Yesterday, we noted the claim advanced by Chizkuni, in his commentary to Parashat Teruma (25:5), that the shittim wood, from which the planks, beams and other parts of the Mishkan were made, was especially lightweight. Rashi, in two places, appears to disagree. In Parashat Pekudei (39:33), the Torah tells that after all the components of the Mishkan were completed, the artisans brought them all to Moshe. Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma, explains:
[They brought it all to Moshe] because they were unable to erect it. Since Moshe did not perform any of the work for the Mishkan, the Almighty left the erecting for him, as no person was able to erect it due to the heavy weight of the planks, as no person had the strength to stand them up straight, yet Moshe stood them up.
Moshe said before the Almighty: “How can they be erected by a human being?”
He said to him: “Work on it yourself, and it will seem as though you are erecting it, but it will be erected and stand by itself.”
According to Rashi, it seems, the planks were very heavy and nobody was strong enough to put them in their proper position without God’s supernatural assistance.
It should be noted that although Rashi cites this account from the Tanchuma, the Tanchuma does not actually mention that the planks were too heavy for a person to make them stand. Rather, the Tanchuma comments that Moshe said to God, “Master of the world, I do not know how to erect it.” Moshe’s dilemma, according to this account, was not necessarily the weight of the planks, but rather the lack of knowledge needed to erect the Mishkan. Rashi, however, understood the Tanchuma to mean that the planks were very heavy.
Rashi makes a similar remark in his commentary to the Talmud. The Mishna in Masekhet Shabbat (96a) cites the majority view among the Tanna’im that throwing an item on Shabbat from one private domain to another through a public domain does not constitute a Torah violation. Although transferring an object on Shabbat in this fashion – from one private domain to another, through a public domain – indeed constitutes a Torah violation, throwing does not. The reason, the Mishna explains, is that the model of the Shabbat prohibition against transferring objects from one domain to another is the transportation of the planks used for the Mishkan. The planks were transferred from one wagon to another through the public domain, the Mishna comments, but they were not thrown from one wagon to another, and therefore throwing is not forbidden (on the level of Torah law). Rashi explains that the planks could not be thrown, due to their weight. Consistent with his view in his Torah commentary, and contrary to the opinion of Chizkuni, Rashi here expresses the position that the shittim was a weighty species of wood, and thus the planks of the Mishkan were very heavy.
Interestingly, some have suggested emending the text of Rashi’s commentary, such that the word “kovdan” (“their weight”) reads “kevodan” – “their honor.” According to this text, Rashi follows the explanation presented by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 11:5) that the planks of the Mishkan were not thrown because this would be disrespectful. The standard version of the text, however, has the word “kovdan,” according to which Rashi refers to the heavy weight of the planks, consistent with his remarks in his Torah commentary, as discussed.
(See Rav Avraham Albert’s Birkat Avraham, Parashat Teruma)