The Sacrifical Altar and the Structure of the Parsha

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT TERUMA

 

The Sacrificial Altar and the Structure of the Parasha

By Rav Elchanan Samet

 

A. ITS LOCATION IN THE PARASHA AND IN THE MISHKAN

The command to construct the sacrificial altar (27:1-8) is not located together with the commands concerning the other vessels of the Mishkan – the Ark, the Table (for the showbread) and the Menora (all three of which are discussed in chapter 25). They are separated by the command to construct the Mishkan itself, with its curtains and poles (26:1-30) and to make the curtain separating between the Sanctuary ("kodesh" – the main section of the Mishkan) and the Holy of Holies ("kodesh ha-kodashim"), as well as the screen for the entrance to the Mishkan (26:31-37).

Only after these do we find the command to build the altar, and it is therefore clear that its place is outside the Mishkan – beyond the screen at the entrance. Hence, the reason for the delay in the appearance of this command also becomes clear: this altar is not one of the vessels of the Mishkan, like those mentioned earlier in the parasha, but rather stands outside – in the courtyard. Therefore, immediately after the command to build the altar we find the command to create the courtyard, its hangings and pillars (27:9-19).

Parashat Teruma, from beginning to end, includes the command to build the Mishkan and its vessels (as opposed to Parashat Tetzaveh, the first section of which deals the command to prepare the special garments for the kohanim). According to what we have said thus far, the structure of the parasha may be summarized as follows:

- At the beginning of the parasha (25:1-9) we find a general command to collect the donations from the nation and to construct the Mishkan as a whole.

- Thereafter we find the command concerning the vessels of the Mishkan and the construction of the Mishkan itself, in which the vessels will be used. This section occupies most of the parasha (25:10-26:37), a total of 68 verses.

- The last part of the parasha, significantly shorter than the middle section, contains the command concerning the sole vessel of the courtyard – the copper altar, and the construction of the courtyard in which it will stand (27:1-19, i.e., 19 verses).

This description of the structure of the parasha is based on the order of the various details that it includes, and – in fact – on the nature of the Mishkan as a whole: a tent (Sanctuary) containing various vessels and surrounded by a courtyard with an altar in it. This structure gives the impression that the sacrificial altar is a vessel of secondary importance in the Mishkan, and that its level is lower than that of the vessels of the Mishkan mentioned previously in the parasha, which are used inside the Sanctuary.

But, as we shall see below, this description of the parasha's structure fails to take into consideration its style and the characteristic structure of a biblical literary unit.

B. WHAT WAS MOSHE SHOWN ON MT. SINAI?

We shall begin our renewed examination of the structure of Parashat Teruma with a look at the section concerning the Menora. This section concludes with the following two verses:

(25:39) "He shall make it, and all of these vessels (the tongs and ash-pans), of a talent of pure gold.

(40) And see, and make them according to their model THAT YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN."

Why does the Torah suddenly mention here the vision that Moshe saw when he was atop the mountain? The commentaries – early and later alike – explain this with reference to the difficulty involved in fashioning the Menora. For example, Rashi comments (and Rashbam and Ibn Ezra comment similarly):

"'And see, and make…' – This tells us that Moshe had difficulty understanding how the Menora was to be made, until the Holy One showed him a Menora of fire."

Such an explanation give rise to certain questions. If the vision was meant to make it easier to fashion the Menora, then why is Moshe told, "And see, and make ACCORDING TO THEIR MODEL" – in the plural, rather than in the singular – "according to its model"? Cassuto proposes that the expression "according to their model" (tavnitam) hints at the Menora AND ITS VESSELS, mentioned in the previous verse. But what difficulty is presented by the vessels of the Menora, to the extent that Moshe had to be shown a model of them, too?

The explanation offered by the commentaries raises a further difficulty: similar verses appear with relation to two other sections of the Mishkan. At the conclusion of the command to construct the Mishkan itself (curtains and poles), we read:

(26:30) "And you shall erect the Mishkan ACCORDING TO ITS LAW AS YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN."

And similarly, at the conclusion of the command to construct the sacrificial altar:

(27:8) "AS YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN, so shall they do."

Did Moshe then have difficulty understanding the whole construction of the Mishkan and the altar, to the extent that he had to be shown "the law of the Mishkan" and a vision of the altar as well?

