The Ark (Part II) -The Mishkan of the Testimony and the Ohel Mo'ed

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

 

Lecture 125: The Ark (Part II) –

The Mishkan of the Testimony and the Ohel Mo'ed

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

The Mishkan of the Testimony

 

            In the previous shiur, we began our examination of the ark of the Testimony, and we opened with a discussion of the various names of that vessel. As we saw, the element of testimony is so central that it has left its mark on the name of the Mishkan itself, and likewise on the name Ohel Mo'ed.

 

            The Mishkan as a whole is sometimes called Mishkan Ha-edut, the Mishkan of the Testimony:

 

These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, as they were counted, according to the commandment of Moshe, for the work of the Levites by the hand of Itamar the son of Aharon the priest. (Shemot 38:21)

 

            Last year, we demonstrated the special connection between the word Mishkan and the Holy of Holies. According to the understanding presented in the previous shiur that the word "Testimony" in the phrase "ark of the Testimony" refers to the tablets or the Torah scroll located in the Holy of Holies, it turns out that the entire structure is called the Mishkan of the Testimony because of that testimony.

 

            The Rishonim and Acharonim offer several explanations of the phrase "Mishkan of the Testimony."

 

I. Testimony regarding the pardon that had been granted for the sin of the Golden Calf

 

            Rashi(ad loc.) explains:

 

The Mishkan was a testimony to Israel that the Holy One, blessed be He, had pardoned them in respect to the incident of the Golden Calf, for He rested His Shekhina among them.

 

            Rashi's comment is based on the words of the Tanchuma:

 

"And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8). When was this section relating to the Mishkan said to Moshe? On Yom Kippur itself, even though the section relating to the Mishkan comes before the incident of the Golden Calf. R. Yehuda the son of R. Shalom said: There is no earlier or later in the Torah, as it is stated: "Her paths wander, and she is ignorant" (Mishlei 5:6) – the paths and the sections of the Torah are out of order. Thus, on Yom Kippur Moshe was told: "And let them make Me a sanctuary." From where do we know this? For Moshe went up on the sixth of Sivan, and he spent there forty days and forty nights, and then another forty, and then yet another forty, for a total of a hundred and twenty. Thus you find that on Yom Kippur they achieved atonement, and on that very day, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them," so that all the nations should know that they were pardoned for the incident of the Golden Calf. It was therefore called the Mishkan of the Testimony, for it is testimony to mankind that the Holy One, blessed be He, dwells in your sanctuary. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let the gold of the Mishkan come and atone for the gold from which the Calf had been fashioned. For it says about it: "And all the people broke off the golden earrings" (Shemot 32:3), and therefore they achieve atonement through gold: "And this is offering which you shall take of them: gold" (ibid. v. 3). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: "For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you of your wounds" (Yirmiyahu 30:17). (Tanchuma Teruma 8)

 

            According to the midrash, and according to Rashi in its wake, the phrase "Mishkan Ha-edut" does not mean "Mishkan of the Testimony" – that is, of the tablets or of the book of the Torah, which are testimony – but rather "Mishkan which is Testimony" – that is, the Mishkan testifies that God rests in the sanctuary. Of course, the underlying assumption here is that God's command to Moshe with respect to the Mishkan was given after the sin of the Golden Calf, on Yom Kippur.

 

            According to this understanding, the very building of the Mishkan and God's resting of His Shekhina in its midst testifies to the fact that God rests in the Mikdash. In the words of Rashi: "A testimony to Israel that the Holy One, blessed be He, had pardoned them in respect to the incident of the Golden Calf." The pardon for the sin is expressed in the very resting of God's Shekhina in the Mishkan.

 

            A very sharp expression of this understanding is found in the Tanchuma:

 

"The Mishkan of the Testimony" – R. Yishmael said: This is a sign to all mankind that there is no pardon but to Israel. "The Mishkan of the Testimony" – it is testimony to all mankind that the Holy One, blessed be He, became reconciled with Israel. To what may this be likened? To a king who married a woman and cherished her exceedingly. [Then] he became angry with her and left her, and her neighbors said to her: He will not come to you. After some time, the king became reconciled with [his wife], and entered his palace with her, and ate and drank. Her neighbors could not believe that he had made up with her, but there was a scent of perfume about her, and they immediately understood that the king had become reconciled with her. So the Holy One, blessed be He, cherished Israel, and brought them to Mount Sinai, and gave them the Torah, and called them kings. At the end of forty days, they made the Golden Calf and said: "These are your gods, O Israel" (Shemot 32:4). At that time, the nations of the world said that the Holy One, blessed be He, will never become reconciled with them again. [But] as soon as Moshe stood up and prayed on their behalf, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "I have forgiven according to your word" (Bemidbar 14:20). And what is more, I will rest my Shekhina upon them and among them, and everyone will know that I have pardoned them, as it is stated: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8). (Midrash Tanchuma [Buber], Pekudei, 2)

 

            In other words, the very building of the Mishkan and the resting of the Shekhina in it serve as conclusive proof of God's pardon of the people of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.

