"But to the Sons of Kehat He Gave None"

  • Rav Shimon Klein

Introduction

 

And it came to pass on the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan and had anointed it and sanctified it and all the instruments, both the altar and all its vessels, and had anointed them and sanctified them; that the princes of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes and were over them that were numbered, offered. And they brought their offering before the Lord, the covered wagons, and twelve oxen; a wagon for every two of the princes, and for each one an ox; and they brought them before the Mishkan. (Bamidbar 7:1-3)

 

            These verses describe what took place on the day that Moshe finished setting up the Mishkan. An account isgiven of the anointing and the sanctification, which were followed by the donations of the princes. They first bring wagons and oxen to be used to carry the vessels of the Mishkan, and afterwards they bring animals to be offered as sacrifices for the dedication of the altar.

 

            The first part of our study will focus on the wagons. After they are brought by the princes, God instructs Moshe: "Take it of them, that they may be to do the service of the Tent of Meeting; and you shall give them to the Levites, to every man according to his service" (v. 5). The general purpose of the wagons is for the service of the Tent of Meeting, and in more concrete manner they are to be handed over to the Levites – every man according to his service. These words impose upon Moshe the responsibility to divide up the donation of the princes among the families of the Levites. And indeed, Moshe decides the matter:

 

And Moshe took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service: and four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the hand of Itamar the son of Aharon the priest. (ibid., vv. 6-9)

 

            One-third of the wagons and oxen are given to the sons of Gershon, who carried the curtains, the veils, and the screens, and two-thirds are given to the sons of Merari, who carried the framework of the Mishkan, the boards and the sockets. What about Kehat? Kehat receives nothing: "But to the sons of Kehat he gave none because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders." The sons of Kehat are charged with the transport of the vessels of the Mishkan, and since these are carried on the shoulders, Moshe does not give them any wagons.[1]

 

            What is the logic of carrying the holy vessels on the shoulder, rather than on a wagon? Carrying on the shoulder expresses a type of effacement before the vessel being carried, its bearers serving as sort of a chariot. In contrast, the wagon is a creation of the princes - the representatives of the people – which now serves an important function, hosting the vessels of the Mishkan. As opposed to the absolute dedication that is required when carrying on the shoulders, the wagon puts those in charge of it in a position of mutuality and even leadership with respect to the vessel carried in it.

 

            It is interesting that until now there has been no talk of how the Mishkan was to be carried. Chapter 5 dedicates a lengthy passage to the roles of the Levites – Kehat, Gershon and Merari – who carry the Mishkan,each one his portion, but for some reason this basic issue is not addressed. It is puzzling that this issue is raised in the context of the princes' initiative, rather than under the heading of the roles of the Levites.

 

What lies behind this?

 

A New Wagon for Carrying the Ark

 

            The question that Moshe faced came many years later before King David:

And David arose and went with all the people that were with him from Ba'alei-Yehuda, to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who dwells upon the keruvim. And they set theark of God upon a new wagon. (II Shemuel 6:2-3)

 

            David brings the ark up from Kiryat-Ye'arim to Jerusalem and chooses to bring it up in a new cart. In the very midst of the event, tragedy strikes: "Uzza put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God" (ibid., vv. 6-7). Uzza sends out his hand to the ark and pays for that move with his life. In response, David stops short the event and directs the ark to a different place: "And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, ‘How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?’ So David would not remove the ark of the Lord to him into the City of David; but David carried it aside into the house of Oved-Edom the Gittite" (ibid., vv. 9-10). The relocation of the ark is delayed. At the same time, David rethinks the matter, in the wake of which he changes his method of operation. This is what follows from the account in the book of Divrei Ha-Yamim:

 

And David called for Tzadok and Evyatar the priests and the Levites… and he said to them, “You are the chiefs of the fathers' houses of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place that I have prepared for it. For because you did not do so at first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, because we did not seek Him according to the prescribed form.” So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God upon their shoulders, the bars being upon them, as Moshe had commanded, according to the word of the Lord. (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 15:11-15)

 

David understands that he had erred - "we did not seek Him in the prescribed form" – and he learns two lessons. The first relates to the very involvement of the Levites in the procession; the second relates to carrying the ark on the shoulders. Regarding both matters, David comes to Moshe's way of thinking in our parasha, but unlike Moshe, David gets there the hard way.

