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Lecture 52: The Stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




Lecture 52: THe stations of the mishkan in eretz yisrael (part iI)


Rav Yitzchak Levi





            In the previous lecture, we began to discuss the stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael. To our great surprise, we saw that following Yisrael's entry into the Land, the Mishkan is hardly ever mentioned and, apparently, rarely visited. In this lecture, we will continue to survey the Mishkan's stations, and we will also examine the wanderings of the ark in Eretz Yisrael.




            Following a period of 369 years during which the Mishkan stood in Shilo, it moved to Nov, the city of priests. Just as there is no description of the destruction of Shilo in the book of Shmuel, however, there is no account of the transfer of the Mishkan from Shilo to Nov.[1] The Mishkan in Nov is first mentioned in the verses describing David's flight from Shaul. David arrives in Nov, where he finds Achimelekh the priest, from whom he takes the sword of Golyat (I Shmuel 21:1-11).


            The second and last mention of Nov is connected to Shaul's anger at the priests and the slaying of eighty-five people wearing a linen efod:[2]


And Nov, the city of the priests, he smote with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword. (I Shmuel 22:19)


            Shaul destroys the city and kills eighty-five priests. The verses themselves do not explicitly mention the Mishkan, but it would seem that in the wake of this incident the Mishkan moves from Nov.


            Apart from these two references, there is no further mention of the Mishkan in Nov in the book of Shmuel. There is also no mention of any assembly or communal activity in the Mishkan in Nov, nor is an account given of the transfer of the Mishkan from Nov to Giv'on.[3]




            The book of Shmuel makes no reference to the Mishkan in Giv'on. Giv'on is, indeed, mentioned in connection with several events that are important in themselves; it is reasonable to assume that their importance stems in part from their proximity to the Mishkan, but this is not stated in Scripture. Thus, for example, the battle between Yoav ben Tzeruya and Avner ben Ner is conducted at the pool at Giv'on (II Shmuel 2:12 and on), and the encounter between Yoav ben Tzeruya and Amasa ben Yeter, wherein Yoav kills Amasa, similarly takes place at the great stone at Giv'on (II Shmuel 20:8-10).


            The fact that the Mishkan is found in Giv'on is mentioned for the first time in the book of Melakhim in connection with Shlomo:


And the king went to Giv'on to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. A thousand burnt offerings did Shlomo offer upon that altar. (I Melakhim 3:4)


            It is interesting that in the books of Shmuel and Melakhim there is not even a single reference to King David going to the great bama in Giv'on. Following David's sin with Bat-Sheva and the death of their child, it is stated: "Then David arose from the ground, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and bowed down" (II Shmuel 12:20). To what place is the verse referring? Did David go to Giv'on, or this perhaps a reference to the city of David?


            In contrast to what was described above, the parallel chapters in Divrei Ha-yamim offer a different picture. We will now cite the verses in Divrei Ha-yamim that mention the Mishkan during the period in which it stood in Giv'on, and we will try to understand the various designations by which it is described:[4]


And they ministered before the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting with singing, until Shlomo had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and then, they performed their office according to the order. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 6:17)


And their brethren the Levites were appointed to all manner of service of the tabernacle of the house of God. (ibid. v. 33)[5]


And Tzadok the priest and his brethren the priests before the tabernacle of the Lord in the high place that was at Giv'on. (ibid. 16:39)


But the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moshe made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Giv'on. And David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of God. (ibid. 21:29-30)


So Shlomo and the entire congregation with him went to the high place that was at Giv'on; for there was the Tent of Meeting of God, which Moshe the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness… Moreover, the copper altar that Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur had made he put before the tabernacle of the Lord, and Shlomo and the congregation sought to it. And Shlomo went up there to the copper altar before the Lord, which was at the Tent of Meeting, and offered a thousand burnt offerings upon it. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 1:3-6)


Then Shlomo came to the high place that was at Giv'on to Jerusalem, from before the Tent of Meeting, and reigned over Yisrael. (ibid. v. 13)


            In addition to the fact that the Mishkan in Giv'on is repeatedly mentioned in Divrei Ha-yamim and not at all in the book of Melakhim, regarding Gilgal, Shilo and Nov, the situation is the very opposite. These places are mentioned in Shmuel and in Melakhim, but there is no reference to them at all in Divrei Ha-yamim.


            It is possible that Divrei Ha-yamim wishes to emphasize the last station that immediately precedes the transfer of the Mishkan to the Mikdash. In this manner, it highlights the selection of Jerusalem and its establishment as the site of the Mikdash.


            To summarize this point, we have seen that apart from the verses regarding Giv'on in Divrei Ha-yamim, Scripture does not relate to the transfer of the Mishkan from one place to the next. In the books of Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shmuel, and Melakhim, there is almost no mention of the Mishkan, and there is no testimony to the attitude of the people of Yisrael toward the Mishkan, neither on the individual nor on the communal level. The sole exception relates to the transfer of the Mishkan to Shilo.


            A specific explanation can be given for each station:


· In Gilgal the people of Yisrael are involved in conquest and settlement.


· In Shilo, in addition to the explanation given with respect to Gilgal that pertains to Shilo as well, mention should be made of the prevalence of idol worship (and alien worship of the God of Yisrael, as explained in the previous lecture), and of the deteriorated state of the Mishkan in the days of Eli and his sons.


· As for Nov and Giv'on, it may be that during the period that the ark was separated from the great bama, and in consideration of the fact that bamot were then permitted, personal worship was conducted at private altars and only communal worship was conducted at the great bama. Therefore, people did not go on pilgrimages to the Mishkan.