 

II. The Mishkan of the tablets

 

            Other Rishonim understood "the Mishkan of the Testimony" as referring to the tablets. This is the way the term was understood by the Ramban, the Chizkuni, the Ibn Ezra, and the Seforno.

 

            In his commentary, the Seforno describes the virtues of the Mishkan, on account of which it was fit to be eternal and never fall into the hands of Israel's enemies. The first reason is that it was the Mishkan of the Testimony, which housed the tablets of Testimony. The Seforno continues:

 

The Second Temple, however, was not the Mishkan of the Testimony, for it did not contain the tablets of the Testimony.[1] (Shemot 38:21)

 

            Similarly, the Ralbag writes (ad loc.):

 

For it contained the ark of the Testimony, the most distinguished part of the Mishkan, and it was as if the Mishkan was made for this end, and therefore it is called the Mishkan of the Testimony.

 

III. Testimony about Moshe's probity

 

            The midrash brings yet another understanding of "the Mishkan of the Testimony":

 

Another explanation: It serves as testimony for the entire world that [Moshe] had been appointed by the Holy One, blessed be He. (Shemot Rabba 51:4)

 

            In other words, the testimony is that Moshe had been appointed and charged with the work of the Mishkan; he had not acted on his own. The proof for this is that God rested His Shekhina on his work.

 

            This is connected to what some of the commentators[2] say in various formulations – that when the people began to suspect that Moshe had stolen shekels from the contributions to the Mishkan, Moshe said to them that the Mishkan should serve as testimony on his behalf, and they went and counted and found that the excess had been put into the hooks of the pillars.

 

            How did the Mishkan serve as testimony? This can be understood in two ways:

 

            1) The Mishkan testifies that not a single half-shekel was left unaccounted for.

 

            2) The Mishkan testifies that everything had been done by Moshe in a perfectly trustworthy manner.

 

IV. Testimony of heaven and earth

 

            Another understanding of the nature of the testimony in "the Mishkan of the Testimony" is brought in the Tanchuma:

 

"These are the accounts of the Mishkan." This is what the verse states: "Lord, I love the habitation of Your house" (Tehilim 26:8) – this is the Heikhal which corresponds to the site of the dwelling of Your glory. R. Shimon bar Yochai said: This means that the earthly Heikhal corresponds to the heavenly Heikhal, as it is stated: "In the place, O Lord, which You have made for You to dwell in, in the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established" (Shemot 15). R. Yaakov the son of R. Assi said: Why does he say: "Lord, I love the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells"? Because it is equivalent to the creation of the world… And why is the Mishkan equivalent to heaven and earth? Rather, just as heaven and earth are witnesses for Israel, as it is written: "I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you" (Devarim 30:19), so too the Mishkan is testimony for Israel, as it is stated: "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony." Therefore, it says: "Lord, I love the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells."

 

            Beyond the correspondence between the earthly Heikhal and the heavenly Heikhal, the Mishkan is equivalent to the creation of the world, to heaven and earth. Just as heaven and earth are witnesses for Israel, so too does the Mishkan serve as testimony for Israel.

 

V. The Ark with its tablets – with respect to the prohibition of Bamot and the status of the Second Temple

 

            According to the Meshekh Chokhma, the fact that Mishkan is "the Mishkan of the Testimony" has a certain halakhic ramification:

 

I explained above (Shemot 25:21) that the ark must contain the Testimony, and that the Mishkan is regarded as the Ohel Mo'ed with respect to the prohibition of bamot only when it houses the ark… It only has the law of a Mishkan when it is the Mishkan of the Testimony, when the Testimony is found in it. See Ibn Ezra. (Shemot 38:21)

 

Similarly:

 

"And you shall put in the ark the Testimony which I shall give you." All the vessels were made for the Second Temple, except for the ark, because the tablets were hidden away (Yoma 22b), and the tablets are indispensible for the ark. Regarding consecrated items, wherever Scripture repeats something, it is to tell you that it is indispensible. Therefore, the verse teaches that it is not an ark unless the Testimony is placed inside it, and since there were no tablets in the Second Temple, there was [also] no ark. The Ramban correctly wrote that if the ark broke, a new one must be made, for as long as there are tablets, [building an ark] is a mitzva for future generations. (Shemot 25:21)

