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

Menachem Ben-Yashar
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. 19:9).

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 of Meeting because there the Lord meets with Moses[1] to instruct him in the commandments. The same tent, however, is also called the Mishkan, after the Shekhinah, 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 Sinai.

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. 24:17).
What happened during the Israelites journeys, when the Tabernacle was disassembled, and the summation of the years of wandering in the wilderness:
"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. 25:1).
"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. 1:2).

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 Tabernacle.

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 perfection.[2]
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 considered redeemed.[3] Therefore this book concludes with completion of the Tabernacle and the Presence of the Lord filling it always.

[1] See Exodus 29:42.
[2]See Rashi, Rashbam and Nachmanides on Exodus 40:35.
[3] 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.