 

The midrash gives fitting expression to the dialogue between the two passages:

 

"But to the sons of Kehat he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders." R. Natan says: From here that this was hidden from the eyes of David, for the Levites carried the ark by wagon, as it is stated: "And they set theark of God upon a new wagon… and the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza." Achitofel said to David: Shouldn't you have learned from our master Moshe, that the Levites carried the ark only on the shoulders, as it is stated: "But to the sons of Kehat he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders."

David then sent it and brought it up on the shoulders, as it is stated: "And David called for Tzadok and Evyatar the priests and the Levites." And where did he command them? "But to the sons of Kehat he gave none." The Levites did not innovate anything, but rather all was at the command of Moshe, and Moshe at the command of God. (Sifre, Naso 46)[2]

 

There is one obvious question. Surely David saw what was written in the Torah, and he knew that the vessels of the Mikdash were to be carried by the sons of Kehat on the shoulder, but he still followed a different course. What led him to do so?

 

Between the Kingdom and God

 

David opts for "a new wagon," this decision being one link in a broader worldview. Underlying this decision are fundamental questions that a king must address: What is the relationship between his kingdom and the realm of the holy? Where do the tools of life stand in relation to God who chooses to put His name among the people?

 

David builds Jerusalem and the house of the king inside it; he takes many wives in Jerusalem; and only after expanding his tools of government, does he move towards his long-awaited goal and relocate the ark to Jerusalem. Moreover, the verses introducing his turning to Natan the prophet with his request to build a house for God open as follows: "And it came to pass when the king sat in his house and the Lord had given his rest round about from all his enemies" (II Shemuel 7:1). The king's house is already built, David is at rest from all his enemies, and only now does he understand that the time has come to build a house for God.[3] It would appear that it is this mindset that brings him to think that what was correct at the outset, in the days of Moshe, is no longer appropriate in a generation that has already conquered the land, established a monarchy, and is now ready for a different position vis-א-vis God. There are two aspects to this maturity. First, the tools of the kingdom are already important enough to host God who will come and crown them with significance. Second, the ark which sets forward in the wilderness and leads the camp is not like the ark which is being brought up to Jerusalem, where it will be located to serve as a link, however important, in a structured system of holy and profane, one alongside the other.

 

At this point, God strikes out against Uzza. He says "no" to David, who must now stop and reconsider. Shouldn't you have learned from our master Moshe that the Levites only carried the ark on the shoulders, says the midrash. And David internalizes the matter: "Because we did not seek him according to the prescribed form." And he goes back to the old and familiar way – to the Levites who carry the ark on the shoulders.

 

Where did David go wrong? An attentive reading of the chapter shows that the story of the wagon is just the tip of the iceberg of a series of behaviors that accompanied it. At the center lies the empowering of his kingdom which led to the marginalization of the place of the ark.[4]

 

"And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, ‘How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?’" This fear did not exist previously. Again and again, Scripture emphasizes the great gap in the additional standing of bringing the ark to Jerusalem. David leaps about and notes over and over how exalted is the God of Israel who rests upon the keruvim.[5]

 

The Sages direct a uniquely formulated question toward Uzza, who sends out his hand to rescue the ark:  "The Holy One, blessed be He, said: The ark carries its bearers, and all the more so itself" (Yalkut Shimoni, II Shemuel 5, 142). Do you really think that the ark depends upon you, that it rests upon you? In the physical sense, the ark's bearers may indeed carry it, but in the essential sense, the picture is just the opposite. The ark is God's resting place in this world, and in this sense, it is not borne, but rather it bears you and your entire kingdom.[6]

 

The Difference Between David and Moshe

 

We can now go back to the book of Bamidbar, to the question to which Moshe must give a reply – "by wagon or the shoulders?" - and understand its context. A new relationship has been created in the camp between the people and God, and the question, "How must the Mishkan be carried?" is just one element of a larger question. What is the nature of this new relationship that exists in the camp between the people and God who rests on the keruvim?