 

            The Meshekh Chokhma relates to various points. First, he argues that the Testimony must be found in the ark. Indeed, the Mishkan only reaches its complete status, so that it is regarded as the Ohel Mo'ed with respect to the prohibition of bamot, when the ark is housed within it. When the ark is not there, bamot are permitted. This is because the ark's presence in the Mishkan signifies the presence of the Shekhina in that place, and when the Shekhina is present, God cannot be worshipped somewhere else. When, however, there is no ark, the Shekhina does not rest there and there is no central place where God rests His name, and so it is permissible to worship God in all places.

 

            A second point is that since the ark is not an ark without the Testimony, the reason that there was no ark in the Second Temple period is that there were no tablets. According to the Meshekh Chokhma, the essence of the mitzva of building an ark is to place the tablets inside it.

 

            At the end of the passage, he mentions the Ramban (in his strictures to the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot, precept no. 33), who says that making the ark and the kaporet to house the Testimony inside it is counted as a separate mitzva: "And furthermore, if [the ark] becomes lost or broken, there is a mitzva to make it according to the original dimensions in order to place the tablets of the Testimony inside."[3]

 

V. THe Mishkan of the torah

 

            Several midrashim understand "the Mishkan of the Testimony" as the Mishkan of the Torah. Here are two of them:

 

Another explanation: "Mishkan of the Testimony:" R. Shimon bar Yochai said: The Testimony is the Torah, as it is stated: "These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments" (Devarim 4:45). This may be likened to a king who had a daughter, for whom he built a palace. And he sat her inside seven reception halls, announcing: Whoever enters in to my daughter, it is as if he entered in to me. So to the Mishkan was called by two names: "The Mishkan of the Testimony," which is the Torah, and elsewhere it says: "Before the Mishkan of God." The Holy One, blessed be He, said: If someone shames My daughter, it is as if he put Me to shame. If someone enters a synagogue and puts My Torah to shame, it is as he entered and put My glory to shame. (Midrash Tanchuma [Warsaw], Pekudei 4)

 

"The Mishkan of the Testimony" – This is the Torah in which they toiled. By virtue of the Torah and the sacrifices, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: I will save you from Gehinnom. (Midrash Tanchuma [Warsaw], Pekudei 8)

 

            According to R. Shimon bar Yochai, the Mishkan is called the Mishkan of the Testimony because of the Torah that is found within its walls, but since the Mishkan is also called the Mishkan of God, an identification is made between the Testimony/the Torah and God Himself, as it were - between He who gave the Torah and the Torah itself.

 

Vi. The Mishkan as testimony for the mishkan of Shlomo

 

            The author of Tzeror ha-Mor (ad loc.) offers a different understanding:

 

Because the Mishkan that Moshe built is testimony for the Mishkan to be built by Shlomo, as [the Sages] said: "And so you shall do" - for generations. If one of the vessels becomes lost, you shall refashion it according to this pattern. And therefore King Shlomo made in the Mikdash all the things that were in the Mishkan, for the Mishkan was a hint and testimony for the Mishkan in Shilo.

 

VII. The Mishkan of the Testimony – the wooden ark

 

            The Netziv explains as follows:

 

"The Mishkan of the Testimony" – This is superfluous, and all the more so here, where it speaks not about the purpose of the Mishkan, but about the accounts of the building of the Mishkan. This is the basis of the midrash in Midrash Rabba (51:2), according to which Moshe came and asked the Holy One, blessed be He, what to do with what was left over. And He answered: Whatever you can, cast upon the Mishkan of the Testimony. This midrash is a marvel. It would seem that "the Mishkan of the Testimony" refers to the ark which stood in the Holy of Holies. But surely it was already fully fashioned, and it is impossible to add more gold to its thickness. Rather it seems that "the Mishkan of the Testimony" refers to the wooden ark which Moshe had made at the outset, and which afterwards stood in Moshe's tent, and in it rested the sections of the Torah until it was completed, and it was eventually brought into the Holy of Holies, as we find in Bava Batra, end of chap. 1 (14a). (Netziv, Shemot 38:21)

 

