March 5, 2005
on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
. 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
for Jewish Identity. Prepared
for Internet Publication by the
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac
Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
From Mountain to Mishkan
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
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
,” one that would have been a fitting
beginning of the Torah (Rashi on the first verse of
“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
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
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
, 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
was the revelation of the Lord to all of
, thereby giving all
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
, the place where G-d gives
It is called the Tent of Meeting because
there the Lord met with Moses to instruct him in the commandments.
 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.
us offer further proof for this idea: Moses ascended into the clouds of glory
on top of Mount
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?
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
As the commentator Benno
Jacob put it, the Tabernacle was a sort of moveable, traveling
In other words, the Theophany at
was for no other purpose than to
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
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
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
, 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:
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
throughout their journeys” (Ex.
“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)
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.
“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)
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.
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
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
Israelites were commanded to build the Tabernacle in which there would be a
continuation of the Divine Presence among
; 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
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.