Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Terumah 5765/ February 12, 2005

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,


The Tabernacle – A Middle World

Tzvi Ben-Dov



 “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.  Exactly as I show you … so shall you make it.”


How to make a Menorah?

After these introductory verses (Ex. 28:8-9), the Torah provides in detail the furnishings of the Tabernacle that Moses and the Israelites were commanded to make:  the ark, the table and the lampstand (menorah). Immediately after the description of the lampstand, the following is added:  Note well, and follow the patterns for them that are being shown you on the mountain.”   Why did Scripture again say “note well [u- re’eh, lit. “see”] and follow,” when Moses had already been shown what he needed to know?  Rashi, following the Midrash, answers:  “This comes to tell us that Moses had been having difficulty making the lampstand until the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him a lampstand of fire.”  The Midrash portrays the Holy One, blessed be He, saying to Moses:

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold.”  He asked, “How are we to make it?”  The Lord answered, “The lampstand shall be made of hammered work.”   Nevertheless, it was difficult for Moses and when he descended the mountain, he forgot how to make it.   He [the Lord] said to him:   “Note well, and follow,” and finally took a lampstand of fire and showed him how it was made.   Yet still he had difficulty.   He said to him, “Go to Bezalel, and he will make it.”  So he told Bezalel, who immediately made it. [1]


How to make a Sanctuary?

Below we shall show from verses of Scripture, the Midrash and various commentators that indeed Moses found the matter difficult, although not necessarily the lampstand alone; rather, he found it difficult to make the Tabernacle as a whole.  We shall also explain why Moses had this difficulty and how Bezalel, who “immediately made it,” was rewarded.

The commandment given Moses was (Ex. 28:8):   And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  According to the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 365), when Moses heard the Holy One, blessed be He, tell him, “let them make Me a sanctuary,” he was taken aback. 

Moses said:   Lord of the Universe, it is written, “Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You” (I Kings 8:27), yet You say, “Let them make Me a sanctuary”?  The Holy One, blessed be He, answered him, “It is not as you think; rather, twenty planks on the north, twenty planks on the south, and eight planks on the west; and I shall come down and reduce My presence below, … as it is said:  There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you…”

The Midrash proceeds to explain the answer:  the revelations that occurred in the past, in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and on Mount Sinai, took place before the entire people.  “But since they received the Torah and became an entire nation, He said:  the honor of mankind is not such that I should talk with them out in the open; rather, let them make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.” [2]   Henceforth revelation of the Divine Presence would occur only in the Tabernacle, and not in just any tabernacle, but in a confined place hidden from the public eye –between the two cherubs in the Holy of Holies.  Only there would the Holy One, blessed be He, communicate with the people of Israel through the mediation of Moses, as it is written:  “There I will meet with you, ... from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact – all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people” (Ex. 25:22).


Exactly as I show you

This answer, explaining that it was not the Divine Presence that became reduced, rather only the place of revelation, surely would have sufficed for Moses, had the Holy One, blessed be He, not added:   Exactly as I show you (on which Ibn Ezra comments, “In visions of G-d,” meaning in prophecy) – the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it.”  According to the Midrash (Song of Songs Rabbah 3.2), Moses was surprised by the command, “so shall you make it”:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, “let them make Me a sanctuary,” he had but to set up four posts and spread the tabernacle over them, then there would be a tabernacle.  But the Holy One, blessed be He, did not do so.  Rather, he brought him up and showed him in red, green, black and white fire, and He said to him: make me one like this.  He [Moses] said to Him, “Lord of the Universe, where do I have red, green, black and white fire?”  He said to him, “according to their pattern that you were shown on the mountain.”

Abarbanel explains the command more explicitly:

Exactly as I show you, the pattern for the Tabernacle, etc. – to inform us that the Tabernacle and all its furnishings are allusions to the form of the world and its parts ...  Insofar as the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses on the mountain the secrets of existence and how it is ordered, ... therefore He informed us here that all was hinted at in the work of the Tabernacle; and this is what is meant by, “so shall you make it.”  That is to say, from all that I show you about the nature of reality and the interrelation of its parts, fashion after that the pattern of My Tabernacle and my implements of worship. [3]


Between Heaven and Earth

Moses envisioned heavenly, spiritual forms in which the secrets and ordering of the real world (created by G-d) are reflected; the commandment was that the Tabernacle and its furnishings be “allusions to the form of the world and its parts,” i.e., not just any structure, but a sanctuary laid out according to a divine plan, where all its parts are allusions to the idea by which heaven and earth were created. [4]   Moses was taken aback and surprised.   How can a human being erect a sanctuary for the Lord of the Universe according to the principles that were used in Creation?

Moses’ misgivings find expression in the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 35.6):

You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle.  Rabbi Avin said:  It is like a king who had a fine portrait and told one of his household to make him another like it.  He said to him, “My liege King, how can I make one like it?”  “He said, you according to your characteristics and I according to my honor.”  Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses:  “Note well, and follow.”  He [Moses] said to Him, “Lord of the Universe, am I G-d that I could make such things?  He [the Lord] said to him, “According to your characteristics make following their pattern:   in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and as you see on high, thus make below.”