 

The princes of Israel, serving as the representatives of the people and the tribes, donate wagons for the transport of the Mishkan, thus making an essential statement regarding the camp of Israel's part in the bearing of the Mishkan. Moshe sets the record straight. Two thirds of the wagons will be given to Merari and a third to Gershon, thus establishing the fundamental position of the people building the Mishkan and carrying and hosting the Shekhina in their midst. At the same time, "but to the sons of Kehat, he gave none, because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders." No wagons are given to Kehat, thus highlighting the gap, the otherness of the holy, with respect to the vessels of the Mikdash. The sons of Kehat will serve as a sort of chariot and carry the holy to a high and elevated place.

 

In contrast to the period of David, by which time the dynamics of life have already matured so that they are fueled in great measure by internal processes,[7] the events in the wilderness take place in the initial stage of the people, when they are still without a country, a kingdom, or developed life. This being the case, there will be an "intensified presence" of the holy, similar to the "increased presence" of parents in childhood.

 

In the coming chapters, waypoints will be presented that set the relationship between God and Israel in place, creating the necessary balances in the basic tension that exists between two values: an important camp of Israel that is in the process of development and, at the other pole, that which embodies the divine, the infinite, the elevated and independent.

 

God's Place in the Book of Shemot

 

            Where does the Mishkan stand in the accounts given in the book of Shemot? The verses are absolutely silent about the matter:

 

Thus was all the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting finished; and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moshe, so they did. And they brought the Mishkan to Moshe, the Tent, and all its furniture, its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars, and its sockets. (Shemot 39:32-33)

 

            Betzalel and the other craftsmen finish the building of the parts of the Mishkan, "the people of Israel" bring them to Moshe, but it is not clear where exactly they are brought. Moshe is later commanded to erect the Mishkan (ibid. 40:2), and Scripture spells out in detail how each and every part was set up: "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" (ibid., vv. 18-33). Once again, the question arises: What is the context? Where does the event take place?

 

            This systematic disregard tells us much regarding the connection between the people and God in the prism of the book of Shemot. The book relates to the formation of the people, and thus it focuses upon its very existence, rather than its developments. It gives an account of the donations made by the people and of the construction of the Mishkan, but at the same time, there is not yet any service, and now it is possible to discern the absence of the context – a place which receives the Mishkan within it.[8] This silence seems to contain the negative image of the reorganization of the camp, described in the opening chapters of Bamidbar. What this means is that in the book of Shemot, the camp has not organized itself according to tribes and families. The people camp and move about one alongside the other, and thus the space in which they find themselves and the interaction between them are not yet significant.[9]

 

            If nevertheless we are forced to answer the question of where the Mishkan was built in the book of Shemot, it seems that we can say as follows. Nowhere in the book of Shemot is an account given of God entering into the camp. The whole time, His representatives – the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud – are present outside the camp.[10] Accordingly, when Moshe directs the people's attention to the glory of God that is about to be revealed to them, he directs their attention outside the camp: "And it came to pass, as Aharon spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (Shemot 16:10). When the people reach Mount Chorev, God presents Himself and He is seen on the mountain;[11] after the sin involving the golden calf, the Tent of Meeting is distanced from the camp, and there God's word reaches Moshe.[12] All these things have one thing in common – God is found "there." He is larger than life, apart from them, and the camp of Israel has not yet been prepared to absorb Him in their midst.[13]

 

Who Comes to Whom?

 

            How do these two separate entities – the camp and the Mishkan – become joined together? There are two possibilities. After the nation is counted and organized according to tribes, the Mishkan and He who dwells therein could enter into the camp. Alternatively, the Mishkan could stay where it is, and the people could pick themselves up and relocate themselves around it. It seems that Scripture's answer to this question is found in the following verses:

 

God spoke to Moses, saying, “But you shall not number the tribe of Levi, nor take the sum of them among the children of Israel, but you shall appoint the Levites over the Mishkan of testimony, and over all its vessels, and over all that belongs to it. They shall bear the Mishkan, all its vessels, and they shall minister to it, and shall encamp round about the Mishkan…

And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts. But the Levites shall pitch round about the Mishkan of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel, and the Levites shall keep the charge of the Mishkan of testimony.”

