Vayakhel: The Mishkan - A Perpetuation of Ma'amad Har Sinai
This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Is Parshat Vayakhel simply a repeat of Parshat Teruma?
Indeed, the details of the mishkan are practically identical in both parshiot - however, their manner of presentation is quite different.
To explain why, this week's shiur first considers the different purpose of each Parsha. Afterward, we will attempt to tackle the more difficult question concerning the necessity of this 'repetition'.
Before we discuss the similarities between Teruma and Vayakhel, let's first note the obvious difference between these two Parshiot.
In Parshat Teruma / Tetzaveh, the Torah records God's commandment to Moshe to build the mishkan - or in Hebrew, what we refer to as 'tzivui ha-mishkan'. In contrast, Parshat Vayakhel / Pekudei describes how Moshe conveyed these instructions to Bnei Yisrael.
Let's explain how this affects their order:
The Order in Parshat Terumah
The primary focus of the tzivui ha-mishkan unit (i.e. chapters 25-29) is the tabernacle's function, hence this unit opens with its 'statement of purpose':
"And you shall build for Me a mikdash in order that I shall dwell among you" (see 25:1-8).
and closes with an almost identical statement:
"And I shall dwell among Bnei Yisrael, and I will be for them a God, and they shall know..." (see 29:45-46).
In our shiur on Parshat Tetzaveh, we explained how these opening and closing psukim serve as 'matching bookends' that highlight how the Mishkan serves first and foremost as the place where God's shechinah can dwell with His nation. This observation helped us understand the logic of its flow in topic.
For example, that unit began by describing the aron [ark of the covenant], which will house the luchot [tablets] - the symbol of brit Sinai - and hence the focal point of the mishkan, as well as the kaporet, the protective cover of the aron, from where God will speak to Moshe.
The next set of parshiot described the various 'keilim' (vessels) that are situated in the ohel mo'ed, such as the menorah and shulchan (25:23-40). This was followed by a detailed description of the ohel moed -the portable structure [i.e. the canvas for the tent /'yeriot ha-mishkan' and its poles /'krashim' (see 26:1-37)] that will house those vessels.
In this unit, the description of vessels precedes the details of that tent, for they perform its key functions, while the structure that houses them serves only a secondary function.
These instructions are followed by the commandment to build an altar ['mizbeach hanechoshet'], which will be placed in front of this ohel mo'ed (see 27:1-8), and a courtyard ['chatzer'] constructed from curtains and poles that would encompass it (see 27:9-19).
This Shechinah unit concludes with the laws concerning the kohanim who are to officiate in the mishkan (chapter 28), and the seven day dedication ceremony (chapter 29).
In chapters 30 and 31 we found an additional unit, that contained a list of peripheral mitzvot relating to the mishkan (and its protection from the shechinah], including the 'mizbeach haketoret' and the 'kiyor'.]
At the very conclusion of the tzivui ha-mishkan we find the instruction to appoint Betzalel to build the mishkan, and the important reminder not to build it on Shabbat.
The following table summarizes this order in Parshat Teruma according to its most general categories:
Intro - Shchina
Keilim - the vessels (chapter 25)
- The aron - which will house the luchot The kaporet - from where God will speak to Moshe
- The shulchan - on which the lechem will be placed
- The menorah - which will provide light
Structure - the ohel mo'ed (the tent - chapter 26)
- The yeriot
- The krashim
- The "parochet"
Chatzer - The courtyard (chapter 27)
- The mizbeach - the altar in front of the ohel mo'ed
- The courtyard - "amudei ve-kelei hachatzer"
Kohanim (chapters 28 & 29)
- The bigdei kehuna
- The dedication ceremony (milu'im)
Misc. Topics (chapter 30)
The Builder - Betzalel (chapter 31)
Shabbat (not to build the mishkan on Shabbat/ 31:11-17)
In contrast to this 'functional order', the order in Parshat Vayakhel is quite different, for in this unit - Moshe must explain to Bnei Yisrael how to build the mishkan. Therefore, the sequence will follow a more practical order, reflecting the considerations of its construction.
