Shiur #22: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina(Part XII) - The Mishkan ֠Le-Khatchila or Be-di'eved (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mikdash
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

Shiur #22: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina

(Part XII)

The Mishkan – Le-Khatchila or Be-di'eved (Part I)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Shemot 25:8)

 

            The command to build a sanctuary – Mishkan/Mikdash ­– dedicated to God raises a fundamental question regarding the relationship between God and the created world in general, and between Him and His people in particular. Is His appearance in one particular place the ideal way that He chose from the outset to dwell in the world (le-khatchila)? Or does He perhaps constrict His Shekhina and revelation to one place only because of man's spiritual state and in accordance with his ability to absorb the Divine presence (be-di'eved)?

 

            I will not discuss in this framework the philosophical aspects of the issue, and not even the question of why God chose to rest His name only in one place. My goal in the coming lectures will be to examine from an exegetical perspective when the command to build the Mishkan was issued and what the relationship between the building of the Mishkan and the sin of the golden calf is. In light of these questions, I will also examine several other issues, such as when were the priests and Levites were chosen to serve in the Mishkan, what the primary objective of building the Mishkan was, and what the attitude of the Rishonim to the sacrificial service was. Through a clarification of these issues, I will try to answer whether the construction of the Mishkan and its auxiliary mitzvot (who served therein and the sacrificial service) were le-khatchila or be-di'eved.

 

I.          WHEN DID GOD COMMAND MOSHE ABOUT THE MISHKAN?

 

This lecture will be devoted to the question of when God commanded Moshe, "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." This question has two different dimensions: 1) the time of the command; 2) the significance of the command.

 

We find diverse opinions on this issue in the Midrash and among the Rishonim. In order to fully understand the differences between them, I will first present in schematic form what happens from the time of the revelation at Mount Sinai (Shemot 19) until the end of the book of Shemot:

 

1

The revelation at Sinai

(19-24):

Revelation

The ten commandments

Mishpatim

Revelation

The first  tablets

2

The commandments regarding the Mishkan and Shabbat

(25-31:17)

3

The sin of the golden calf

(31:18-34)The second tablets

4

The building of the Mishkan

(35-40)

 

 

The time line:

 

Nisan

1

Sivan

17 Tamuz

18 Tamuz

29

Av

30 Av

10 Tishrei

11 Tishrei

1 Nisan

 

40 days

40 days

40 days

 

 

As is evident from the table,[1] the part of the book of Shemot that spans from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the end of the book is comprised of four main units: the revelation at Sinai, the command regarding the building of the Mishkan, the sin involving the golden calf, and the construction of the Mishkan. There is a certain substantive continuity between the various units. The first unit – the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the first set of tablets – continues with the giving of the second set of tablets in unit 3, following the atonement achieved for the sin involving the golden calf; unit 2, in which God commands Moshe about the Mishkan, continues in unit 4, where Moshe commands the people about the Mishkan, and the Mishkan is built, erected, and consecrated.[2]

 

The main question raised by Chazal and the commentators relates to the time of unit 3, which Scripture places between the first and second sets of the tablets. Midrash Tanchuma deals with the matter explicitly:

 

"And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." When was this portion dealing with the Mishkan stated? On the very day of Yom Kippur. Even though the portion dealing with the Mishkan is recorded before the incident involving the [golden] calf, Rabbi Yehuda bar Shalom said: There is no chronological order in the events of Scripture, as it is stated: "Her paths wander, and she is ignorant" (Mishlei 5:6) - the paths of the Torah and its portions are confused. On Yom Kippur, Moshe was told: "Let them make Me a sanctuary." From where [do we know this]? For Moshe went up on the sixth of Sivan and spent forty days and forty nights [on Mount Sinai], and then another forty, and then another forty, altogether a hundred and twenty. And you find that on Yom Kippur they achieved atonement, and on that very day the Holy One, blessed be He, said, "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them," so that all the nations should know that that they achieved atonement for the incident involving the [golden] calf. And therefore it is called the "tabernacle of testimony" (Shemot 38:21), for it serves as testimony to all of mankind that the Holy One, blessed be He, dwells in your sanctuary. (Tanchuma Teruma, 8)

 

            Based on the rule that there is no chronological order in the events of Scripture, the Midrash establishes that the command regarding the building of the Mishkan was given to Moshe on Yom Kippur,[3] at the end of the one hundred and twenty day period (three times forty days) that began on the 6th of Sivan, that is to say, after the sin involving the golden calf and the pardon issued in its regard, described in Parashat Ki-Tisa. The command to build the Mishkan was thus a consequence of that sin and its atonement. According to this approach, the events are not recorded in the Torah in chronological order. Among those who followed in the footsteps of this Midrash were Rashi (Shemot 31:18, s.v. va-yiten el Moshe; ibid. 33:11, s.v. ve-shav el ha-machaneh) and the Seforno (ibid. 24:18) (Seforno maintains that the command regarding the building of the Mishkan was not given on Yom Kippur itself, but during the third forty day period, that is, between the 1st of Elul and Yom Kippur).

