Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Naso

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.
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Parashat Naso 5759/1999

One Tabernacle, Three Dedications

Rabbi Joshua Shapira

Midrasha for Women

"That was the dedication offering for the altar... When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him ... between the two cherubim" (Num. 7:88-89). These words, which conclude this week's reading, bring us full circle and close a major chapter in our history. The chapter of building the Tabernacle begins with the commands in Parashat Terumah in the book of Exodus, where we are told the purpose and goal of this undertaking: "There I will meet with you, and I will speak to you from above the cover, from between the two cherubim" (Ex. 25:22). Here in Naso these words reach their realization.

Along the way from the beginning of Parashat Terumah to the end of Parashat Naso, however, we encounter two other descriptions of the dedication of the Tabernacle which seem to be independent units. The first one appears at the end of Parashat Pekudei: "In the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Tabernacle was set up" (Ex. 40:17), followed by a lengthy and detailed description of how it was set up with its sockets, planks, bars and posts, and all its furnishings. However, in contrast to Moses entering the tent in Parashat Naso, in Parashat Pekudei "Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (Ex. 40:35).[1]

The third description of the dedication of the Tabernacle is in Parashat Shemini. After seven days of ordination during which the priests were sanctified by sprinkling blood and oil, after they were dressed in their priestly garments, and after they made their sin offerings and burnt offerings, "the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Lord ... and all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces" (Lev. 9:23-24).

Indeed, we have three accounts here, as well as three different heroes: Bezalel, Aaron, and Moses. In the background of each of the stories stands the figure around whom the story revolves, and from whose point of view it is recounted and obtains its significance, as we shall illustrate below. At a deeper level we see that these three accounts relate to one another in a way that creates fruitful tension.

The description of the dedication of the Tabernacle in Parashat Pekudei (chapter 40) says that Moses could not enter the Tabernacle because of the Presence of the Lord which filled it. This describes the dedication of the Tabernacle of Bezalel son of Oholiab, the master craftsman and builder. Here center stage is occupied by the furnishings and curtains, the bars and posts--"He placed the table... He placed the lampstand... He placed the altar of gold... Then he put up the screen for the entrance of the Tabernacle... He placed the laver..."--the architectural beauty of the Sanctuary in all its glory.

Tractate Berakhot 55a describes an interesting exchange of words between Moses and Bezalel in this regard. Moses altered the instructions given by G-d and commanded Bezalel to make the ark before the Tent, and Bezalel asked in wonderment, "These furnishings that I am to make, where shall I put them?!" So he first set up the Tent, and only later the ark and the furnishings.

Nevertheless, there is still something surprising here. For even after Bezalel completed making the Tabernacle he did not set it up, and he did not place the ark in it until the entire work was completed. It can only be that Bezalel had a different perception from Moses of the relationship of the Tabernacle and the ark to each other. For him, first and foremost was the Tabernacle itself; the ark, for all its importance, was but one of the furnishings in the Tent. Bezalel understood that the point here was a House, a place in which the Lord could reside, and of lesser importance the furnishings to be used there. It was, after all, called a Tabernacle (mishkan) , because its purpose was to be entirely a place for the Divine Presence (shekhina) and the Lord's revelation.[2] Hence, even the description of the dedication of the Tabernacle that reflects the figure of Bezalel has the Presence of the Lord filling the Tabernacle so that Moses could not enter because of His presence.

"Another" dedication of the Tabernacle is the one recounted in Parashat Shemini. This is the dedication of Aaron's Tabernacle.

"For today the Presence of the Lord appeared"(Lev.9:4) -- it is taught that all seven days of ordination Moses officiated as High Priest, and the Divine Presence did not serve at his side; as soon as Aaron put on the vestments of the High Priest and began officiating, the Divine Presence officiated at his side. (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1.1)

Here the story focuses around offering sacrifices. The eight days of ordination (milluim) are eight days which give the impression of the Tabernacle becoming a slaughterhouse. Offerings are slaughtered, smoke and the smell of burned meat now fill the Tabernacle, and blood flows like water, is thrown on the altar and is sprinkled on the priests. It seems that we can almost hear the distant echo of the argument between Bezalel and Aaron about what is transpiring. Bezalel cries bitterly that his glorious work of art is being crudely soiled. Colorful embroidery and white priestly garments--elegant artistic creation-- come in contact with bloody animals; The lustre and the glory do not receive the honor due them in Bezalel's eyes, as he stands by and watches what is being done to his work of art.

