Pekudei: From Shemot to Vayikra and Bamidbar

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

Sefer Shemot ends triumphantly, with the Torah's detail of how the shechina returns to dwell upon the Mishkan.  Nonetheless, this conclusion seems to include a 'sour note', for it also informs us that Moshe Rabbeinu was not able to enter the Mishkan!  [See 40:34-35.]

Did something go wrong?  Was Moshe unworthy?

To answer this question, this week's shiur examines a textual parallel that will not only highlight the thematic connection between the Mishkan and Har Sinai, but it will also help us understand the relationship between the books of Shemot, Vayikra, and Bamidbar.


A rather obvious parallel exists between the concluding five pesukim of Sefer Shemot and Torah's description of how God's glory had descended upon Har Sinai, when Moshe ascended the mountain for the first forty days (see Shemot 24:12-18).

As Ramban explains (in his opening commentary to Shemot 25:1), this parallel lends irrefutable support to our understanding that a primary goal of the Mishkan was to perpetuate the special relationship between God and His people that had reached its apex at Ma'amad Har Sinai.  However, when comparing these two sets of pesukim, there also appears to be some rather significant differences.  Therefore, we begin our study by examining this parallel.

The Parallel

The final chapter of Parshat Pekudei describes how the Mishkan is assembled for the very first time on the first day of Nisan (in the second year /see 40:1-33).  Then, upon the completion of its assembly, the Torah informs us of what happened:

"Then the anan (cloud) covered the ohel mo'ed, and kvod Hashem (God's glory) filled the Mishkan" (see 40:34).

Let's compare this pasuk with a very similar description of Moshe Rabeinu's ascent to Har Sinai (as described at the end of Parshat Mishpatim):

"And Moshe ascended the mountain and an anan covered the mountain, and kvod Hashem dwelled upon Har Sinai..." (24:15-16).

[It is highly recommended that you compare these two sets of pesukim in their original Hebrew.]

This obvious parallel highlights how the 'ohel mo'ed' has replaced 'the mountain' and, correspondingly, 'the Mishkan' has replaced 'Har Sinai.'

In essence, the Mishkan will now serve a similar purpose as Har Sinai, as both serve as a medium whereby Bnei Yisrael can 'encounter' the shechina.

Furthermore, as we discussed in the shiur on Parshat Tetzaveh, in both instances a completely 'direct' encounter, although desirable, is impossible.  Therefore, Bnei Yisrael must be shielded from God's Presence by the 'anan'.

However, the next pasuk in each of these two sources seems to 'ruin' the completeness of this parallel.  In contrast to Har Sinai, where Moshe actually enters the anan, as we are told:

"And kvod Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days, and God called to Moshe on the seventh day... and Moshe came inside the anan and ascended the mountain" (24:16-18).

In Parshat Pekudei, we find that he cannot enter:

"And Moshe was unable to enter the ohel mo'ed, because the anan was dwelling upon it..."(40:35).

Certainly, had Sefer Shemot concluded with God 'calling' upon Moshe to enter the Mishkan, just as He had 'called' upon him to enter the anan at Har Sinai, this parallel would have been complete;  Yet, for some reason, Moshe cannot enter the Mishkan!

Has Moshe been demoted?

Just Turn the Page!

Even though there may be a temptation to search for a reason for Moshe's 'demotion' (possibly due to the events of "chet haegel"), the truth is that there is no 'demotion'.  To understand why, we simply need to 'turn the page', i.e. to read the opening pasuk of sefer Vayikra, where we find the precise pasuk that was 'missing' at the end of Sefer Shemot:

"And [God] called out to Moshe, and God spoke to him from the ohel mo'ed saying..." (Vayikra 1:1).

In other words, God did call upon Moshe to enter the 'anan' that covered the Mishkan (just as He had called him at Har Sinai) - and indeed - the parallel to Har Sinai is complete!

[See commentaries of Ramban, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra on Shemot 40:35 and on Vayikra 1:1; as they explain these pesukim in a similar manner!]