Cassuto answers in the affirmative:

"It is very interesting that specifically in the places where we sense most keenly the lack of details in the text, we are told that God showed Moshe the image of the thing that he was to make, as though the text is telling us that whatever was not said explicitly in the description of the various objects was shown to Moshe in a Divine vision."

But what may be true of the Menora – that from the language of the command alone it is difficult to attain a clear mental picture of the Menora – cannot be said to be true to the same extent with regard to the sacrificial altar. In any event, the difficulty involved in imagining how the altar is to be fashioned is certainly no greater than the difficulty in imagining the fashioning of the Table for showbread.

In truth, we cannot explain – as Cassuto does – that only in these three instances, in which "we sense most keenly the lack of details in the text," God showed Moshe an image of the thing that he was to make, for we are told already in the very first command with which the parasha begins:

(25:9) "According to all that I have shown you – the model of the Mishkan and the model of ALL ITS VESSELS – so shall you do."

This means that God showed Moshe a vision of ALL the vessels of the Mishkan.

And so we return to our question: why is this vision mentioned only in relation to the Menora, the Mishkan itself, and the sacrificial altar?

C. MENTION OF THE "VISION ATOP THE MOUNTAIN" AS A MEANS OF DIVIDING THE PARASHA

Let us return to the verse at the end of the section dealing with the Menora, which served as the starting point for this discussion:

(25:40) "And see, and make them according to their model THAT YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN."

This can be understood differently than the interpretation offered by the commentaries mentioned above. The expression "their model," in the plural, hints at the model of the THREE vessels mentioned thus far: the Ark, the Table, and the Menora. Such an explanation is indeed proposed in a baraita (Menachot 29a):

"We learn - Rabbi Yossi said in the name of Rabbi Yehuda: AN ARK of fire AND A TABLE of fire AND A MENORA of fire descended from heaven, and Moshe saw them and fashioned according to them, as it is written, 'And see, and make ACCORDING TO THEIR MODEL that you were shown atop the mountain.'"

According to this explanation, the verse under discussion does not refer specifically to the Menora, but rather serves as a summary of the three sections concerning the vessels of the Mishkan that are commanded in chapter 25. Obviously, this verse brings us back to verse 9 in the general command at the beginning of the parasha:

"According to all that I have shown you – the model of the Mishkan and the model of ALL ITS VESSELS – so shall you do. AND SEE, AND MAKE ACCORDING TO THEIR MODEL that you were shown atop the mountain."

God showed Moshe a model of the Mishkan and a model of all its vessels, and now thatthe details of tconstruction of "all its vessels" has concluded, God reminds him – in summary – that they should be made in accordance with "their model" which he was shown.

If our interpretation of verse 25:40 – which summarizes the commands of the vessels of the Mishkan – is correct, then the next verse must also serve the same purpose:

(26:30) "And you shall erect the Mishkan IN ACCORDANCE WITH ITS LAW WHICH YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN."

This verse does not come to solve any particular difficulty in the command pertaining to the creation of the curtains and poles of the Mishkan. Rather, it is meant to connect back to the verse in the general command (25:9): "According to all that I have shown you – THE MODEL OF THE MISHKAN… so shall you do." Here, again, the verse serves as a summary of the command concerning the construction of the Mishkan itself – corresponding to the verse summarizing the command to make the VESSELS of the Mishkan.

Thus we have a possible structure for the parasha based on a stylistic tool whereby the parasha itself indicates the distinction between its various parts: a single expression that appears in different formulations as a summarizing statement.

The structure of the parasha then appears as follows:

General command: Taking of the contribution and construction of the Mishkan (25:1-9)

Summarizing verse: "According to all that I have shown you – the model of the MISHKAN and the model of ALL ITS VESSELS – so shall you do."

First half: listing of "all its vessels":

The Ark (25:10-22)

The Table (23-30)

The Menora (31-39)

Summarizing verse: (40) "And see, and make according to their model THAT YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN"

Second half: listing of "the Mishkan"

The curtains (26:1-14)

The poles (15-29)

Summarizing verse: (30) "And you shall erect THE MISHKAN according to its law THAT YOU WERE SHOWN ATOP THE MOUNTAIN"

The two "halves" of the command concerning the fashioning of the Mishkan list, in chiastic order, the concluding verse of the general command. In that verse we read, "the model of the Mishkan and the model of all its vessels" (25:9), while in the detailed list we find first "the vessels" (25:40) and only afterwards "the Mishkan" itself (26:30). At the conclusion of each half there is a summarizing verse, bringing us back to the general verse.