How shall I do it?

This is a clear expression of the view that Moses found the entire task of making the Tabernacle difficult.  He had seen an ideal form in a prophecy, and when he heard, “Note well, and follow the patterns,” he was taken aback and asked, “Lord of the Universe, am I G-d, that I could make such things?”  Is there a human being who is capable of translating the heavenly pattern into an earthly pattern without dwarfing the lofty ideal?  Or, in the language of the Midrash, (Numbers Rabbah 12.3), “Who can make Him a sanctuary such as He can dwell within?”

This question the Holy One, blessed be He, answers:  You, “according to your characteristics make following their pattern.”   In other words, “I do not ask you to make it according to My might, … all I ask of you is twenty (planks) on the south, and twenty on the north and eight on the west” (loc. sit.), provided that all the details of the Tabernacle and its furnishings allude to and are directed towards the abstract ideal that you were shown on the mountain.   Immediately the Holy One, blessed be He, added an explanation of the earthly characteristics:   They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, etc.

This answer did not allay Moses’ anxieties, since “Moses could not make … the same things that he had been shown on the mountain, for there he saw the things spiritually and ideally, and here he was commanded to make them physically” ( Rabbenu Bahya on Ex. 25:40).   “Moses said:  ‘Lord of the Universe, who will make all this?’” (Tanhuma Va-Yakhel 3).  The Holy One, blessed be He, answered him (Ex. 31:2-6):

See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.   I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft;


Bezalel’s Qualities

Bezalel did not see the spiritual plans that Moses saw in a prophetic revelation, rather he received the commands and guidelines of the Holy One, blessed be He, via Moses; i.e., “You shall make planks for the Tabernacle.”   He was chosen to head those working on the Tabernacle by virtue of his wisdom and because he had been blessed with the same traits as those with which the Holy One, blessed be He, had created the universe; as it is written, “The Lord founded the earth by wisdom; He established the heavens by understanding; by His knowledge the depths burst apart” (Prov. 3:19).  Meshekh Hokhmah explains (commenting on Ex. 35:30):  “He [Bezalel] was expert in joining things together so as to give birth to something lofty and new, which was not given in the details.” 

As an artist blessed by G-d, Bezalel was able to accomplish the ultimate purpose of the commandment, and even though he dealt with earthly materials he knew how weave them together to achieve the necessary direction, correctly interpreting each detail and realizing the abstract significance of the Tabernacle as a whole:  “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks – as the Lord had commanded, so they had done – Moses blessed them” (Ex. 39:43).

By Bezalel’s merit, the Tabernacle that he erected, along with all those who assisted in the work, united the spiritual and the material and brought heaven and earth closer together, creating a sort of “middle world,” [5] bridging between the microcosmic human being and the absolute, elevated spiritual world.   No wonder that upon completion of the task, “there was rejoicing in the heavens as on the day the world was created” ( Yalkut Shimoni 13).

The Netziv sums up the status of Bezalel in relation to Moses and Aaron as follows (Ex. 31:2):

Building the Tabernacle was not like building a king’s palace, which is mundane and where anyone who wishes to build it may do so, provided he has been approved as knowing his craft prior to beginning work.  That was not the case with the Tabernacle, which is sacred and special.  Like the Torah, which was transmitted through none other than Moses, and the priesthood which was given to none other than Aaron, for making the Tabernacle there was no greater craftsmen in the world than Bezalel.   And not because he was a great artist from the outset, rather because the Holy One, blessed be He, inspired him with the necessary knowledge for the task.



[1] Another source showing that Moses had difficulty making the lampstand is Menahot 59a:   It is taught by Rabbi Ishmael:   three things Moses found difficulty with, until he was shown by His finger, and these are they:   the lampstand, the New Moon, and creeping creatures.  The lampstand, as it is written (Num. 8:4):   “Now this is how the lampstand was made.”

[2] The words, “among them,” are explained by Abarbanel:   “The Holy One intended that by making the Tabernacle and its furnishings the sanctity of the Divine presence would adhere to them … and thereby they would believe that the Ever-living G-d was in their midst.”

[3] Further on Abarbanel writes:   “First one should clarify whether an allusion and parable is being made in the Tabernacle and its furnishings, if the Holy One commanded it solely for the glory and magnificence of the edifice alone.  It is hard for us to believe that there was no parable and allusion here to something else.”

[4] The analogy between the process of erecting the Tabernacle and the description of the creation of the world in Genesis is discussed in numerous homilies which are based on parallels in the verses of Scripture, and especially on parallel linguistic terms.  See Numbers Rabbah 12:13:  “The Tabernacle is balanced against the world, which is called a tent just as the Tabernacle is called a tent.”  Similarly, Yalkut Shimoni 419; Tanhuma Pekudei 2.

[5] According to Ibn Ezra on Exodus 26:1 (long commentary).