 

            In contrast, the Ramban argues that the events in question are recorded in chronological order[4] in accordance with the plain sense of Scripture. This is also the understanding of the Ibn Ezra (in his short commentary to Shemot 33:17) and Shadal (in his commentary to Yirmiyahu 7:22). The Ramban expresses his position in several places (Shemot 25:2; 35:1; Vayikra 8:1); here I shall cite his words in his commentary to Vayikra 25:1:

 

At the beginning of the first forty days of the first tablets, Moshe wrote in the book of the covenant all the words of God and all the judgments stated there. And he sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people (Shemot 24:5). And when they sinned with the [golden] calf and the tablets were broken, it was as if the covenant with the Holy One, blessed be He, was cancelled. And when the Holy One, blessed be He, was appeased by Moshe [and gave him] the second tablets, He commanded him about a new covenant, as it is stated: "Behold, I make a covenant" (Shemot 34:10). And He restored the severe mitzvot that had been stated in Mishpatim in the first covenant… And at the time of the first covenant, which was during the first forty days, Moshe was commanded about the Mishkan. And when the Holy One, blessed be He, was appeased by him and commanded him to make a second covenant for them, Moshe went down and commanded them all that God had commanded him on Mount Sinai, including the building of the Mishkan. Then Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the people of Israel and said to them as at first: "These are the things which the Lord has commanded that you should do them" (Shemot 35:1) with respect to the work of the Mishkan.

 

            According to the Ramban, the command regarding the building of the Mishkan was issued before the sin of the golden calf and without any connection to it. The events occurred in the order that they appear in Scripture. Moshe went up to Mount Sinai and stayed there for forty days, during the course of which he was commanded about the building of the Mishkan; then he went down from the mountain with the tablets at the time of the sin of the calf; following the forty days of prayer for a pardon regarding that sin and the forty days of receiving the second set of tablets, Moshe went down and commanded Israel about the building of the Mishkan – the very same command that he had received during the first forty days on the mountain.

 

II.        PROOFS IN SUPPORT OF EACH OF THESE POSITIONS

 

I will now present the exegetical proofs in support of each side of the disagreement (the substantive significance of each position will be discussed later).

 

1)         The Position of the Ramban

 

As stated, this is the simpler position, for there is no hint in the portion dealing with the command to build the Mishkan of anything that would lead us to assume that the events are not reported in their chronological order.

 

In addition, the Torah mentions a sanctuary even before the command recorded in Parashat Teruma; in the previous lecture we noted the mention of the Mikdash in the Song of the Sea, and in the command regarding first-fruits, it is stated: "The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God" (Shemot 23:19).

 

The many linguistic and substantive parallels between the revelation at Sinai and the Mishkan, which are noted by the Ramban in several places (his commentary to Shemot 25:2; 40:34; and in his introduction to the book of Bamidbar), teach us that the two stories constitute a single continuum.

 

So, too, the repeated emphasis that Moshe must do as God had showed him on the mountain (Shemot 25:40; 26:30; 27:8) suggests that a command was issued le-khatchila to build an earthly Mishkan similar to the heavenly Mishkan.[5]

 

2)         The Position of the Tanchuma and Rashi

 

This is the novel position; it is difficult to find anything in the plain sense of the verses that implies that the sin of the golden calf preceded the command to build the Mishkan; indeed, neither the Tanchuma nor Rashi adduce textual proofs to their position. Several suggestions may be made as to what brought them to this conclusion:

 

a)                  The sin involving the golden calf is a continuation of the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai. In the description of Moshe's ascent of the mountain (Shemot 24:12-18), it is stated that the objective is to give him "the tablets of stone, and the Torah, and the commandments" (ibid. v. 12). The fulfillment of this objective is described in the opening verse of the account of the incident of the golden calf – "And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking to him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God" (ibid. 31:18). The description of Moshe's descent from the mountain together with Yehoshua, which is also found in the story of the sin of the calf (ibid. 32:15-19), continues the description of their ascent. Perhaps it based on this that these commentators conclude that the story of the revelation at Sinai continues with the giving of the tablets, and that the command regarding the building of the Mishkan is not part of this story.

