joins the offerings of the princes to the cloud resting on the Mishkan. This parallel accords with what we have said – that the cloud that accompanied Israel on their journeys in the book of Bamidbar is the cloud that rested upon the Mishkan, symbolizing that God is the shepherd and leader of Israel. It seems that it was precisely the princes – the leaders and representatives of the people – who were fit to bring their offerings to the King who decided to rest among them, to protect them, and to lead them to their destination.

VI. The Split Between the Command and the Execution of the Erection of the Mishkan

The difference between the two clouds and the two aspects of the Mishkan is evident in the split found in the account of the execution of the erection of the Mishkan by Moshe. To understand this, let us compare the command and the execution:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: On the first day of the first month shall you set up the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting. And you shall put the ark of the Testimony and hang the veil before the ark. And you shall bring in the table and set in order the things that are to be set in order upon it; and you shall bring in the candlestick and light its lamps. And you shall set the altar of gold for incense before the ark of the Testimony and put the screen of the door to the Mishkan. And you shall set the altar of the burnt–offering before the door of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting. And you shall set the laver between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and shall put water in it. And you shall set up the court round about, and hang up the screen at the court gate.

And you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the Mishkan and all that is in it, and shall hallow it and all its vessels, and it shall be holy. And you shall anoint the altar of the burnt-offering and all its vessels, and sanctify the altar; and it shall be an altar most holy. And you shall anoint the laver and its pedestal, and sanctify it. And you shall bring Aharon and his sons to the door of the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water. And you shall put upon Aharon the holy garments and anoint him and sanctify him; that he may minister to Me in the priest's office. And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with coats; and you shall anoint them, as you did anoint their father, that they may minister to Me in the priest's office; for their anointing shall be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. Thus did Moshe; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. (40:1-16)

We artificially divided God's command to erect the Mishkan into two sections. The comparison to the execution of the command will clarify this division:

And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was erected. And Moshe erected the Mishkan, and fastened its sockets, and set up its boards, and put in its bars, and reared up its pillars. And he spread the tent over the Mishkan and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the Lord commanded Moshe. And he took and put the Testimony into the ark, and set the poles in the ark, and put the covering above upon the ark; and he brought the ark into the Mishkan, and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the Testimony, as the Lord commanded Moshe. And he put the table in the Tent of Meeting, upon the side of the Mishkan northward, outside the veil. And he set the bread in order upon it before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moshe. And he put the candlestick in the Tent of Meeting, opposite the table, on the side of the Mishkan southward, outside the veil. And he set the bread in order upon it before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moshe. And he put the golden altar in the Tent of Meeting before the veil; and he burnt sweet incense upon it as the Lord commanded Moshe. And he set up the screen of the door of the Mishkan. And he put the altar of burnt-offering by the door of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting, and offered upon it the burnt-offering and the meal-offering, as the Lord commanded Moshe. And he set the laver between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing. And Moshe and Aharon and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat; when they went into the Tent of Meeting, and when they came near to the altar, they washed, as the Lord commanded. (40:17-33)

The execution in our parasha deals only with what was stated in God's command in the first section. All that is stated in the second section was pushed aside to the book of Vayikra in chapter 8, where a description is given of the seven days of consecration:

And Moshe brought Aharon and his sons and washed them with water. And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the efod upon him, and he girded him with the artistically wrought girdle of the efod, and with it he bound it to him. And he put the breastplate upon him; and also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Tummim. And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, upon its forepart, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moshe. And Moshe took the anointing oil and anointed the Mishkan and all that was in it, and sanctified them. And he sprinkled of it upon the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all it vessels, both the laver and its pedestal, to sanctify them. And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aharon's head, and anointed him to sanctify him. And Moshe brought Aharon's sons, and put coats upon them, and girded them with girdles, and put turbans upon them; as the Lord commanded Moshe. (Vayikra 8:6-13)

 

            The anointing of the vessels and the anointing of the priests and their sanctity are connected to the appearance of sanctity in the Mishkan. The anointing is not connected to God's appearance as leader of His generation in a cloud that is spread like a tent of peace, but rather to the glory of the Lord that fills the Mishkan. The glory of the Lord fills the Mishkan, as stated, only on the eighth day.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] In this shiur, I made use of certain ideas that I learned from my revered teacher, R. Dr. Yoel Bin-Nun, some ideas that I learned from my colleague, R. Dr. Yonatan Grosman, and some written ideas of R. Dr. Avraham Shama ("Shetei Megamot Be-Chanukat Ha-Mishkan Ve-Hishtakfutan Be-Torat Ha-Korbanot," Megadim 2 [Alon Shevut, 5747], pp. 32-44). Perhaps there is something novel in my presentation as well.  


[1] It seems to me that the Sifre infers from the difference between the two verses brought here that the Mishkan stood during the day, but not at night. In the first verse it says that they did not leave the door of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, while in the second verse it says that they abided at the door of the Tent of Meeting, day and night, for seven days. According to the Sifre, during the day when the Mishkan stood, Aharon and his sons sat close to the door and they were forbidden to leave, and at night they were commanded to sit in the place intended for "the door of the Tent of Meeting." Combining the verses, according to the Sifre, raises the possibility that the Mishkan stood only during the day, and not at night. Nevertheless, this explanation is weak.

[2] Following the view of the Rambam (Shemoneh Perakim, chapter 4), who maintains that God was not angry with Israel and that Moshe, who was angry, desecrated God's name thereby. The Ramban disagrees with this view.

[3] This was suggested by my dear friend, R. Dr. Avraham Shama.