            The Netziv explains that we are dealing here with the sums of silver, gold, and brass. He explains that "the Mishkan of the Testimony" refers to the wooden ark that Moshe had made at first (as stated in Devarim 10:1), regarding which there is no mention of gold plating. This ark later stood in the tent that Moshe erected outside the camp (Shemot 35:7), and in that the ark were placed the Torah sections that had already been received (following this opinion in Gittin 60a) until it was completed, and then it was brought into the Holy of Holies.[4]

 

The Tent of the Testimony

 

            In addition to the expression, "the Mishkan of the Testimony," we also find in several places the term, "the Tent of the Testimony." Thus, for example:

 

And on the day that the Mishkan was erected the cloud covered the Mishkan, namely, the tent of the Testimony: and at evening there was upon the Mishkan as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning (Bamidbar 9:15)

 

            Rashi explains (ad loc.):

 

"The Mishkan, namely, the tent of the Testimony" – This means the Mishkan which was made for the purpose of being the tent for the tablets of the Testimony.

 

            Similarly:

And Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the Testimony. And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moshe went into the tent of the Testimony, and behold, the rod of Aharon for the house of Levi had sprouted, and brought forth buds, and blossomed, and yielded almonds. (Bamidbar 17:22-23)

 

And your brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring you near with you, that they may be joined to you and minister to you. But you and your sons, with you shall minister before the tent of the Testimony. (ibid. 18:2)

 

            The Seforno's understanding is similar to that of Rashi:

 

The arrangement is as follows, that you and your sons shall stand guard before the Holy of Holies, which is the tent of the ark in which rest the tablets of the Testimony. (Bamidbar 18:2)

 

            In any event, it is interesting that both "Mishkan" and "Tent of the Testimony" are names assigned to the Mishkan as a whole. It may be possible to suggest that "Mishkan" refers primarily to the Holy of Holies, whereas "Tent of the Testimony" refers to the Ohel Mo'ed, the Heikhal. In any event, the Testimony is so significant that even the Ohel Mo'ed is called by that name because of it. Thus, for example, the Netziv explains (ad loc.):

 

"The tent of the Testimony" refers to the Holy of Holies, in which rested the tablets of the Testimony. The cloud rested upon it, and from there extended also upon the Mishkan that was adjacent to the tent of the Testimony. When [the Mishkan] was first erected, it says at the end of the book of Shemot: "Then a cloud covered the Ohel Moe'd," and for this reason Moshe was unable to go in, but afterwards it extended only to the side of the Holy of Holies. (Bamidbar 10:15).

 

            It is also possible that certain instances of the term, "Ohel Mo'ed," and the expression, "Tent of the Testimony," as it is used here and in the story of Korach and the story of the rods, refer to the entire structure of the Mishkan.

 

The Parokhet of the Testimony

 

Outside the parokhet of the Testimony, in the Ohel Mo'ed, shall Aharon order it from evening unto morning before the Lord continually: it shall be a statute forever in your generations. (Vayikra 24:3)

 

            The parokhet which separates between the Holy of Holies and the Holy is named after the Testimony itself. Rashi explains (ad loc.):

 

The parokhet of the Testimony – which is before the ark, which is called "Testimony." But our Rabbis explained it as referring to the western lamp, which was a testimony to mankind that the Shekhina dwelt in Israel. For [the priest] put only as much oil into it as was the quantity put into the other lamps and yet he began [the lighting of the other lamps in the evening] by it and closed [the work of the trimming in the morning] with it.

 

            The Maharal in his commentary on Rashi, Gur Aryeh, explains:

 

"The parokhet of the Testimony." And our Rabbis explained it as referring to the western lamp. R. Eliyahu Mizrachi asked: How does the midrash explain "the parokhet of the Testimony"? The parokhet is not a veil for the western lamp which is called "testimony." And you also cannot say that it means that outside the parokhet shall there be testimony in the Ohel Mo'ed, for this is impossible, as the lamed is vocalized with a sheva, and so the word "le-parokhet" is connected to the word "edut." This is not difficult, for the parokhet is called "the parokhet of the Testimony," because it is before the ark which contains the tablets of the Testimony, which are testimony between the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel. But [the Sages] had a difficulty. For earlier, in Parashat Tetzaveh, it says, "outside the parokhet" (Shemot 27:21), whereas here it says, "outside the parokhet of the Testimony." For by way of the western lamp from which he would begin and he would end, it is evident that the parokhet is the parokhet of the Testimony. For regarding the tablets which are called "tablets of the Testimony" (Shemot 31:18), there is no proof that the tablets are testimony, for how do we know that the Shekhina is still in Israel. Perhaps the Shekhina is no longer in Israel. But now, through the western lamp, it is evident that the parokhet is the parokhet of the Testimony, and the tablets are testimony between the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel that the Shekhina is still in Israel. And even if you say that the "Testimony" mentioned here refers to the western lamp, it is not difficult, for since the Torah said that the candlestick should be close to the parokhet, as it is written, "Outside the parokhet," and it is explained in Torat Kohanim that the candlestick should be closer to the parokhet than to the door, and now that the candlestick is with the parokhet and close to it, the parokhet is fitly called "the parokhet of the Testimony," for they are together.

