Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-Yaqhel 5765/ March 5, 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,


From Mountain to Mishkan

Menahem Ben-Yashar

Department of Bible 



The book of Exodus can be divided into three parts: the first (chapters 1-16) deals with the bondage in Egypt and the Exodus, the second (from 17, when Moses arrives at the rock at Horev, until the end of 24, in which the covenant at Sinai is sealed) with the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the end of the book (25-40) records the commandment to make the Tabernacle and its subsequent construction. Since the latter part comprises nearly half the book, we shall discuss below the fundamental importance of this section to the book of Exodus.  

When Was the Torah Given?

What is the main concern of the revelation at Mount Sinai?   According to the simple meaning of the text, it is not necessarily the giving of the Torah.  The Decalogue was written on the Tablets of the Covenant, Luhot Ha-berit, and was given along with Parashat Mishpatim, written in the Book of the Covenant or Sefer Ha-berit (Ex. 24:4, 6). The point of these passages is to make a berit—a covenant.  The giving of the Torah, on the other hand, began before the people came to Sinai, with the passage “This month shall mark for you…” (Ex. 12:2). Did not the great exegete Rashi define this verse, following the Sages, as “the first commandment given Israel ,” one that would have been a fitting beginning of the Torah (Rashi on the first verse of Genesis)?

“This month shall mark for you…” (Ex. 12:2) is indeed to be considered “Torah” and not just a temporal statement, for in that passage the Israelites were commanded not only regarding Passover in Egypt but also regarding Passover and the Feast of Matzah for all subsequent generations. Further, the following chapter contains as well the commandment of the first-born, which was not observed at the time of the exodus from Egypt .  Likewise, the Israelites were commanded regarding the Sabbath well before Sinai, when the manna was given them; for otherwise it would not have been possible to say in the Ten Commandments “remember the Sabbath day,” using the definite article.  After the Israelites journeyed on from Mount Sinai , the Torah in the form of commandments continued to be given them in the Tent of Meeting.

Significance of Sinai

The primary significance and innovation introduced at Mount Sinai was the revelation of the Lord to all of Israel , thereby giving all Israel a measure of prophetic quality.   At that event also the main body of the commandments was conveyed in order to inform and show the people that the commandments come from G-d, and thereby let them know that also the commandments which they heard in the past from Moses, and those that they would hear in the future from Moses, were also the Lord’s commandments, delivered from the mouth of G-d via Moses.  For the Lord said to Moses at Mount 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).

Therefore the Tent of Meeting is to be regarded as analogous to Mount Sinai , the place where G-d gives Israel the commandments.   It is called the Tent of Meeting because there the Lord met with Moses to instruct him in the commandments. [1] But that same tent is also called the Tabernacle, mishkan, after the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) that dwelled in it, for also in regard to revelation of the Divine Presence, the Tabernacle / Tent of Meeting/ is a continuation of the one-time event at Sinai.

Let us offer further proof for this idea: Moses ascended into the clouds of glory on top of Mount Sinai (Ex. 26:24), and what did the Lord say to him there?  “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts” (Ex. 25:2); in other words, to glorify the Lord they should contribute material things which would become sanctified: in other words,  “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Why did Moses have to receive this command (Ex. 25:8-30 and 25:40) from within the clouds of Divine Glory on top of the mountain?

An Itinerant Mountain

The significance is that Moses’ Tabernacle is presented as being modeled after a heavenly temple; Moses’ Tabernacle is like a copy and also a continuation of the Divine Presence on top of Mount Sinai.   As the commentator Benno Jacob put it, the Tabernacle was a sort of moveable, traveling Mount Sinai .  In other words, the Theophany at Mount Sinai was for no other purpose than to prepare Israel for the Divine Presence to dwell among them, in the center of their camp.  That the Tent of Meeting is an itinerant Mount Sinai is attested by the central and most sanctified object inside the Tabernacle – the two tablets of the covenant, which were the hewn stone tablets given at Mount Sinai and bearing the words of the covenant.  In other words, the testimony of the covenant at Mount Sinai was carried with them.

The parallel between Mount Sinai on high and the Tent of Meeting below is attested and clearly set forth in the parallels of language and content between two short passages in the Torah:   the passage describing Moses entering the clouds of glory on top of Mount Sinai, which concludes Parashat Mishpatim and begins Parashat Terumah (Ex. 24:12-25:9), as compared with the passage describing Moses entering the cloud of glory that covered and filled the Tent of Meeting, which concludes the book of Exodus and begins 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. 24:16)

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)

Further language parallels:

During the Israelites journeys, when the Tabernacle was disassembled, and summing up all the years of journeying 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).

“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)


“Now the Presence of the Lord appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain” (Ex. 25:17).


“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying” (Ex. 25:1)

“The Lord … spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting” (Lev. 1:1)

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts” (Ex. 25:2)

“Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them:   When any of you presents an offering … to the Lord” (Lev. 1:2)

“And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8)



Parallel Passages

The parallels between the first two pairs of passages were noted long ago by Nahmanides in his commentary on Exodus, and in our times by Benno Jacob and M.D. Cassuto.  Both recount that first the clouds of glory covered the mountain/tent of meeting and that the glory of the Lord abode on the mountain/ filled the Tabernacle.   Then it says regarding the Tent of Meeting that Moses could not enter it because of the cloud of glory.   In the parallel passages it says that Moses ascended Mount Sinai, not yet on the mountain which was filled with the glory of the Lord, not yet at its top.  The next stage was G-d calling to Moses on the seventh day, from out of the cloud.   Then Moses ascended to the top of the mountain and there, from within the cloud, G-d showed him the plan for the Tabernacle and its implements.  In the parallel passage, G-d called Moses to the Tent of Meeting.   The two summons were accompanied by a commandment being given to Israel :  on Mount Sinai the Israelites were commanded to build the Tabernacle in which there would be a continuation of the Divine Presence among Israel ; and from the Tent of Meeting the Israelites were commanded concerning sacrificial worship, which comprises the practical application of the Tabernacle.

The objective of the exodus from Egypt was to have the Divine Presence abide among the Israelites in their camp, by means of the Tabernacle, as it is written (Ex. 29:46):   “... who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might abide among them.”  From Nahmanides’ preface to Exodus we learn that this Divine Presence denotes redemption; therefore the book of Exodus, which begins with bondage in Egypt and ends with the Divine Presence descending on the Tent of Meeting, is the book of exile and redemption, as he wrote:

The book of Exodus is characterized by the subject of the first exile, ... and redemption from it...   When they came to Mount Sinai and made the Tabernacle, and the Holy One, blessed be He, returned and caused His Divine Presence to abide amongst them, then they returned to the lofty station of their ancestors, upon whose tents lay the mystery of G-d, that being the Divine Chariot; then they were considered to be redeemed.  Therefore this book concludes when the Tabernacle is completed, the glory of the Lord filling it at all times.


[1] See Ex. 29:42.