(Bamidbar 1:48-49, 52-53)

 

And the Lord spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying, “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensigns of their father's house; far off about the Tent of Meeting shall they pitch. (Bamidbar 2:1-2)

 

The Levites are not counted among the children of Israel, but instead are appointed over the Mishkan – "they shall encamp round about the Mishkan." At a second stage, the site of the encampment of the people of Israel is mentioned, and they too "shall camp round about the Tent of Meeting." The basic meaning of these verses includes instruction regarding the structure of the camp. Alongside this, there is a statement of principle: The Mishkan is not set up in the middle of the camp, but rather the people encamp round about it. Assuming that at this stage the Mishkan still stands outside the camp, this account has an additional meaning: it indicates that the Levites leave the camp, head toward the Mishkan, and set themselves up around it. At a second stage, the rest of the people move themselves, join the Levites, and encamp round about the Mishkan.[14]

 

The Camp says “Yes” to God

 

            Now, after the camp has been organized and after the people have settled themselves around the Mishkan, what is needed is an event that will reflect the novel situation that the people are now facing, the new, not self-evident position in which both the people and God are found. It would appear that the fulfillment of this need is dressed in the dedication of the Mishkan and the altar:

 

And it came to pass on the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan, and had anointed it, and sanctified it and all its instruments, both the altar and all its vessels, and had anointed them, and sanctified them; that the princes of Israel, heads of the houses of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes, and were over them that were numbered, offered. And they brought their offering before the Lord, six covered wagons and twelve oxen; a wagon for every two of the princes, and for each one an ox: and they brought them before the Mishkan… And the princes offered for dedicating of the altar in the day that it was anointed, and the princes offered their offering before the altar. (Bamidbar 7:1-3, 10)

 

It would seem that "the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan" refers neither to the first of Nisan of the second year, the day on which the Mishkan was erected (Shemot 40:17),[15] nor to the first or the eighth day described in the book of Vayikra (chap. 7).[16] This day is somewhere between the first of Iyar (Bamidbar 1:1) and the twentieth of Iyar – the day on which the camp sets off in its new order (ibid. 10:11). Its essence: the camp of Israel says “yes” to the Mishkan and to God who dwells within it. A new role enters the world with the organization of the camp – "the princes of Israel"[17] – and they now bring their offerings in the form of vessels: vessels to carry the Mishkan, vessels for the altar, and in the second or third circle, meal-offerings and sacrifices for the dedication of the altar. In contrast to the absence of context described in the account of the erection of the Mishkan at the end of the book of Shemot,[18]now the context is the issue – the people's princes and representatives come and dedicate the Mishkan around which they are encamped. In contrast to the account in the book of Vayikra, where the focus is on the great event inside the Mishkan, here a fire issues forth from before God and consumes the burnt-offering and fats. The people are not present; the story is that of the princes of Israel – the representatives of the people and the tribes, who say “yes” to the Mishkan that has already been built. Were we to define the arena in which the events are taking place, we would say that the event described in the book of Vayikra takes place in the Mishkan, in view of the entire people, before God and upon the altar, consecrating it for obligatory offerings. In the book of Bamidbar, on the other hand, the people are in their places, they have princes who serve as their representatives, and the event is restricted – princes, Moshe, "before the Lord" – and it involves voluntary giving. In this sense, God's acceptance of their donation is like feedback on the emerging new relationship between the people in the camp and their God.

 

It is not by chance that the section dealing with the princes ends with the following verse: "And when Moshe was gone into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard that voice speaking to him from off the covering that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two keruvim, and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89). The climax of the section is what has been made possible in its wake - speech and connection between God and Moshe, a sign of the newly created connection between the people and their God.

 

Judgment and Mercy in the Camp

 