 

b)                   The sin involving the golden calf should have cancelled any command to build a Mishkan that was issued previously. Rashi may think that had Israel been commanded to build the Mishkan prior to the sin involving the calf, that command should have been cancelled by the sin, and it would have had to be reissued. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra, who accepts the opposing view, sees in the words, "For I will not go up in the midst of you" (ibid. 33:3), an allusion to a cancellation of the Mishkan in the wake of the sin. Thus, he writes in his long commentary: "They shall not make a tabernacle, for I shall not dwell among the children of Israel."[6]  The Ramban answers this argument (in his commentary to Shemot 35:1) by saying that with the pardon of the sin of the golden calf, the decree canceling the command to build the Mishkan was revoked, and the original command was fully restored:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, was appeased, and He gave him the second tablets and made a new covenant with him that God would go in their midst, they returned to their former station and to their matrimonial love, and it was clear that His Shekhina would be among them as He had commanded at first, "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." And therefore Moshe commanded then now all that he had been commanded at first.

 

c)                  The selection of the tribe of Levi came in the wake of the sin involving the golden calf. Another explanation of Rashi's approach is based on his position that the tribe of Levi was chosen for its priestly and Levitical functions in the aftermath of its conduct during the incident involving the golden calf. Regarding Moshe's words to the Levites during that incident, "Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, even every man against his son, and against his brother" (Shemot 32:29), Rashi comments: "By this very act, install yourselves as priests of the Omnipresent." He makes a similar comment on Moshe's words in Devarim 10:8 – "At that time, the Lord separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day:" "At that time – In the first year of the exodus from Egypt, when you sinned by worshipping the golden calf, but the sons of Levi did not thus sin, at that time God separated them from you… To bear the ark – The Levites. To stand before the Lord to minister to Him and to bless in His name – The priests, this referring to the 'raising of the hands.'" According to this explanation, the command regarding the selection of Aharon for the priesthood in the framework of the command regarding the Mishkan (Shemot 28:1) is, according to Rashi, a consequence of the selection of the entire tribe of Levi; he is therefore forced to push off the command regarding the Mishkan until after the sin involving the golden calf.[7]

 

            Those who disagree with Rashi would argue that a distinction must be made between the selection of Aharon for the priesthood, which was not connected to the sin of the golden calf, and the selection of the tribe of Levi, which took place later (Ramban, commentary to Devarim 10:8).[8]

 

4)                  Parashat Mishpatim was taught during the first forty days. According to an alternative understanding, Moshe could not have been commanded about the Mishkan during the first forty days (between the 6th of Sivan and the 17th of Tamuz), for it was during this period that God taught Moshe the many laws found in Parashat Mishpatim. Those who disagree will of course argue that it is entirely possible that Moshe was commanded about both matters during the same forty days.

 

            In my humble opinion, the simple understanding is that of the Ramban; the events are recorded in the Torah in the chronological order of their occurrence, and t the command regarding the Mishkan preceded the sin of the golden calf.

 

III.       THE THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RAMBAN'S POSITION: THE MISHKAN IS LE-KHATCHILA

 

            Thus far I have discussed the two main approaches and the exegetical proofs that can be adduced in support of each. Now I wish to discuss the substantive-theological question: Is the Mishkan the way that God chose le-khatchila to dwell among His nation, or was the command about the Mishkan only issued bedi'eved, as a result of the sin?[9] Put differently, is the Mishkan a continuation of God's revelation and the resting of His Shekhina at the time of the giving of the Torah, or is it a continuation of the sin of the golden calf and its repair?

 

            I will devote the next lecture to the view of the Tanchuma and Rashi. I wish now to deal with the view of the Ramban, according to which the building of the Mishkan was le-khatchila.

