Bar- Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ki-Tissa 5766/ March 18, 2006

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



How Many Tents?


Dr. Meir Gruzman


Department of Psychology

Department of Talmud


Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp.   It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp. (Ex. 33:7)

Targum Onkelos translates the words ohel mo’ed [Tent of Meeting] as beit ulpana, meaning a place of study.   This, however, was not the sole purpose of the Tent; it was also for receiving the word of the Lord, as stated in the continuation of the above biblical text:  “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.  And he would then return to the camp” (Ex. 33:11). In other words, Moses set up a private, personal Tent of Meeting designed to serve anyone who “sought the Lord.”   Such seeking is explained by Targum Jonathan to our passage:   “whoever returned wholehearted to the Lord, would go out to the Tabernacle, the house of study outside the camp, confess his sins, pray over his sins, and praying, he would be forgiven.”  


Two Tents

It follows that in the wilderness there were two structures that went by the name Tent of Meeting:  the Tabernacle, which contained the ark, altars and other fittings, and the private tent of Moses, which, according to the chronology in Scriptures, was erected after the sin of the golden calf.  Indeed, Targum Onkelos distinguishes them by using different names, rendering mishkan (Tabernacle) as mashkan zimna [Tabernacle of Time, Heb. Mo’ed ], and Moses’ private tent as beit ulpana [House of Study], as noted above.

In view of this it would be correct to say that the Torah was studied and taught in this tent, as described in the Talmud (Eruvin54b):

How was the instruction accomplished?  Moses would learn from the Almighty.   Then Aaron would enter [the tent] and Moses would instruct him.  Aaron would step aside and sit to the left of Moses.   His two sons would enter, and Moses would instruct them.  His sons would step aside, Eleazar sitting to the right of Moses and Itamar to the left of Aaron…   The elders would enter, and Moses would instruct them.  The elders would step aside, and all the people would enter and Moses would instruct them.

Moreover, one can assume that the events in the wilderness in which Moses appointed people to various offices, during which time the pillar of cloud descended on the Tent, took place in this private tent of Moses.   We give examples of two such events:  “He gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent.   Then the Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to him; He drew upon the spirit that was on him and put it upon the seventy elders” (Num. 11:24-25). Another example: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘The time is drawing near for you to die.  Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may instruct him.’   Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting.  The Lord appeared in the Tent, in a pillar of cloud, the pillar of cloud having come to rest at the entrance of the tent” (Deut. 31:14-15).

Our assumption is based on the fact that the pillar of cloud would descend and remain over the entrance of Moses’ tent, and under its cover the Lord would speak with him:  “And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, while He spoke with Moses” (Ex. 33:9).   Add to this what the Sages said about the words, “And stationed them around the Tent” (Num. ibid.)   In   the tent of dibberot [words], which was outside the camp” (Yalkut Shimoni, Numbers, 637).   The Midrash continues:

He made two tents, one for worship and one for dibberot [the words of   G-d]; according to the dimensions of the inner one, so was the outer one, and the Levites used to serve both the one and the other with wagons …   Its length was thirty cubits long by ten wide, like the inner one, for it is written, “He gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent” (Num. 11:24) – he stood thirty on the north, thirty on the south, ten on the east, and Moses faced them on the west.

The Tent of Dibberot

Assuming that “the tent of dibberot” was Moses’ tent (for we hear no mention of another tent by this name), and that this was also what was meant by the “outer” tent; then it follows that this event – appointing seventy elders – also took place in Moses’ tent.   As for the name Tent of Dibberot, perhaps this hints at a “Tent of Speaking” (Heb. le-dabber is ‘to speak’) in which, as we said, the Torah was learned, or in which the Lord spoke with Moses, or perhaps, as I shall explain below, the tent in which the tablets of the Decalogue (aseret ha-dibberot) were placed in safekeeping.  That would also explain the following midrash, that describes what happened to Moses when Joshua was appointed to take his place and carry on his work (Deuteronomy Rabbah 10.5):

Moses arose early and went to Joshua’s home; Joshua became fearful and said:  My teacher Moses has come to me!  They went out walking, with Moses on Joshua’s left.  They entered the Tent of Meeting and the pillar of cloud descended, forming a barrier between them.  When the cloud lifted Moses went to Joshua and said to him:   What did the Word (ha- dibbur) say to you?   Joshua answered him:   When the Word used to be revealed to you, did I know what it was all about?  At that moment Moses cried out and said:   better a hundred deaths than a single jealousy.

Here, too, one may presume that the event took place in Moses’ tent, which was, as we have said, the “outer” tent.


Why Not in the Tabernacle?