            "And I will send an angel before you; and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Hivites and Yevusites. Into a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in the midst of you; for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I consume you on the way" (Shemot 33:2-3). With these words, God warns Moshe in the wake of the sin of the golden calf. God's presence among the people is not a simple thing. It seems that the fulfillment of this warning is found more than any other place in the events related in the book of Bamidbar. Many crises take place there, and a key component in them is related to the close presence of God – initially in the camp: "And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and His anger was kindled: and the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed those who were in the uttermost part of the camp. And the people cried out to Moshe, but Moshe prayed to the Lord, and the fire was quenched" (Bamidbar 11:1-2). The people complain, and their words immediately reach the ears of God, who is now in close proximity to them. The harsh response is quick to come in the form of "the fire of the Lord," which consumes those who are at the end of the camp. Then there is another crisis; the people lust for meat: "Who shall give us meat to eat?" And the response is at hand: "And the anger of the Lord burned greatly" (ibid. v. 10). The context: "For you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us meat to eat?" and later: "And while the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was chewed," and once again God responds: "The wrath of the Lord was inflamed against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (v. 33). Alongside these, there is also inspiration: "And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it to the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but continued not" (v. 25). In His presence, Moshe takes of the spirit that was upon him and sets it upon the seventy elders of Israel (11:24-25). Over and over again, God is involved in what happens in the camp, and accordingly Moshe easily turns to God, increases His involvement in the many crises befalling the people (following Miriam's words against Moshe [12:4-9]; in the wake of the sin of the spies [14:10-12]; in the incident involving Korach and his company [16:19-21]; in its wake [17:6-10]; and until Mei Meriva [20:6-8]).

 

These crises occur  in the second year after Israel left Egypt and in the fortieth year. At first, God is close, acting and appearing in the camp, whereas at the end, at Mei Meriva, He appears to Moshe and Aharon, but not to the people. Both at the beginning and at the end, He continues to walk in the camp, in a type of excessive closeness between Him and His people. This special closeness invites the reader to understand what happened there, what the nature of the connection at each stage is, in both good and bad times.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

 



[1] Was it Moshe who decided this, or did he receive a previous instruction from God? The plain sense of the text does not allude to any earlier instruction. The formulation, "But to the sons of Kehat he gave none," rather than the possible formulation, "but the sons of Kehat were not given," also attributes the giving to Moshe, to his discretion, rather than to some other factor not dependent upon him. We will see below that David also struggles with this question; his initial inclination is to transport the ark on a wagon. This fits well if we understand that no divine instruction had been given on this matter, and that from the outset the question of how to carry the ark was handed over to mortals to decide. In the section, "A New Wagon for Carrying the Ark," we bring the verse from Divrei Ha-Yamim, which states: "And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God upon their shoulders the bars being upon them, as Moshe had commanded, according to the word of the Lord" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 15:15). There is a double attribution: in the inner circle, "as Moshe had commanded," and in the outer circle, "according to the word of the Lord." At first glance, this verse contradicts our reading, as it attributes the law to God. On the other hand, it is attributed first to Moshe, and if he merely served as a mouthpiece for the word of God, the attribution is meaningless. Moreover, Moshe is described as "commanding," whereas in the outer circle, we hear of "the word of God." This is neither a command, nor even a statement; it indicates that Moshe was not acting arbitrarily, but rather in keeping with the word of God, in its broad sense, and with the logic that he had heard from God and the principles that he had learned from Him.

[2] The midrash points to Moshe, and then also adds God. This addition does not contradict the fact that it was Moshe who introduced the matter based on his own discretion. We already see this in the wording of the midrash, which attributes the following words to Achitofel: "Achitofel said to David: Shouldn't you have learned from our master Moshe, that the Levites only carried the ark on the shoulders, as it is stated: 'But to the sons of Kehat he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonged to them; they bore it on their shoulders.'" Achitofel mentions Moshe, not God. Furthermore, this formulation is found repeatedly in Scripture and in the words of the Sages when words are attributed to God, even when it is absolutely clear that God did not say them. For example, the gemara in Sanhedrin states: "Another [baraita] taught: 'Because he has despised the word of the Lord' — this refers to he who maintains that the Torah is not from Heaven. And even if he asserts that the whole Torah is from Heaven excepting a particular verse, which [he maintains] was not uttered by God but by Moshe himself, he is included in 'because he has despised the word of the Lord.' And even if he admits that the whole Torah is from Heaven excepting a single point, a particular kal va-chomer, or a certain gezera shava — he is still included in 'because he has despised the word of the Lord'" (Sanhedrin 99a). The Talmud considers a person who says that God did not say a verse, a particular point, a kal va-chomer argument, or a gezera shava as one who has despised the word of God. The difficulty with this is obvious. After all, a kal va-chomer argument is one that a person can draw for himself (Pesachim 66a); not just Moshe himself, but any Sage in Israel can do so. See the previous note for an explanation of such formulations.