 

1)         The connection between the Mishkan and the Creation and the Garden of Eden

 

In lecture no. 10, I dealt with the connection between the Mikdash and the creation of the world. We saw that the midrashim present the Mikdash as the ultimate objective and completion of creation; we discussed the view that the entire world was created from the even ha-shetiya in the Holy of Holies,[10] and we examined the many parallels between the description of the creation and the account of the building of the Mishkan and the service therein. In lecture no. 12, I noted the parallels between the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan and the Mikdash and the Garden of Eden, both with respect to the external and material landscape (the river issuing forth from Eden, the trees in the garden) and with respect to the spiritual landscape (the walking of the Shekhina in the place, the speech and meeting with man, the command to work and preserve, the keruvim, and the priestly garments). We discussed the two complementary meanings of this parallelism: the Mikdash as a continuation of the Garden of Eden in this world and its perpetuation for future generations, and the Mikdash as repair of the sin committed in the Garden of Eden. From all the proofs adduced in these lectures, it clearly emerges that already from the time of creation (and at the latest, from the time of Adam's sin), it was God's intention to rest His Shekhina within the four walls of the Mishkan/Mikdash.

 

In addition, note must be taken in this context – the Mishkan as a mitzva that was issued le-khatchila – of the connections between the Mishkan and Mount Sinai and the exodus from Egypt.

 

2)         The Mishkan and Mount Sinai

 

Many midrashim portray the command regarding the Mishkan as a direct continuation of the revelation at Mount Sinai and the receiving of the Torah. For example:

 

And when Israel accepted the kingdom of heaven with joy, saying, "All that the Lord has said will we do, and obey" (Shemot 24:7), the Holy One, blessed be He, immediately said to Moshe, "Speak to the children of Israel that they bring Me an offering" (ibid. 25:5). (Tanna de-Bei Eliyahu, Eliyahu Rabba, Parasha 17)

 

"That they bring [to] Me an offering" – I gave you My Torah; take Me as well. And from where do we know that 'to Me [li]' comes in place of 'Me' [oti]? As it is stated: "But I [li] am your servant" (I Melakhim 1:26). (Torah Sheleima, Shemot 25, 2, 12 in the name of Lekach Tov)

 

            And this is the way that M.D. Cassuto understood this continuity (commentary to Shemot, p. 221):

 

In order that we be able to understand the significance and the objective of the Mishkan, we must pay attention to the fact that the people of Israel, after having merited the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, were about to journey on from there and distance themselves from the site of the revelation. As long as they were camped at the site, they were able to feel God's closeness; once they set off on their journey, it would have seemed to them as if the package was unraveling, were it not for the fact that there was among them a tangible symbol of God's presence in their midst. The Mishkan was meant to serve as such a symbol. It was not for naught that this portion appears immediately following the portion that tells of the making of the covenant at Mount Sinai. The connection between Israel and the Mishkan is the ceaseless continuation of the connection created at Mount Sinai between the people and their God. The people of Israel who dwelt as tribes at each encampment could see the Mishkan standing in the middle of the camp from every direction. The existence of the Mishkan before their very eyes proved to them that just as the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, so too does He rest among them in all the places of their wanderings in the wilderness. It is to this idea that Scripture alludes when it says: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." And to this also alludes the clear parallel between the concluding words of the previous portion regarding the resting of the Shekhina on Mount Sinai and the concluding words of the book [of Shemot], which describe in similar language the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan.

 

            Indeed, the connection between Mount Sinai and the Mishkan is not only in the substance of the revelation but also in its very nature: the building of the Mishkan and its vessels in accordance with the form shown by God to Moshe on the mountain; the revelation of the Shekhina through fire, a cloud, and speech; the distinction between the various zones of sanctity; the altar and the sacrifices – in all these things we find parallels between the two revelations (as we saw at length in lecture 10).

 

3)         The Mishkan and the Exodus from Egypt

 

God Himself asserts that the goal of the exodus from Egypt, unconnected to the giving of the Torah, is the resting of His Shekhina. This is evident from the clear parallel between the words of God to Moshe at the beginning of Parashat Va-era and the words of the Torah at the end of the command regarding the Mishkan:

 

And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt. (Shemot 6:7)

 

And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. (Shemot 29:45-46)[11]

 

            The objective of the exodus from Egypt was the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan. This is stated explicitly in the Tanchuma:

 

"And it came to pass on the day that Moshe finished" (Bamidbar 7:1). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with Israel while they were in Egypt that He was taking them out only in order that they should make a Mishkan and He would rest His Shekhina on them, as it is stated: "And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them." When the Mishkan was set up, the Shekhina came down and rested among them, at which time all those conditions were fulfilled. Therefore it is written: "the Mishkan" (Bamidbar, ibid.), to fulfill what the Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated, so he did. (Tanchuma Nasa, 22)[12]

 

