Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Pequde 5763/ March 8, 2003
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,
Parashat Pequde 5763/ March 8, 2003
From Mountain to Mishkan
Department of Bible
The book of Exodus can be divided into three parts: the first
(chapters 1-16), dealing with the bondage in Egypt and the exodus; the second
(from chapter 17, in which Moses ascends to the "rock at Horeb"
[17:6], which is Mount Sinai, to the end of chapter 24, when the covenant at
Sinai is sealed), dealing with the Revelation at Mount Sinai; and the last (from
chapter 25 through 40), the commandment to build the Mishkan and set it up. The
fundamental importance of this final part, which comprises almost half of
Exodus, will be discussed below. Between the commandment to build the Mishkan
and its actual construction there is an intervening text about the sin of the
golden calf and atonement for that grave deed (Ex. 32-34). The placement of
this narrative is significant: in the midst of instructions on the proper way
to worship the Lord, in the Mishkan, the Torah illustrates what are the wrong
ways - through a molten image. In other words, we must worship the Lord
the way He commands us, and not in ways that we think up, reflecting the fashion
of the times.
What is the main thrust of the Revelation at Mount Sinai?
According to the written Torah, it is not necessarily about giving the Torah and
the commandments. The Decalogue, given from the summit of Mount Sinai, was
written on the Tablets of the Covenant and Parashat Mishpatim, also given from
Sinai, was recorded in the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 24:4-6); the significance
of both was in making a covenant. The narrative of giving the Torah and its
commandments begins with the passage, "This month shall mark for you the
beginning of the months" (Ex. 12:2), which Rashi, following the Sages,
identifies as the first commandment given to the Israelites, and thus, it might
seem, the passage with which the entire Torah ought to have begun. For in that
passage the Israelites were commanded not only to celebrate the Passover in
Egypt, which was the dictate of the hour, but also to celebrate Passover and the
Feast of Matzah for all time. They were also given the commandment of the
first-born, and none of these pertained to the moment of the exodus. Also, the
Israelites were commanded concerning the Sabbath, in conjunction with the
mannah, before Revelation at Mount Sinai; for without this, it would not have
been possible to say at Sinai, "Remember the Sabbath," with a
definite article. After the Israelites journeyed on from Sinai, commandments
continued to be given them in the Tent of Meeting.
The primary innovation and significance of the Revelation at
Mount Sinai lies in the Divine Presence being revealing to all Israel, thereby
giving the entire people a measure of prophetic experience. On that occasion
also the main body of the commandments were given, in order to indicate to the
people that the commandments are from the Lord's mouth, and thus teach
them that the commandments which they had previously heard from Moses, as well
as those they would later hear from Moses, were also commandments from the Lord,
handed down from G-d by means of Moses. Indeed, the Lord said to Moses at
Sinai: "I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may
hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after" (Ex.
Thus the Tent of Meeting is the continuation of the Revelation
at Sinai as regards giving the commandments to Israel. It is called the Tent
because there the Lord meets with
to instruct him in the commandments.
The same tent, however, is also called the Mishkan
, after the
, the Divine Presence, that dwells in it. The Mishkan or Tent
of Meeting was thus a continuation of the unique event of Revelation at Mount
Note the connection: Moses ascended into the cloud on the top
of the mountain (Ex. 24:18), and what did the Lord tell him there? "Tell
the Israelite people to bring Me gifts [Heb. terumah]," (Ex. 25:2).
In other words, to honor the Lord they should elevate (yarimu) material
things, making them sacred: "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may
dwell among them," amidst the camp of Israel. Why did Moses have to
receive this command from with the cloud of the Lord's glory that was on
the mountain (Ex. 25:8-30 and 25:40)?
What this signifies is that Moses' Tabernacle was made
according to the plan of a heavenly sanctuary; the Mishkan of Moses was like a
copy, and it was also a sort of continuation of the Lord's presence on
high, on top of Mount Sinai. The Israelites, after all, would have to journey on
from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan; and what would become of the Divine
Presence that was revealed to them, for their sake, on the mountain? Indeed,
the Divine Presence would be with them in the man-made Tent/Tabernacle. As the
commentator Benno Jacob put it, the Mishkan was a portable Mount Sinai. In
other words, the Revelation at Sinai was for no other purpose than to prepare
the Israelites for the Divine Presence to dwell in their midst, in the center of
their camp. The Tent of Meeting was a traveling Mount Sinai, because the
central and most sacred object within the Tabernacle was the two tablets of the
Covenant, the hewn stone tablets from Mount Sinai on which the terms of the
Covenant were written.