The following table illustrates how the opening pasuk of Sefer Vayikra actually belongs at the conclusion of Sefer Shemot:

HAR SINAI  (24:15-18) MISHKAN (Shemot & Vayikra)
the anan covers the har the anan covers the Mishkan
kvod Hashem dwells upon it kvod Hashem fills Mishkan
Moshe must wait until called Moshe cannot enter (Shemot 40:35)
God calls Moshe ("vayikra el...") God calls Moshe  (Vayikra 1:1)
Moshe enters the anan & God speaks to Moshe Moshe enters the Mishkan & God speaks to Moshe

Even though our parallel is complete, we now have a new problem, i.e. if the first pasuk of Vayikra actually belongs at the end of Sefer Shemot, why does the Torah begin a new sefer in the middle of a story?

To answer this question, we must carefully study the remaining pesukim at the conclusion of Sefer Shemot.

A Double Finale

Our understanding of Vayikra 1:1 as the logical continuation of Shemot 40:34-35 works only if these pesukim had indeed been the final pesukim of the book.  However, Shemot 40:35 is not the end of Sefer Shemot!  Rather, there remain three more pesukim (i.e. 40:36-38), which appear to 'interrupt' this logical progression.  Let's read them:

"And when the anan lifted from the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael would travel.  If it would not lift, they would not travel...  For the anan was upon the Mishkan during the day and fire would appear in it by night, before the eyes of Bnei Yisrael throughout all their travels" (see 40:36-38).

Even though all five pesukim (40:34-38) relate to the topic of the anan that covered the Mishkan, these last three pesukim discuss a topic which is quite different than the first two.  While the first two pesukim discussed Moshe entering the Mishkan, the last three discuss the effect of this anan on Bnei Yisrael's journey through the desert.

In fact, when you read these five pesukim, the transition from 40:35 to 40:36 is rather disjoint.  And when you consider the logical flow from 30:35 to Vayikra 1:1 (as we discussed above), then these final pesukim seem to form an 'interruption'.

Furthermore, these final three pesukim not only interrupt the natural flow of topic, they also appear to belong somewhere else!

You may recall from Sefer Bamidbar that we find a very similar set of pesukim in Parshat Beha'alotcha, when the Torah describes how Bnei Yisrael were supposed to travel in the desert:

"On the day that the Mishkan was set up, the anan covered the Mishkan... and in the evening it appeared as fire... And when the anan lifted from the ohel [mo'ed], then Bnei Yisrael would travel, and at the place where the anan rested Bnei Yisrael would set up their camp... " (See Bamidbar 9:15-23, compare with Shemot 40:17 & 40:34-38.)

Clearly, the opening pasuk (9:15) points us directly to Shemot chapter 40 - i.e. the assembly of the Mishkan and the 'anan' etc. The pesukim that follow describe how Bnei Yisrael were to travel, with almost the identical words that we find at the conclusion of Sefer Shemot.  Note as well how the next chapter in Sefer Bamidbar (i.e. 10:1-36) narrates Bnei Yisrael's actual departure from Har Sinai.

Thus, the three final pesukim of sefer Shemot clearly 'belong' in Sefer Bamidbar, as one of the primary themes of that book is Bnei Yisrael's journey through the desert as they depart Har Sinai.

Now, we must explain why they are recorded 'prematurely' at the conclusion of Sefer Shemot. 

Two Pointers

Note how our analysis thus far has shown that the final five pesukim of sefer Shemot divide into two distinct topics, each of which points us to a different book of the Bible:

(A)  40:34-35 describes the anan dwelling upon the Mishkan, and continues directly into Sefer Vayikra; (B)  40:36-38 describes how Bnei Yisrael journey through the desert in accordance with this anan, and continues directly into Sefer Bamidbar.

A very interesting structure emerges from this analysis.  Sefer Shemot concludes with two 'pointers': one to sefer Vayikra (A) and one to sefer Bamidbar (B)!

This 'double pointer' may be significant as it highlights the return to God's original plan after the Exodus, despite the events of "chet ha'egel".

Recall the 'double purpose' of Yetziat Mitzrayim, as discussed in the shiur on Parshat Shemot (re: God's hitgalut at the 'burning bush'):

(A) - For Bnei Yisrael to receive the Torah at Har Sinai and (B) - to travel to (& conquer) the Promised Land.