            The Ramban in his introduction to the book of Shemot also writes that the redemption from Egypt was completed with the building of the Miskkan and the resting of the Shekhina therein:

 

The Torah finished the book of Bereishit, which is the book of creation that deals with the origin of the world and the fashioning of all created beings and the happenings of the patriarchs… and after it finished the creation, it began another book… And the book of Shemot is devoted to the first exile… and the redemption from it… And the exile was not over until they returned to their station and to the level of their ancestors. When they went out of Egypt, even though they left the house of bondage, they were still regarded as being exiles, because they were in a land that was not theirs, lost in the wilderness. And when they came to Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan, and the Holy One, blessed be He, returned and rested His Shekhina among them, they then returned to the station of their ancestors… and they then were regarded as redeemed. Therefore, this book concludes with the completion of the Mishkan and with the glory of the Lord filling it at all times.

 

            To summarize, starting with the description of the creation itself, continuing with the Garden of Eden, and concluding with the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai, the Torah clearly alludes to the Mishkan, and this course is completed in a practical sense with the building of the Mishkan and the resting of the Shekhina therein at the end of the book of Shemot. In all these contexts, the Torah alludes that the purpose of creation was the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan – le-khatchila, in accordance with the Ramban and those who follow in his path.

 

Summary

 

            We saw the two main approaches regarding the chronology of the command regarding the building of the Mishkan. According to the simpler approach, the Torah is arranged chronologically, so that the command regarding the Mishkan is a direct continuation of the revelation at Mount Sinai; according to the second, more novel approach, God commanded about the Mishkan following the sin involving the golden calf.

 

            After examining the exegetical issue and the proofs supporting each side, we began to discuss the spiritual significance of the resting of the Shekhina according to the approach that that the building of the Mishkan was le-khatchila, in light of the fact that the central events in the Torah until the building of the Mishkan – the creation of the world and the Garden of Eden, the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai – all lead to the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan.

 

            In the next lecture, we will examine the spiritual significance of the approach according to which the command regarding the Mishkan was issued in the wake of the sin of the golden calf.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] We have included this table as a general framework, without getting into the thick of the sources and the various views and calculations in Chazal and the commentators regarding the events under discussion.

[2] In both units, mention is also made of the mitzva of Shabbat (31:12-17; 35:2-3).

[3] There is special significance to the fact that the command was issued on Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness, pardon, and atonement. With respect to its sacrifices, Yom Kippur parallels the eighth day of milu'im, and in many senses is the day on which the dedication of the Mishkan is renewed every year. It is not by chance that in the days of Shlomo, the Mikdash was also dedicated on Yom Kippur.

[4] The Ramban is consistent with his own position throughout his commentary to the Torah; he uses the principle that "there is no chronological order in the events in the Torah" as little as possible, as opposed to Rashi, who invokes this rule frequently.

[5] Those who disagree would argue that even though the Mishkan was be-di'eved, in the wake of the sin, it still had to be built in correspondence with the heavenly sanctuary.

[6] See, for example, the Seforno's commentary on the verse, "And He said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest" (33:14).

[7] This issue was discussed by Rav Mordechai Sabbato in his "Ha-Kohanim Ha-Leviyim U-Ma'aseh Ha-Egel," Megadim 2, pp. 23-32.

[8] This is subject to a broader disagreement, relating both to the order of the selection and the nature of the selection: Were the priests selected first, and in their wake the entire tribe of Levi, as argued by the Ramban, or was the tribe of Levi selected in the aftermath of the sin, and in the wake of that selection, Aharon was appointed to the priesthood, as argued by Rashi? I shall return to this issue in lecture no. 24.

[9] It is important to distinguish between the chronological question of what actually came first, and the theological issue of what the best way for the Shekhina to rest in this world is. It is possible to maintain that the sin involving the golden calf came first, but it is not the reason for the command (although anyone who invokes the rule that there is no chronological order to the events in the Torah must, of course, explain why the Torah deviated from the chronological order).

[10] It can, of course, be argued that the command regarding the Mishkan resulted from the sin of the golden calf, but the building of the Mikdash on Mount Moriya is le-khatchila.

[11] The prophecy of Yechezkel describes a similar situation in the future: "And My tabernacle shall be with them: and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Then the nations shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (Yechezkel 37:27-28).

[12] So, too, we find in Tanchuma Bechukotai 3: "They left Egypt in order that they should build the Mishkan and the Shekhina should rest among them, as it is stated: "And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them."