Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Moshe assembles the Jewish people…Appointment of Betzalel and Ohalieav…Contributions completed and construction of Mishkan (Tabernacle) begins…Walls are made…Apparatus and vessels are made…Courtyard and its vessels are built…Record and accounting of materials used …Making of Priestly garments…Mishkan is brought to Moshe… Moshe sets up the Mishkan at G-d’s instruction…Cloud covers and the Glory of G-d fills the Mishkan
The book of Shemos starts with the history of the Hebrews in Egypt—our servitude, our redemption by G-d (as promised to Avraham Avenu); continues with the Exodus and splitting of Reed Sea, accompanied by cloud cover and pillar of fire; reaches its apex with the awesome defining Mt. Sinai experience that unified us and created an everlasting relationship with G-d; continues with the Golden Calf incident that nearly destroyed this relationship; and concludes with the building of the Mishkan(with its wide use of gold) that served as a forgiveness for this sin (that involved gold).
The construction was a national working-through process that provided the opportunity for each person to give of himself; to be creative and productive; and to utilize his G-d-given skills. The combined effort created a sense of unity of purpose, interdependence and excitement to do what was necessary to remove the taint of the golden calf incident. As such, this can be seen as a first step in repairing the broken relationship with G-D. Gold used to sin is transformed into a positive material for creating good and for reaching out to G-d.
Once built, the Mishkan served as a mobile Mt. Sinai experience, according to Ramban, creating the visual reminder of the awesomeness of that moment. The Mishkan probably also reflected Man’s need for the concrete in his worship of the invisible, as evidenced by the demand for a leader to replace Moshe who seemed to have gone missing. Furthermore, having been steeped in Egyptian pagan religious rituals the people no doubt felt the urgency to have some concretization in their worship of the One and True G-d.
The Mishkan is linked to both the Creation and to Shabbos through a number of common words and phrases and juxtaposition. Keruvim only appear first in the Creation story and then here. Martin Buber notes that the Hebrew words asay or laasos appear in both stories but many more times in the Mishkan construction. G-d rested on the seventh day of creation. Here Moshe was called up to G-d on the seventh day after he went up to Mt. Sinai. And here Moshe warns the people against violating Shabbos when building the Mishkan. The phrasing for completion of the Creation is “Va’yechulu hashmayim v’haaretz”- “the heavens and earth were completed”. The same root word is found here, “V’atechel…”
Perhaps the Torah is emphasizing that the nation of Israel was starting a New World, a new beginning. Reference to the Creation underscores the need for Man to be a partner with G-d in building and creating. And the lesson of Life, as Ramban points out, is that Man needs to be creative in his lifetime, to mirror the Creativity of G-d in His creation of the world.
Building of Mishkan is repeated five times
First in Parshot Terumah and Tetzave, Moshe is commanded to invite the people to donate materials for the building of the Mishkan. Moshe retains Betzalel and provides him with an outline of what needs to be done. Then Moshe summarizes the proposal and solicits donations. The execution of the plans is described in detail and then the final, completed Mishkan is presented for review.
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag notes variation in the reporting. The Torah first focuses on the Ark and the table and menorah because these are the most important items and their purpose and function needs explanation. But in terms of actual construction scheduling the courtyard and building came first in order to house the items that were to be brought in.
Why the repetition? Ramban says this is a sign of affection and a way of demonstrating Divine appreciation. Ralbag sees repetition as an ancient writing style, as confirmed by archaeological findings. Manya Berenholz points out that repetition and rote are necessary and effective teaching techniques. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch thinks that the each part of the Mishkan has a symbolic significance that could easily be forgotten when dealing with the mundane tasks of building and placing them in the Mishkan. The repetition is designed to educate and to create an awareness of the items and their deeper, holier meaning. This is similar to a Scribe who, when writing a Sefer Torah needs to think clearly and even pronounce the words in order to maintain awareness of the Divine name and the holiness of the work.
Moses Mendelssohn observes that this is the first time in the Torah where mention is made of artistic and building skills. These talents are dedicated to the “holy work” of building the Mishkan. The repetition serves as a reminder to future generations when these skills will be put to practical use (to earn a living) that even the mundane connects to G-d and to holiness. Awareness of this reality gives us perspective on our place in the universe.
Sandra Gottesman asks if one ever tires of hearing “I love you”. Suzanne Diskind stresses that the newness of this relationship-building experience requires its repetition. Jennifer Stein thinks that this is a subtle reproach to the nation by pointing out over and over again how much good could have been done with the gold that was used to sinfully build a Golden calf. I think that there is a building excitement conveyed at the prospect of being loved again and building a parental-like relationship—similar to a child who is excited about and repeatedly talks about an upcoming event (e.g., ball game) that he will be sharing with a parent.
When Moshe gathers the nation to present the plan to build the Mishkan, he introduces the topic with “For six days Melacha (work) may be done, but the seventh day should be holy for you, a day of complete rest to G-d. Whoever does work on it should be put to death.”
Moshe is teaching the people about different types of holiness in the world. During the Creation, G-d established a day called Shabbos to be holy. Rabbi A.J. Heschel defines this as holiness in time. But now, as the people are preparing to build a place that is holy, Moshe cautions them not to violate the primeval, basic holiness of time which is universal; which is not limited to a single specific location; and which cannot be supplanted or interrupted for the sake of a holiness limited to one place.
Abrabanel thinks that the message here is that “resting” is as important a behavior as actively working in building a relationship with G-d
Melacha (Creativity) which is found in both Creation and Mishkan is banned on Shabbos, when G-d ceased being productive and creative.