As the events of chet ha-egel constituted a breach in the covenant between God and His People at Har Sinai, God consequently threatened to break His end of the deal, consequently taking His shechina away from the people (see Shemot 33:1-7).  Had it not been for Moshe Rabbeinu's intervention (see 33:12-17), Bnei Yisrael would not have received the remaining mitzvot [A], nor would they have been worthy of God's direct assistance in conquering the Land [B] (see 33:1-7 and the shiur on Parshat Ki Tisa).

Now that Bnei Yisrael have built the Mishkan and God's shechinah has indeed returned, God once again commits Himself, as it were, to both elements of His original plan:

(A) In Sefer Vayikra, Bnei Yisrael continue to receive the special mitzvot that will reflect their special level of kedusha; (B) In Sefer Bamidbar, Bnei Yisrael begin their travel towards the Promised Land, accompanied by God's shechina.

The shechina's 'dwelling' upon the Mishkan thus yields a dual effect, reflected in the distinct themes of Vayikra and Bamidbar:

(A)  First and foremost, it affects the Mishkan itself, as explained and elaborated upon at length in sefer Vayikra.  The Shechina's dwelling upon the Mishkan allows man to approach God and offer korbanot (Vayikra / Tzav); forbids one's entry into the Mishkan when one is 'tamei' (Shmini, Tazri'a, Metzora); demands a special kapara (atonement) ritual every Yom Kippur and forbids the offering of korbanot outside the Mishkan (Acharei-Mot).  Finally, this 'kedusha' emanates into all three realms of existence: 'kedushat adam' (Kedoshim), 'kedushat zman' (Emor) and 'kedushat makom' (Behar). [Iy"h, we'll discuss all this in our shiurim on Vayikra.]

(B)  Secondly, it affects the 'machaneh' - the camp of Israel, as reflected in sefer Bamidbar.  The presence of the Shechina raises the entire camp of Israel to a higher level, as God travels, as it were, with them.  The camp is arranged in a formation that surrounds the Mishkan (as described in parshiot Bamidbar and Naso), and Bnei Yisrael travel through the desert following the anan over the Mishkan (Beha'alotcha).  Had Bnei Yisrael not sinned, Sefer Bamidbar would have concluded with the story of their conquest of the Land (Matot, Masei).  Instead, it explains why that generation didn't enter the land (Shlach, Korach), as well as the events of the fortieth year (Balak, Pinchas).

In this manner, the triumphant conclusion of Sefer Shemot thematically points us in two directions: one - to the laws of Sefer Vayikra, and two - to Bnei Yisrael's journey in Sefer Bamidbar.

One Day in Three Books

This interpretation can also help us appreciate why the events that transpired on the first of Nisan, the day when the Mishkan was first erected, are detailed in three different books instead of just one.

  1. In Sefer Shemot (40:1-35), we find the commandment to assemble the Mishkan on the first of Nissan, and the details of how it was assembled on that day. These details are found in Sefer Shemot, for they conclude the topic of building the Mishkan, as discussed in Parshiyot Terumah, Tetzaveh & Vayakhel.  Furthermore, Shemot concludes by describing how the shechina returned to the Mishkan on that day, signaling the its return despite the events of chet ha-egel, as discussed in Parshat Ki Tisa.
  2. In Sefer Vayikra we find the details of the special korbanot offered on yom hashmini, and the tragic event which occurred on that day - the death of Nadav and Avihu. [See 9:1 thru 10:7.] According to most commentators, that day coincides with the first of Nissan. As those events, as well as those special korbanot offered on that day, directly relate to many of the mitzvot found in Sefer Vayikra, the narrative of those events is recorded intentionally and specifically in Sefer Vayikra.
  3. In Sefer Bamidbar (7:1-89), we find the story of the special gift brought by the nesi'im [the tribal leaders] to the Mishkan on the day of its dedication - six wagons and twelve oxen (see 7:1-4). As these wagons were used by the Levites to transport the Mishkan during their travel through the desert to the Land of Israel, this account appears in Sefer Bamidbar - the book that describes how Bnei Yisrael traveled thru the desert.

Hence, although all of these events took place on the same day - the first of Nissan, the Torah prefers to record them in three different books, corresponding to the theme of each sefer.