[3] God's answer goes even further. God puts off building the Temple unil David is given rest from of all his enemies (and not only those around him), and alongside this He promises: "Moreover, I have appointed a place for My people Israel, and planted them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and be troubled no more; neither shall the children of wickedness torment them any more, as at the beginning" (II Shemuel 7:10) – a full reconciliation with the nations of the world. An additional development is the promise of a royal house for David: "And the Lord tells you that He will make you a house. And when the days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall issue from your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom" (ibid. vv. 11-12). Both of these confirm David's fundamental understanding that only after certain vessels are fashioned, into which God will enter, will He crown them with meaning.

[4] There are a number of expressions of the empowering of his kingdom, along with the price that was paid (that is, the devaluation of the ark): The section opens with David's rising: "And David arose and went" (ibid. v. 2), a sign of a position of importance. Twice Scripture describes the wagon as new, pointing to the status it enjoyed. The sons of Avinadav are described as driving the new wagon (ibid. v. 3), indicating control. The wording, "And they brought it out of the house of Avinadav which was at Giv'a, accompanying the ark of God," points to excessive closeness to the ark. Uzza is described as dying by the ark of God: "And there he died by the ark of God" (ibid. v. 7). Over and over, people are referred to in this section by name, thus upsetting the balance between them and the ark. Uzza is described as going ahead of the ark, as if he were leading it.

Attention should also be paid to the fact that Uzza's finger was light on the trigger: "And when they came to Nakhon's threshing floor, Uzza put out [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God" (ibid. v. 6-7). The oxen shook the ark; nowhere does it say that the ark was about to fall. Mahari Kera notes that a threshingfloor is flat; the shaking of the oxen would not be expected to cause the ark to fall. The formulation, "Uzza put out to the ark of God," which makes no mention of his hand, alludes to putting out that is not limited to his physical hand. One would have expected that an account of what happened be given first, and only afterwards a report of what Uzza did in response. The fact that his deed is mentioned first indicates how easily the act was performed. "And he took hold of it" – his action is described as one of taking hold, not rescuing or responding to what happened. The duplication, "and he put out [his hand]… and he took hold of it," also points to the excessive closesness to the ark.

[5] "So David went out and brought up the ark of God from the house of Oved-Edom into the city of David with gladness. And when they that bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David leaped about before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen efod. So David and all the house of Israel brought the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the shofar. And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal, Shaul's daughter, looked through a window, and saw King David dancing and leaping before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord. And as soon as David had made an end of offering burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts… And Michal the daughter of Shaul came out to meet David, and she said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, in that he uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the low fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me before your father and before all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore will I play before the Lord, and I will yet be more lightly esteemed than this, holding myself lowly: and of the maid-servants of whom you have spoken, of them shall I be had in honor’" (II Shemuel 6:12-22). A description is given of excessive joy. After six steps an ox and a fatling are offered; the progress is accompanied by atonement, through a step whose very essence is effacement (sacrifices). There is further description of David's absolute effacement to the ark, eliciting the harsh response of Michal, who sees in it a degradation of the king of Israel.

[6] To simplify the matter, let us ask the following: Which carries the other – the legs the head or the head the legs? The answer is complex. Physically, the legs carry the head. On the other hand, the head is the elevated part of the body that leads the life system, and in this sense it commands the legs to carry the body and the entire person. According to the Sages, Uzza stumbled on this equation. We suggest that this failure serves as a reflection of David's spiritual position at that time. It should further be noted that this rule applies when the ark is carried by the Levies on their shoulders; when they dedicate themselves to it, a single entity is created, and the ark is perceived as bearing its bearers. This rule does not apply to the ark which is perceived as separate from the bearers; it is not nullified to it, and it creates a reciprical connection between them.

[7] Under the great influence of the conceptual system presented in the book of Devarim. See in our study of Parashat Bamidbar, "The Difference between Vayikra and Devarim."