For example, the tent will precede the vessels, for the ohel moed will house them. Furthermore, this time, the mizbeach ketoret will be included with the other vessels, even though its function in regard to the shechina is different. Similarly, this time the kiyor will be recorded together with the mizbeach ha'Olah.
The following table summarizes this 'practical' order, as presented in Parshat Vayakhel:
- Guidelines re: when construction work is permitted (35:1-3);
- The collection of the building materials (35:4-29);
- The appointment of the chief architect - Betzalel - and his fellow artisans (35:30-36:7);
Structure - the ohel mo'ed - the tent (36:8-38):
- The yeriot
- The kerashim
- The parochet
Keilim (chapter 37)
- The aron
- Mizbeach Haketoret (from misc. above)
Chatzer (chapter 38)
- The mizbeach
- The kiyor (from misc. above)
- The courtyard
Kohanim (chapter 39)
- Their garments
- Assembly of the mishkan on the 1st of Nissan (40:1-33)
- God's glory dwells on the mishkan (40:34-38)
As you review (and compare) these two tables, be sure to note their similarities and differences. Doing so, while considering this distinction between 'function' and 'construction', will help you understand how and why the order in Vayakhel / Pekudei differs from the order in Terumah / Tetzaveh.
[Note as well that the mizbeach haketoret and the kiyor that were omitted (for thematic reasons) from the Shechina unit in Terumah / Tetzaveh are now included (for practical reasons) in Parshat Vayakhel - right where they belong!
Why the Repetition?
With this distinction in mind, let's consider now a more basic question, i.e. the very need to repeat anything!
After all, the building of the mishkan was only a 'one-time' mitzva. Would it not have been sufficient for the Torah to simply tell us in one pasuk that Bnei Yisrael constructed the mishkan 'as God commanded Moshe on Har Sinai'?
To answer this question, we return to our study of the overall theme of Sefer Shmot.
The Mishkan Exclusive
In Sefer Shmot, from the time that Moshe ascended Har Sinai to receive the first luchot (see 24:12), the mishkan emerged as its primary focus. Even though Moshe received numerous other laws during these forty days, in chapters 25 thru 31 Sefer Shmot records only those mitzvot relating to the mishkan.
Likewise, when Moshe descends from Har Sinai (after the last forty days), even though the Torah informs us that he conveyed all the mitzvot to Bnei Yisrael at that time (see 34:32), nevertheless Sefer Shmot chooses to record only Moshe's transmission of the mitzvot concerning the mishkan (i.e. chapters 35->40). All the other mitzvot appear only later, in the books of Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim (see Chizkuni 34:32)!
So the question is not only - why the 'repeat'; but also why the exclusivity of the mishkan in Sefer Shmot?
Ramban, in his explanation of the overall theme of Sefer Shmot, suggests an answer:
"... Sefer Shmot discusses the exile [i.e. the slavery in Egypt]... and Bnei Yisrael's redemption from that exile... for the descent of the children of Yaakov to Egypt marked the beginning of that exile... and that exile does not end until they return to the spiritual level of their forefathers... Even though Bnei Yisrael had left Egypt [i.e. physical redemption], they are not yet considered redeemed... [However,] when they reach Har Sinai and build the mishkan, and God returns His Shchina to dwell among them, then they have returned to the spiritual level of their forefathers [spiritual redemption]... Therefore, Sefer Shmot concludes with the topic of the mishkan and the constant dwelling of God's Glory upon it [for this marks the completion of the Redemption process]."
(see Ramban, introduction to Sefer Shmot)
According to Ramban, Sefer Shmot concludes with the story of the mishkan because its construction marks the completion of Bnei Yisrael's redemption. His explanation can help us understand the manner in which the Torah repeats the details of the mishkan in parshiyot Vayakhel/Pekudei.
