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 may 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.
The accountants' Parsha
Audit of the materials collected
Making the Ayphod (breastplate)
Setting the two sardonyx stones with the names of the tribes engraved on them on the shoulders of the Ayphod
Making the Choshen with four rows of precious stones (three on each row) with the name of one of the Tribes of Israel engraved on each stone
Making the Robe
Making the other vestments
Making the gold head-plate with the words Kodesh Lashem (Holy to God) engraved on it
The Tabernacle is completed (on the twenty fifth day of the month of Kislev, which later in history would be the first day of Chanukah) and brought to Moshe.
“The Israelites did so; exactly as God had commanded Moshe, so they did.”
Moshe approves and blesses all the workers after he saw that “all the work had been done exactly as God had ordered”.
God instructs Moshe to erect the completed Tabernacle on the first day of the first month (first of Nissan) of the second year
o Erects (or supervises the assembly of) the walls of the Tabernacle and places the roof over it
o Places the Tablets in the Ark
o Inserts the carrying poles in the four rings
o Puts the kapores(cover) with its keruvim on top of the Ark
o Places the vessels in their prescribed location: table; menorah; incense altar; drape over the entrance; sacrificial altar in the courtyard; washstand (in the courtyard between the Tabernacle and the sacrificial altar); and sets up the enclosure surrounding the courtyard
A cloud covers the Tabernacle, evidencing God’s presence
“Ayle P’kuday Mishkan Ha’aydus Asher Pukad…”
This opening verse of this Parsha that describes the concluding stages of the building of the Mishkan has varying translations:
• These are the accounts of the tabernacle…which were counted at Moshe’s command
• These are the accounts of the tabernacle…which were calculated by Moshe’s order
• These are the records of the tabernacle…which were drawn up at Moshe’s bidding
• These are the accountings of the Dwelling…that were accounted by Moshe
The root of the Hebrew words pukad and p’kuday also means to…
Visit (be intimate with)
Remember (to be helpful)
Command or order
The use of this word with its multiplicity of meanings points to the unique, intense, and very close relationship that had been re-established between God (who “resides” among His people) and the nation of Israel.
Keyor and Kano (Washbasin and its Stand)
According to the Midrash this vessel, used by the priests to wash their hands and feet before entering the Tabernacle, was unique in that it was made from mirrors. Women had assembled at the Tabernacle entryway to give their mirrors as a freewill (unsolicited) donation. Nechama Leibowitz cites several reasons these mirrors were chosen:
Rav S. R. Hirsch reasons that the vessel required “for consecration of hands and feet” was designed to elevate and refine the priests as they enter the Tabernacle. Mirrors draw attention to human sensual desire. Water, the purifying agent that came from a vessel that reflected the secular and the worldly, reminded the priests of their need for self-purification as they begin the service of God.
Ibn Ezra thinks that the willingness of women to surrender their mirrors showed their rejection of vanity. Overcoming worldly temptations by not needing to beautify themselves made their gift an especially appropriate one for the priests to utilize as they move from the secular to the sacred.
Midrash Tanchuma views the mirrors as representative of the women’s unselfishness and spiritual dedication. During the Egyptian persecution, when having children seemed pointless, it was the women who, after feeding their husbands who were working out in the fields, took out their mirrors and “flirted” with their spouses and aroused them. The result was that “the children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied and became exceedingly mighty.”
Perhaps the use of mirrors was meant to prevent the priests from getting carried away with potential feelings of superiority for having been selected to perform the holy work in the Tabernacle. A look in the mirror would bring them back to reality. They would see that they are humans no better or worse than anyone else. “The Israelites Did So; Exactly as God Had Commanded Moshe, so They Did.”
They did not deviate from their instructions.
The Netziv (cited by Nechama Leibowitz) disapproved of uncontrolled, ecstatic undisciplined worship. He viewed the combination of sincerity and individual expression adhering to the norms of Judaism as the highest form of religious behavior. In their excited religious state, the Israelites might have gone above and beyond what was required of them. Therefore, the Torah repeats many times that they did not. They did exactly as God had commanded Moshe—nothing more and nothing less.
But a comparison of the instructions for building the Tabernacle with the actual execution of these instructions yields several discrepancies, which seems to contradict the statement that the Israelites did exactly as they were told! Rabbi Benno Jacob resolves this dilemma by noting that the phrase “as…so…” means rough correspondence, not exact or identical. The craftsmen used their discretion and intelligence to assure that the result would conform to the Divine plan, even if some details needed to be changed during the plan’s execution. For example, Moshe instructed Betzalel to first build a Holy Ark, then furniture and then a Tabernacle. But Betzalel reasoned that since furnishings are made and installed only after a structure has been built to house them, the Divine intent must have been to make the Tabernacle structure first and only then make the Holy Ark and other furniture.
The Torah Describes the Tabernacle and its Vessels Seven Times
1. God commands Moshe to make the items and shows him their respective designs
2. Roles of Betzalel and Oholiav are mentioned
3. Moshe requests the necessary materials
4. The work is performed
5. The Tabernacle and vessels are brought before Moshe
6. God commands Moshe to erect the Tabernacle
7. The Torah reports its construction
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 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, a point of view subsequently confirmed by archaeological findings
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch thinks that each part of the Mishkan has a symbolic significance that could easily be forgotten when dealing with the mundane tasks of building. The repetition is to create an awareness of the items and their deeper, holier meaning, like a Scribe who, when writing a Sefer Torah needs to pronounce the words to maintain awareness of the Divine name and the holiness of the work
Moses Mendelssohn reasons that the repetition reminds future generations who put these artistic and building skills to practical use (to earn a living) that these talents were first dedicated to building the holy Mishkan. Even the mundane connects to God. Awareness of this reality gives us perspective on our place in the universe
Rabbi Herzl Hefter sees in this repeating the essential message that God is not distant, but close to us. “God is not only in history but in us.” There exists a profound, intimate connection between God, creation and humanity.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz thinks that the Tabernacle is more than a symbolic structure to honor God. It is meant to be a place where a mutual relationship between God and Israel can be developed. “The frequent repetition of the phrase ‘As God had commanded Moshe’ forms a kind of poetic rhythm that introduces an exalted theme into the account”
Manya Berenholz points out that repetition and rote are necessary and effective teaching techniques
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 repeatedly how much good could have been done with the gold that was used to sinfully build a Golden Calf
There is a building excitement at the prospect of being loved again, much like a child’s relationship with a parent. The enthusiastic child repeatedly talks about, describes, and repeats the details of an upcoming event that will be shared with a parent.
Partners with God
The experience of building the Tabernacle demonstrated the Israelites’ ability to be productive and innovative and to be “God’s partners in the work of creation”. Moshe’s blessing them and celebrating their achievement served as a timeless lesson that we all have dormant skills and capabilities that become activated when someone awakens them. Concludes Rabbi Sacks, “We can achieve heights of which we never thought ourselves capable. All it takes is for us to meet someone who believes in us, challenges us, and then, when we have responded to the challenge, blesses and celebrates our achievements.”