The division of the parasha proposed above is confirmed by the equality between the two halves: the half dealing with the "vessels of the Mishkan" occupies thirty-one verses, while the half dealing with "the Mishkan" occupies thirty. As we have demonstrated on several occasions, equal length of two halves of a single unit is a common literary principle in biblical narratives.

D. DOUBLE COMPLEMENT TO THE CENTRAL COMMAND

The problem is that the structure that we have proposed thus far does not include the whole of Parashat Teruma. Moreover, even the verse that indicates the internal division of the parasha is repeated one more time, at the conclusion of the section dealing with the sacrificial altar:

(27:8) "As you were shown atop the mountain, so shall they do."

Is this verse, too, meant to summarize all that precedes it (rather than just the command concerning the construction of the altar)?

If we continue on the path we have taken thus far, we shall have to conclude that there is an additional section to the command of building the Mishkan that serves as a conclusion to both previous sections of the command, and that this section, too, concludes with the repeated "chorus" – "As you were shown atop the mountain, so shall they do."

This section, which is shorter by half (only 15 verses) than each of the halves discussed above and which serves as their conclusion, therefore corresponds to the general command with which the parasha opens (25:1-9), representing an introduction to the two main sections of the command.

This section is comprised of two sub-sections – from two traditional parashot, and we shall have to discuss the connection between them:

(26:31-37) The command to make the curtain and the screen for the entrance to the Sanctuary, and the internal arrangement of the vessels in the Sanctuary

(27:1-8) The command to construct the sacrificial altar

Let us first address the first section, and ask why it is not included in the command to construct the Mishkan that appeared previously, and why the summarizing verse (30) – "And you shall erect the Mishkan according to its law that you were shown atop the mountain" – separates between them. After all, this section also describes two sections of the actual Mishkan itself – the curtain and the screen for the entrance to the Sanctuary!

The answer is that these two parts of the Mishkan – the curtain and the screen – are not made for the purpose of the erection of the Mishkan itself, but rather serve the purpose of its INTERNAL ARRANGEMENT, and this is in fact the subject of this section. The purpose of the curtain is set down explicitly in verse 33: "And it shall divide for you between the kodesh and the kodesh ha-kodashim." Thus the location is determined for the Ark – "within the curtain" (33), and – in contrast – for the Table and the Menora, "outside of the curtain," the Table by the northern side of the Mishkan and the Menora by its southern side (35). The placement of the screen at the entrance to the Sanctuary similarly determines the location of the sacrificial altar outside of it (although this is not stated explicitly, as we shall see below).

Is the summarizing verse, "As you were shown upon the mountain – so shall they do," appropriate to this parasha? Certainly. When God showed Moshe "a model of the Mishkan and a model of all its vessels," He did not show him the model of the Mishkan alone and a model of the vessels alone, but rather He showed him the Mishkan standing in its proper position and arrangement.

From this point of view, the summarizing verse of this section goes back to the verse in the opening command:

(25:9) "According to all that I have shown you – the model of the Mishkan and the model of all its vessels – so shall they do."

(27:18) "As you have been shown atop the mountain – so shall they do."

The summarizing verse here does not mention the "MODEL of the Mishkan," nor "THE MODEL of all its vessels," for now the text is addressing the entirety – the Mishkan together with all its vessels, and how they are to be placed in relation to one another.

We must now address the second section that comprises this part of the command: the section dealing with the sacrificial altar, only at the end of which do we find the summarizing verse. What, then, is the meaning of the juxtaposition of this section to its predecessor and the conclusion of both in a common summarizing verse?

It seems that the point of this juxtaposition is to include the sacrificial altar among the vessels of the mishkan and in the internal arrangement thereof. The location of verse 8 ("As you have been shown atop the mountain…") at the end of the section dealing with the sacrificial altar teaches us that this altar, too, is one of the vessels of the Mishkan whose model was shown to Moshe atop the mountain, and that its proper place in relation to the Mishkan was likewise shown to him then.

Just as this verse JOINS the sacrificial altar to what preceded it – the section dealing with the internal arrangement of the Mishkan and its vessels – so it SEPARATES the section about the altar from the next section, dealing with the creation of he courtyard (9:19).