One may well question our identification of Moses’ tent as the place where appointments took place, solely on the grounds that the cloud appeared about it; didn’t the cloud also reside over the entire Tabernacle? Now of course the cloud used to descend on the Tabernacle, perhaps primarily on the Tabernacle.   For it is written regarding the moment of the Tabernacle’s consecration:  “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34).  The cloud would dwell over the Tabernacle for as many days as the Tabernacle remained encamped in a given place (Num. 9:15, 23).  It is also no secret that after the erection of the Tabernacle the word of G-d would come to Moses from between the two cherubs, for it is explicitly stated:  “There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you – from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact” (Ex. 25:22); moreover, “At the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord, there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you” (Ex. 29:42).   Indeed, thus it actually was:   “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him” (Num. 7:89).  Rashi (on Ex. 33:10) asserted definitively that the word of G-d was only in Moses’ tent prior to erection of the Tabernacle.   As he put it, “This was Moses’ practice from the Day of Atonement until the Tabernacle was erected…   But since the Tabernacle was erected, He no longer spoke with him save from the Tent of Meeting.”    Nevertheless, one could still suggest that the divine word that came to Moses from above the ark cover, from between the two cherubs, had to do solely with instruction to be given the Israelites:  “all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people” (Ex. 25:22); other events, such as those mentioned above, took place in Moses’ tent, with the cloud and the Presence of the Lord.


Additional Possibilities

In line with this hypothesis, we can suggest additional events that also took place in Moses’ tent.  1.   The event recounted in Numbers 12:1-16, in which “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married,” and in which the Lord told them, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting,” where the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud and “stopped at the entrance of the Tent.”   2.   The event recounted in Numbers 14:10, in which the entire community threatened to pelt Joshua and Caleb with stones, after the return of the spies.  There it is written:  “The Presence of the Lord appeared in the Tent of Meeting,” and as we know (from Rashi on this verse), the Presence of the Lord is manifest in a pillar of cloud.  3.   The event in which Korah gathered the entire community against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:19):   “Then the Presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community,” and here, too, the Presence of the Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud (see Rashi, loc. sit.).   4.   The event telling of the community railing against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You two have brought death upon the Lord’s people” (Numbers 17:6-7).  There, too, it is written, “Moses and Aaron turned toward the Tent of Meeting; the cloud had covered it and the Presence of the Lord appeared.”   5.   The event recounted in the story of the crisis at Waters of Meribah [Quarrel], where it is written:  “Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces.  The Presence of the Lord appeared to them” (Numbers 20:6).  All these events may have taken place in Moses’ tent, not the Tabernacle, for in these events the word of the Lord was not given to the Israelites in the sense of instructing them in the commandments; therefore the Lord’s word did not have to be given at the entrance of the Tabernacle and, on these subjects, did not have to emanate from between the two cherubs.

This, however, does not concur with Onkelos’ view.   In all the events mentioned above, he renders the words Tent of Meeting as maskhan zimna, Tabernacle of Meeting.   In his opinion, all the events in which the cloud descended took place in the Tabernacle and not in Moses’ tent.   Perhaps he believed, as did Rashi, that after erection of the Tabernacle no divine communication of any sort took place with Moses in his own private tent.


The Broken Tablets

Moses’ tent turns out to have had another function in addition to these:   it was in this tent that the temporary ark with the tablets was kept (both the broken ones and the whole ones – cf. Bava Batra 14b:  “the Tablets and the fragments of the Tablets were placed in the ark”), until the Tabernacle was built and the permanent ark fashioned by Bezalel was installed in it.

Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the first set of Tablets on the seventeenth of Tammuz, smashed them, and on the very same day was told by the Lord, “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain; and make an ark of wood,” and indeed, this is what he did:  “I made an ark of acacia wood” (Deut. 10:1, 3).   When Moses descended with the second set of tablets, the temporary ark he had prepared awaited him, and it was into this ark that the tablets were placed.  All this took place by the Day of Atonement of the first year, on which day he descended from the mountain the last time.   Afterwards, the next day, he issued the instructions for building the Tabernacle, and it was not until the beginning of Nisan, in the second year, that the Tabernacle was erected.   Where had the temporary ark with the Tablets been situated until then?  It could very well have been in Moses’ tent!

Even Nahmanides, who was of the opinion that there was no temporary ark and that the command given Moses to make an ark referred to none other than the permanent ark that he had been commanded before first ascending Mount Sinai, maintains that the tablets –both the broken ones and those that were intact – were placed temporarily in Moses’ tent, until Bezalel’s ark was ready.   This is what he said:

When he descended, he placed the tablets in the Tent of Meeting, until the ark and the Tabernacle would be ready.  For had he not broken the first set of tablets, they would have been in the Tent of Meeting until Bezalel made the ark; thus the fragments of the tablets necessarily had to be there, because he did not take them back up the mountain.