[8] This fact follows from the central issue that lies at the heart of the book of Shemot - the creation of the people of Israel. There is an essential connection between the process of man's creation as it is described in the second chapter of the book of Bereishit and the foundational axis of the book. It is comprised of three parts: the formation of the people in Egypt through natural processes ("And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground"), the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai ("and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life"), and finally the construction of the Mishkan ("and man became a living soul"). The book focuses more on the formation, and less on the development of the entity that was created or on the processes which pass over it. The book of Shemot concludes with the construction of the Mishkan. The course of "service" will continue in the book of Vayikra, and the course of the context, "the camp of Israel," will continue in the book of Bamidbar.

[9] Several roles and hierarchy in certain realms are also found in the book of Shemot: seventy elders, princes, offices of thousands, officers of hundreds, and officers of tens who together with Moshe bear the yoke of justice.

[10] "And they took their journey from Sukkot and encamped in Etam, at the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people" (Shemot 13:20-22); "And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these; so that the one came not near the other all the night" (Shemot 14:19-20, and at another stage Shemot 14:22-26).

[11] "And the Lord said to Moshe, ‘Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you for ever. And Moshe told the words of the people to the Lord" (Shemot 19:9, and in the continuation vv. 15-25).

[12] "And Moshe would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, afar off from the camp, and he called it the Tent of Meeting. And it came to pass, that everyone who sought the Lord went out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp. And it came to pass, when Moshe went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moshe until he was gone into the Tent. And it came to pass, as Moshe entered the Tent, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the Tent, and one talked with Moshe. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the door of the Tent, and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the Lord spoke to Moshe face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned back to the camp; but his servant Yehoshua, the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart out of the Tent" (Shemot 33:7-11).

[13] Practically speaking, the book of Shemot concludes with a description of the construction of the Mishkan, and the time is the first of Nisan in the second year after the exodus from Egypt (Shemot 40:17). The organization of the camp, in contrast, begins a month later, on the first of Iyar (Bamidbar 1:1). It is difficult to speak of setting up the Mishkan in a camp that had not yet been prepared for it.

[14] The term mi-neged, "far off," that is used here implies that there is some distance between the Mishkan and the people encamped around it, and it points to additional separation of the Mishkan from the people, in contrast to the Levites. The midrash states: "'Far off about the Tent of Meeting shall they pitch'… and similarly it says (Yehoshua 3:4): 'Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure.' And similarly you find that when the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe that Israel should establish standards, He said to him: Establish them in every direction at a distance of two thousand cubits, as it is stated: 'Far off about the Tent of Meeting shall they pitch.' R. Yitzchak said: At a distance of a mil, which is two thousand cubits" (Midrash Rabba Devarim 2, 9 [2:2]).

[15] "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… Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:17, 34). According to the plain sense of the text, joining the two events is not reasonable. The dedication of the altar includes essential components that were created over the course of the organization of the camp, about which they were commanded on the first of Iyar – a month after the erection of the Mishkan described in the book of Shemot: 1. "Princes of Israel" is a position that was established in the wake of the command given on the first of Iyar (Bamidbar 1:4-16). 2. Referring to the princes as "over them that were numbered" (ibid. 7:2) directly relates to their role in the count. 3. The division of the wagons between Gershon and Merari, and the fact that they were not given to Kehat, follows from the division of tasks relating to the carrying of the Mishkan between them (chapters 3 and 4). 4. The very selection of the Levites for the roles is described in these sections, and thus they could not have brought their donations a month before their selection. Among the classical commentators, the Abravanel followed this path, pushing off the donations of the princes and the dedication of the altar to after the first of Iyar. Chazal do connect the two events, but in my humble opinion, their intention was to join the two events on the spiritual level, not as an exegetical statement.

[16] "And it came to pass on the eighth day that Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel, and he said to Aharon, ‘Take you a young calf for a sin–offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Lord. And to the children of Israel you shall speak saying, ‘Take a kid of the goats for a sin-offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year for a burnt-offering… for today the Lord will appear to you.’ And they brought that which Moshe commanded before the Tent of Meeting: and all the congregation drew near and stood before the Lord. And Moshe said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord commanded you to do and the glory of the Lord shall appear to you…’ And Moshe and Aharon went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat, which, when all the peole saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces" (Vayikra 9:1-6; 23-24). 

[17] The position of princes is already mentioned in the book of Shemot (Shemot 34:31; 35:27), but there we are not dealing with representatives of the tribes.

[18] See above: "The Place of God in the Book of Shemot."