 

            The Maharal refers to the objection raised by R. Eliyahu Mizrachi:

 

I do not know how the verse is to be understood according to the midrash. For granted according to the plain sense, the word "le-parokhet" is connected to the word "edut," which refers to the ark… But according to the midrash, how is it possible for the word "le-parokhet" to be connected to the word "edut," if it means the western lamp. Surely the parokhet is a parokhet not for the lamp, but for the ark, as it is written: "And the parokhet shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy place" (Shemot 26:33).

 

            According to the plain sense of the verse, the word "le-parokhet" is connected to the word "edut," which refers to the ark, and therefore the parokhet is for the ark, based on the verse, "And the parokhet shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy place." But according to the midrash, the word "le-parokhet" is connected to the word "edut," which is the western lamp, and not the ark. This is clearly not the plain sense of the verse!

 

            There are several midrashim which understand the expression in this way. So we find in Midrash Ha-gadol (ad loc.):

 

"Outside the parokhet of the Testimony." … Be careful, let your evil inclination not mislead you into thinking that [God] needs its light. For the candlestick should have been set inside next to the ark. But it was placed outside the parokhet, to teach you that He does not need its light. It is the way of the world that a human king makes himself a bed and a table and sets his candlestick to his left. But in the Temple the candlestick was placed to the right of the table, to teach you that He does not need its light. Rather, it is for your benefit, to illuminate for you in the World-to-Come, when darkness comes upon the nations of the world. As it is stated: "For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but the Lord shall arise upon you, [and His glory shall be seen upon you]" (Yeshayahu 60:2).

 

            The Midrash Ha-gadol explains that were God to have been in need of the light of the candlestick, the candlestick would have been placed inside the Holy of Holies next to the ark. Since it is placed outside the parokhet, we learn that that He does not need its light, and therefore the candlestick is located to the right of the table. In this way, the midrash accounts for the precise location of the candlestick, which should have been next to the ark and to its right, but in practice, it is in the Holy and to the left as you come in. All this was so that it should not enter our minds that God needs the light of the candlestick.

 

            The second midrash dealing with this issue is found in the gemara in Shabbat (22b):

 

"Outside the parokhet of the Testimony." Does He then require its light? But surely, during the entire forty years that the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness they travelled only by His light! But it is a testimony to mankind that the Shekhina rests in Israel. What is the testimony? Rav said: That was the western lamp [of the candlestick] in which the same quantity of oil was poured as into the rest, and yet he kindled [the others] from it and ended with it.

 

            The gemara here interprets the verse in such a way that the Testimony refers to the western lamp of the candlestick, which was in the Holy. This is clearly not the plain sense of the verse.

 

            In the wake of the midrash, the Maharal explains that through the western lamp, the testimony of the candlestick joins with and reveals the testimony in the Holy of Holies – the tablets of Testimony - and it is the tablets which are the testimony between God and Israel that the Shekhina still rests in Israel.

 

            This understanding of the midrash is supported by the fact that the candlestick must be closer to the parokhet than to the door, and therefore when the candlestick is close to the parokhet, the parokhet is called "the parokhet of the Testimony," for they are together.

 

            According to the Maharal's understanding of the midrash, it turns out that the tablets of the law in the Holy of Holies impact not only on the parokhet itself, so that it is called the parokhet of the Testimony, but also on the candlestick with its western lamp, which constitutes testimony that joins with the testimony of the tablets and reveals it in the Holy.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Based on the gemara in Yoma 52b, which mentions the fact that in the Second Temple there was no ark, and therefore there were also no tablets.

[2] Cited by Torah Sheleima, Shemot 38:1, no. 21.

[3] This is against the view of the Rambam in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot, commandment no. 20, who counts all the vessels of the Mishkan as part of the mitzva of building the Temple, but does not mention the ark – not as part of the mitzva of building the Temple like the rest of the vessels, nor as a separate mitzva, as argued by the Ramban.

[4] The issue of what was in each ark as well as the redundancy will be discussed in a future shiur.