The courtyard is a part of the Mishkan itself, of secondary importance – it serves as a sort of protective barrier around it. Therefore the summarizing verse that we find in relation to the previous sections of construction of the Mishkan – that they should be executed in accordance with the vision that God showed Moshe on Mt. Sinai – does not apply to it. Admittedly, the altar is PHYSICALLY situated within the courtyard, and this may be learned from the location of the command concerning its construction: following the command to make a screen for the entrance to the Sanctuary. But attention should be paid to the fact that this is not stated explicitly. Cthe Table we are told clearly (), "And you shall place the Table OUTSIDE THE CURTAIN," but concerning the altar no similar instruction is given (such as, "And you shall place the altar outside the screen at the entrance to the Sanctuary"). This lack of an explicit statement concerning the external placement of the altar – in the courtyard – complements the positive "statement" hinted at in the structure of the parasha, which would seem to include the altar among the vessels of the Mishkan.

Let us return to the two components of this section, and demonstrate that they are in fact two traditional "parashot" of similar length:

i. (26:31-37) Internal arrangement of the Mishkan by means of the curtain and the screen (7 verses)

ii. (27:1-8) Construction of the sacrificial altar (8 verses)

There is a clear connection between the two parashot comprising this section and the two greater halves of the command that we addressed above. This connection appears in chiastic form: the first parasha here complements the second half of the larger command – dealing with the construction of the Mishkan – in that it determines the internal and external boundaries of the Mishkan and its internal arrangement. The second parasha here complements the first half of the larger command – dealing with the vessels of the Mishkan – in that it adds to them a central vessel – the sacrificial altar, which must be postponed (because of its external location) until later on in the parasha.

Since the two great halves of the command are completed here in chiastic form, our two parashot end up corresponding directly to the verse in the opening command:

(25:9) "In accordance with all that I have shown you – the model of the Mishkan..."

(corresponding to (1) – the section on the arrangement of the Mishkan)

"...and the model of all its vessels…"

(corresponding to (2) the section dealing with the construction of the altar).

This is the reason for the great similarity between the summarizing verse of this section (27:8) and verse 25:9 – a similarity noted above.

Here, then, in summary, is a schematic presentation of the structure of parashat Teruma:

General Command: "In accordance with all that I showed you –

The model of the MISHKAN

And the model of ALL ITS VESSELS…"

 

Half A: construction of the VESSELS

"which you were shown atop the mountain"

Half B: construction of the MISHKAN

"which you were shown atop the mountain"

 

Summarizing Command:

Parasha b: construction of the ALTAR

Parasha a: arrangement of the MISHKAN

"which you were shown atop the mountain"

Appendix: construction of the courtyard

This structure is meant, obviously, to disprove the apparent structure as presented in the first section of this study. One of its purposes is to INCLUDE the sacrificial altar in the list of the vessels of the Mishkan – the opposite of the conclusion that we drew at first from the seeming structure.

But now we are faced with another question. If the purpose of the structure of the parasha is to include the altar as one of the vessels of the Mishkan, why does the altar stand in the courtyard rather than inside the Sanctuary itself?

This question does not require much pondering: an eternal fire will burn upon this altar (Vayikra 6:6), and communal and individual sacrifices will be offered upon it throughout each day. It is impossible for it to stand within the closed Sanctuary, because of the fire and the smoke. The place of the altar must therefore be outside – in the courtyard.

The early commentators note that the Mishkan and its vessels symbolize a house meant to host the King. Thus the Seforno (25:23) explains the significance of the vessels in the Mishkan:

"After the construction of the Ark, which is in the form of a throne for the Shekhina… the Torah commands the construction of the Table and the Menora, as are customary for honored people – as we see from the example of the Shunamite woman, who says (Melakhim II 4:10), 'Let us place for him there a bed and a table and a chair and a lamp.'"

Anyone familiar with the character of an ancient dwelling-place knows that the "kitchen" – where the oven and other cooking and baking implements are found – was located in the courtyard rather than inside the dwelling, for the same reason: in order that the fire, the smoke and the cooking odors would not cause any disturbance within the home. What is needed for eating is prepared outside, but the eating itself usually takes place inside.

The same applies to the altar, which symbolizes the "kitchen" of the Mishkan. For technical reasons, it must stand in the courtyard, but the work that is carried out upon it – the sacrificial service – forms part of the Divine service that is the purpose of the Mishkan itself, and may even exceed in importance the other parts of that service.

I shall address a different aspect of the status of the altar and the importance of the service performed upon it next week.

(Translated by Kaeren Fish.

The unabridged Hebrew version of this shiur is archived at:

http://www.vbm-torah.org/hparsha-7/hparsha7.htm.)


 

 

 

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