As Ramban explained, the 'spiritual level' that Bnei Yisrael had achieved at Ma'amad Har Sinai was lost as a result of chet ha-egel. Consequently, God had removed His Shechina from Bnei Yisrael (see Shemot 33:1-7), effectively thwarting the redemption process that began with Yetziat Mitzrayim.
Moshe Rabbeinu's intervention on Bnei Yisrael's behalf (see 32:11-14) certainly saved them from immediate punishment and secured their atonement (see 32:30, 34:9). However, that prayer alone could not restore Bnei Yisrael to the spiritual level achieved at Har Sinai. The Shechina, which was to have resided in their midst, remained outside the camp (see 33:7, read carefully!).
Moshe interceded once again (see 33:12-16), whereupon God declared his thirteen 'attributes of mercy' (33:17-34:8), thus allowing Bnei Yisrael a 'second chance'. Nonetheless, the Shechina did not return automatically. To bring the Shechina back, it would be necessary for Bnei Yisrael to do something - they must actively and collectively involve themselves in the process of building the mishkan.
In other words, Bnei Yisrael required what we might call 'spiritual rehabilitation'. Their collective participation in the construction of the mishkan helped repair the strain in their relationship with God brought about by chet ha-egel. Or, using more 'kabbalistic' terminology, the construction of the mishkan functioned as a 'tikkun' for chet ha-egel.
A closer examination of parshiyot Vayakhel / Pekudei supports this interpretation and can explain why Sefer Shmot repeats the details of the mishkan in Vayakhel/Pekudei.
Let's take for example the Torah's use of the word 'vayakhel' at the beginning of the parsha. This immediately brings to mind the opening line of the chet ha-egel narrative:
"Va-yikahel ha'am al Aharon - and the nation gathered against Aharon..." (32:1).
This new 'gathering' of the people - for the purpose of building the mishkan, can be understood as a 'tikkun' for that original gathering to build the egel. As opposed to their assembly to fashion the golden calf, Bnei Yisrael now gather to build a more 'proper' symbol of God's presence.
Similarly, the commandment for the people to 'donate their gold' and other belongings for this project (see 35:5) can also be understood as a tikkun for Aharon's solicitation of the people's gold for the egel (32:2-3).
However, the strongest proof is the Torah's glaring repetition of the phrase: "ka'asher tziva Hashem et Moshe" ["as God commanded Moshe"]. This phrase not only appears in both the opening commandment (35:1 & 35:4) and the finale (39:32 & 39:43), but it is repeated like a chorus over twenty times throughout Vayakhel-Pekudei, at every key point of the construction process. [I recommend that you note this using a Tanach Koren. See 35:29; 36:1; 36:5; 39:1,5,7,21,26,29,31,32,42,43; and especially in 40:16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32, as each part of the mishkan is put into its proper place.]
Clearly, the Torah's repetition of this phrase is intentional, and may very well point to the mishkan's function as a tikkun for chet ha-egel. Let's explain why:
Recall from the Shiur on Parshat Ki Tisa that the people's initial intention at chet ha-egel was to make a physical representation of their perception of God. Despite the innocence of such aspirations per se, a man-made representation, no matter how pure its intention, may lead to idol worship (see Shmot 20:20). This does not mean, however, that God cannot ever be represented by a physical symbol. When God Himself chooses the symbol, it is not only permitted, but it becomes a mitzva. It is this symbolism that makes the mishkan so important. [See 23:17,19; 34:24, Devarim 12:5,11 & 16:16.]
The Torah therefore stresses that Bnei Yisrael have now 'learned their lesson'. They construct the mishkan precisely 'as God commanded Moshe,' down to the very last detail, understanding that there is no room for human innovation when choosing a symbol for His Divine Presence.
An Appropriate Finale
This concept of tikkun for chet ha-egel finds further support in the very conclusion of Sefer Shmot.