The parallel between the heavenly summit of Mount Sinai and
the earthly Tent of Meeting is attested by the parallels in language and content
between two brief passages in the Torah: the passage describing Moses entering
the cloud on top of Mount Sinai, which spans the end of Parashat Mishpatim and
the beginning of Parashat Terumah (Ex. 24:12-25:9), and the passage describing
Moses entering the cloud of glory that covered and filled the Tent of Meeting,
from the end of the book of Exodus to the beginning of Leviticus (Ex. 40:34
- Lev. 1:1-2).
Moses ascending Mount Sinai
Moses entering the Tent of Meeting
"When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered
the mountain" (Ex. 24:15).
"the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence
of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (Ex. 40:34).
"The Presence of the Lord abode on Mount Sinai, and the
cloud hid it for six days" (Ex. 25:16).
"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)
"On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of
the cloud" (Ex. 24:16).
"The Lord called to Moses" (Lev. 1:1)
What the Israelites beheld:
"Now the Presence of the Lord appeared in the sight of
the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain" (Ex.
What happened during the Israelites journeys, when the
Tabernacle was disassembled, and the summation of the years of wandering in the
"When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle the
Israelites would set out, on their various journeys" (Ex. 40:36);
"but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as
it did lift" (Ex. 40:37). "For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the
Lord rested by day and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the
house of Israel throughout their journeys" (Ex. 40:38).
"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:" (Ex.
"The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent
of Meeting, saying:" (Lev. 1:1)
"Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts" (Ex.
25:2). "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among
them" (Ex. 25:8)
"Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When
any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord" (Lev.
The parallels between these two passages were noted long ago
by Nahmanides, and in our time by the commentators Benno Jacob (Germany) and
Umberto Cassuto (Italy). Both passages recount how first the cloud covered the
mountain/Tabernacle, and the Presence of the Lord abode on the mountain/filled
the Tabernacle. Then we are told, regarding the Tent of Meeting, that Moses
could not enter it because of the cloud of the Presence of the Lord. The
parallel passage says that Moses went up Mount Sinai, but he was not yet on
top, at the summit of the mountain which was filled with the Lord's
Presence. In the next stage the Lord called to Moses from amidst the cloud on
the seventh day. It was then that Moses ascended to the summit where, in the
midst of the cloud, the Lord revealed to him the plan for the Tabernacle and its
implements. In the corresponding text, the Lord called to Moses from the Tent
of Meeting. Both times, this summons was accompanied by a command to speak to
the Israelites: on Mount Sinai the commandment was given to the Israelites to
build the Tabernacle, in which, as we have said, the Lord's presence would
continue to abide; from the Tent of Meeting came the commandments to the
Israelites regarding sacrificial worship, the operative content of the
Moses, apparently, did not enter the Tent of Meeting directly.
Before entering the cloud of the Presence of the Lord on Mount Sinai, Moses
needed six days of purification; he entered on the seventh day, a day whose
number indicates sacred perfection. However, it was not until the eighth day
that Moses entered the Tent of Meeting, along with Aaron, who was to minister in
the Tabernacle (Lev. 8:1, 23). For the tent, which is the work of man, itself
required inauguration and a seven-day period of preparation in order to commence
its sanctity. That would commence on the eighth day, a number signifying
sanctity that goes beyond
Having the Divine Presence abide in the midst of the Israelite
camp, by means of the Tabernacle, was the objective of the exodus from Egypt, as
is stated in Exodus 29:46: "...who brought them out from the land of
Egypt that I might abide among them." From Nahmanides' preface to
Exodus we learn that bringing about this Presence of the Lord was itself
Redemption; therefore, the book of Exodus, which begins with the bondage in
Egypt and concludes with the Divine Presence descending on the Tent of Meeting,
is the book of exile and redemption (galut and ge'ulah). As
Nahmanides put it in his introduction to the Book of Exodus:
The book of Exodus is devoted to the subject of the first
exile ... and the redemption from it. The exile does not terminate until they
return to their place and to the merits of their ancestors. When they left
Egypt, even though they had left the house of bondage, nevertheless they were
still considered exiles, for they were in a land not their own, lost in the
wilderness. When they came to Mount Sinai and made the Tabernacle, and the Holy
One, blessed be He, returned His Presence to abide in their midst, then they
returned to the status of their ancestors, for over their tents the Mystery of
the Lord now lay; that was the Divine Chariot, and only then could they be
Therefore this book
concludes with completion of the Tabernacle and the Presence of the Lord filling
See Rashi, Rashbam and
Nachmanides on Exodus 40:35.
That is, the Camp of Israel
was the "chariot" or dwelling-place of the Shekhina, when the
Shekhina dwelled between the two cherubs on the ark.