The third and final description of the dedication of the Tabernacle is G-d's revelation to Moses in the weekly reading. "He would hear the Voice addressing him from ... between the two cherubim" (Num. 7:89). The special element here is G-d speaking to Moses in an intimate meeting. Moses, slow of speech and slow of tongue, who does not speak easily with other people, is the person given inner speech with G-d. It is he who gives the Torah, it is he who passes on the word of the Lord who speaks to him face to face. Moses also sees the Tabernacle as the direct continuation of the Theophany at Mount Sinai, of the Divine Word coming to the world. Aaron, on the other hand, who at Mount Sinai was accessory to the sin of the golden calf, wishes that even the Tabernacle be a place for calves and animals, albeit in refined form, as worship pleasing to the Lord. "He said to Aaron: 'Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering' (Lev. 9:2), to indicate that the Holy One, blessed be He, forgave him through this calf for the golden calf which he had made" (Rashi on Lev. 9:2).

This is not the first instance of the Torah giving several descriptions of the same event. In this way the Torah seeks to show different points of view on the same event, giving each of them significance as a complete and independent unit. Thus, in the beginning of the Torah, the story of the creation of Man is told in two completely different ways,[3] and likewise, the account of the Theophany at Mount Sinai appears one way in Parashat Jethro and quite differently in Parashat Mishpatim.[4]

Thus it is also with the subject at hand. The dedication of the Tabernacle has three different aspects; for there are three different ways of divine inspiration, directed at and revealed on three levels of the human soul.

Aaron is the one who brings sacrifices; in his hand is a sacred flame that rises from below to on high. Here the Lord is revealed and His Presence made felt on the lower, darker side of the human soul, in its lower, animalistic aspect. The encounter with G-d is an encounter accompanied by a craving, burning soul, lacking refinement. Here divine inspiration appears through blood, by means of the fire that rises up from the lower realms of the earth, presenting itself before G-d. This is the devotion of the soul that belongs to this world, placing itself on the altar, totally effacing itself before G-d, to the point of actual realization as happened in the death of Aaron's two sons, who died drawing near to G-d.

Unlike Aaron, Bezalis refined, a man of art and human creativity, a man of aesthetics and emotions. As such, the divine inspiration he encounters is a presence of G-d that fills the House, inspiration that expresses complete, opulent, magnificent presence. This is the Glory of the Lord that is revealed in everything, and the encounter with G-d is by means of the cloud.

Finally, Moses belongs to the heavenly realm. His way is one which descends from on high to the world below; he brings down the Torah from heaven to the mortals of this world. He expresses the side of human beings which is supreme intellect, hence his encounter with G-d becomes an encounter with the concealed, with the transcendent. The "place occupied by the Ark"--namely the place of the Divine Word and communion with Moses--this place is "immeasurable." The encounter with G-d is by means of Divine speech that appears from a concealed spot between the two cherubim.

Together these three descriptions represent three statures of the human being, three levels of life and human existence, three vehicles for divine inspiration--the brain, the heart, and the liver.[5] The brain is the loftiest side of the human being, the concealed side of reality; the heart is the human-experiential side of divine revelation; the liver is the fire of animalistic materialism that devotes itself to the divine fire and merges with it. When these three combine, we have a complete human being standing before us to its fullest stature.

[1] The contradiction between these depictions was noted by the Sages, who said, "The third passage came to resolve the [contradiction] between them: 'because the cloud had settled upon it.' Henceforth one could say that as long as the cloud was upon it, he could not enter, but when the cloud removed itself, he entered and spoke with Him" (Proem to Torat Cohanim 8, cited in Rashi on this verse).

[2] It is important to appreciate the significance of the term Mishkan, Tabernacle, which is not an inclusive description of the building and its furnishings, but a word specifically denoting the curtains of fabric coverings the poles, expressing the intimacy under that roof, as we read in Parashat Terumah: "As for the tabernacle, make it of ten strips of cloth..." (Ex. 26:1). Also cf. Ex. 29:33ff.; 36:8, 14; 40:17-19.

[3] Cf. Rabbi Soloveitchik, "Ish ha-Emunah," where he sees in these two descriptions two human types and two contrary aspects of the human soul.

[4] Thus in many other places as well, such as the Feast of Weeks, which appears as an independent command at the conclusion of counting the Omer (Lev. 23:16), on the one hand, and appears in the account of receiving the Torah (Ex. 19-20), on the other. Similarly with the command to eat matzah, which is explained with the reason that we "left in haste" (Deut. 16:3), even though it was also commanded prior to the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 12:15).

[5] The division of brain (Moah), heart (Lev), liver (Kaved)--yielding MeLeKh ("king")--and its implications regarding the structure of the soul is a motif frequently encountered in kabbalistic literature on the Torah, especially in the teachings of Habad. For example, cf. Likutei Torah of the Elder Admor Ba'al ha-Tanya, on this week's reading, p. 22c.

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