Although the aspect of Shechina (a central feature in Terumah/Tetzaveh) is mentioned nowhere throughout the detail of the mishkan's construction in Vayakhel / Pekudei, it makes a sudden reappearance at the very end of the sefer. After each component of the mishkan is put into place on the first of Nissan (see 40:1-33), this entire process reaches its dramatic climax:
"When Moshe had finished his work, the anan (cloud) covered the ohel mo'ed and God's kavod ('glory') filled the mishkan" (40:34).
This pasuk describes the dwelling of the Shechina on the mishkan in the exact same terms used to depict the dwelling of the Shechina on Har Sinai:
"When Moshe ascended the har [Mount Sinai, to receive the first luchot], the anan covered the har, and kvod Hashem (God's glory) dwelled upon Har Sinai..." (24:15-16).
Clearly, the Torah intentionally parallels, thereby associating, the descent of the Shechina onto Har Sinai with the dwelling of the Shechina on the mishkan. Only after Bnei Yisrael meticulously complete the construction of the mishkan - precisely 'as God commanded Moshe' - does the Shechina return to Bnei Yisrael and dwell therein (40:34), just as it had dwelled on Har Sinai.
Thus, the end of Sefer Shmot marks the completion of the tikkun for chet ha-egel. Accordingly, as Ramban posits, the entire 'redemption process' - the theme of Sefer Shmot - has also reached its culmination.
The Shchina's return to the camp also signifies Bnei Yisrael's return to the stature they had lost after the golden calf. Recall that in the aftermath of that incident:
"Moshe took his tent and set it up outside the camp, far away from the camp, and called it the ohel mo'ed [tent of meeting (with God)], such that anyone who would search for God was required to go out to this ohel mo'ed, outside the camp" [see 33:7 and its context in 33:1-11].
This ohel mo'ed, located outside the camp, symbolized the distancing of the Shechina. Once the mishkan is built, God will bring His Shechina back inside the camp. [See 25:8 and 29:45.]
Back to Bereishit
Thus far, we have shown that the manner by which Bnei Yisrael construct the mishkan serves as a tikkun for chet ha-egel and relates to the overall theme of Sefer Shmot.
One could suggest that the very concept of a mishkan - irrespective of its mode of construction - may constitute a more general tikkun, beyond the specific context of the golden calf. In this sense, the mishkan relates to a more general biblical theme developed in Sefer Breishit.
As explained in our shiurim on Sefer Breishit, the Garden of Eden reflects the ideal spiritual environment in which Man cultivates his relationship with God. After Adam sinned and was consequently banished from the Garden, God placed keruvim to guard the path of return to the Tree of Life (see Breishit 3:24).
It may not be coincidental that the mishkan is the only other context throughout the entire Chumash where the concept of keruvim appears. Recall how the mishkan features keruvim:
- on the kaporet as protectors of the aron, which contains the luchot (Shmot 25:22), and
- woven into the parochet, the curtain which guards the entrance into the kodesh ha-kodashim - the Holy of Holies (where the aron and kaporet are located).
This parallel suggests a conceptual relationship between Gan Eden and the mishkan. The symbolic function of the keruvim as guardians of the kodesh kodashim may correspond to the mishkan's function as an environment similar to Gan Eden, where man can strive to come closer to God:
- The keruvim of the kaporet, protecting the aron, indicate that the 'Tree of Life' of Gan Eden has been replaced by the Torah, represented by the luchot inside the aron. ["Etz chayim hi la-machazikim bah" - see Mishlei 3:1-18.]
- The keruvim woven into the parochet remind man that his entry into the kodesh kodashim, although desired, remains limited and requires spiritual readiness. [Note that keruvim are also woven into the innermost covering of the mishkan (see Shmot 26:1-2).]
In this sense, we may view the mishkan as a tikkun for Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. Should man wish to return to the Tree of Life, he must keep God's covenant - the laws of the Torah - as symbolized by the luchot ha-eidut in the aron, protected by the keruvim.
If so, then the Torah's repetition of the laws of the mishkan, as well as there exclusivity, may be alluding to one of the most important themes of Chumash - man's never ending quest to develop a relationship with his Creator.