Beyond these local explanations, however, is it possible to offer an overall explanation of Yisrael's attitude toward the Mishkan?


Rav Eitan Sandorfi[6] argues that the ark is the most important element in the Mishkan, and when the ark is found elsewhere, the Mishkan's sanctity is lessened. During the periods of Gilgal, Nov, and Giv'on the ark became separated from the great bama, and this fact may serve as an answer to the question raised above.


It seems that the primary ramification of this argument pertains to the allowance of bamot. In other words, the fact that every individual could build an altar in his courtyard and offer his personal sacrifices there is relevant. While it is true that communal sacrifices could only be brought at the great bama in Gilgal, Nov, or Giv'on, everyday life could continue without going to the Mishkan.


It seems, however, that this answer does not provide an answer to our question. The argument regarding the lesser sanctity of the Mishkan when the ark is absent seems to be an after-the-fact halakhic explanation. It is difficult to imagine that this is what influenced Yisrael's going to the Mishkan. Thus, for example, this explanation does not account for Yisrael's almost total ignoring of the Mishkan in Shilo over the course of hundreds of years of the period of the Shoftim¸ while the ark was in the Mishkan and while, according to Chazal, the Mishkan enjoyed full sanctity and was regarded as "the place which the Lord shall choose."


We argued above that Bnei Yisrael hardly related to the Mishkan at all. There are, however, three exceptions to this rule:


First, the attitude toward the Mishkan in Shilo during the days of Yehoshua - the allocation of the territories to the seven tribes, the division of the Levitical cities, and the assembly regarding the altar built by the two and a half tribes all took place there.


Second, we find Elkana's pilgrimage to Shilo (I Shmuel 1:1).


Third, we find Shlomo going to Giv'on (I Melakhim 3).


Our overall conclusion is that during the 440 years that the Mishkan stood in Eretz Yisrael until the beginning of the building of the Temple, the Mishkan did not serve as a drawing point for the people, neither on the individual level nor on the communal plain.[7]


One cause of this situation seems to be the transition from life in the wilderness to life in Eretz Yisrael. The transition from life in the wilderness when the entire people encamped around the Mishkan, and journeyed together with the Mishkan, to the situation in Eretz Yisrael, where each tribe settled in its own territory far away from the Mishkan, is a very sharp transition. This transition is also connected to the transition from miraculous governance in the wilderness to natural governance in Eretz Yisrael. One of the expressions of this transition, as mentioned above, is the allowance of non-consecrated meat throughout the Land (Devarim 12:20-28), as opposed to the eating of peace offerings in the wilderness. It is very possible that following the conquest and division of the Land, each tribe was occupied with the settlement of its own territory, and therefore the worship of God on the communal level was far from its consciousness. (To a certain degree, this parallels the fact that during this period there are few national efforts; rather, each tribe acts on its own[8]).




            Thus far, we have examined what is written about the various stations of the Mishkan. With the destruction of the Mishkan in Shilo, the ark was separated from the great bama, and was captured by the Pelishtim in the battle of Even-ha-Ezer. Scripture offers a detailed description of the stations of the ark: After being captured in battle, it remained in the hands of the Pelishtim in Bet-Dagon for seven months (I Shmuel 5). It was then moved to Bet-Shemesh, where it caused a great plague (ibid. 6). From there, it was transferred to Kiryat-Ye'arim for twenty years (I Shmuel 7), and from there to the city of David (II Shmuel 6).


            It seems that we can speak of two periods with respect to the ark, the period until the time of David and the period from the time of David and on.


            During the period of Eli, Chofni, Pinchas and Eli relate to the ark as if it were responsible for bringing salvation. The belief in the independent powers of the ark irrespective of the people's actions leads to the ark's falling into the hands of the Pelishtim.


            The Pelishtim also understand that the ark causes them great damage and that it has unique powers, and they therefore send it back to Bet-Shemesh.


            After the ark arrives in Bet-Shemesh, Scripture states:


And He smote the men of Bet-Shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord,[9] smiting fifty thousand and seventy men of the people. And the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter. (I Shmuel 6:19)


            In the wake of the plague that descended upon the inhabitants of Bet-Shemesh, the people decide to move the ark to Kiryat-Ye'arim. Regarding this twenty-year period, Scripture states:


And David said to all the congregation of Yisrael: "If it seems good to you, and that it be the will of the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brethren everywhere who are left in all the land of Yisrael, and with them also to the priests and Levites who are in their cities that have pasture lands that they may gather themselves to us. And let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not inquire of it in the days of Shaul." And all of the congregation said that they would do so, for the thing seemed right in the eyes of all the people. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 13:2-4)


            In other words, during the period of Shaul, after the transfer of the ark to Kiryat-Ye'arim, Bnei Yisrael did not interest themselves in the ark, nor did they make any efforts to return the ark to the Mishkan.


            Assuming that the situation in which the ark and the great bama are separated is inferior to that in which the two are found in the same place, why didn't Bnei Yisrael return the ark to the great bama in Nov or later in Giv'on? As stated above, this issue only arises in I Shmuel 4 and on, but not before.


Scripture does not address this question at all. Yehuda Kil[10] proposes that Shmuel was trying to teach the people that deliverance does not come by way of the ark, but by way of the One who rests His glory in it. According to this understanding, leaving the ark in Kiryat-Ye'arim and not returning it to the Mishkan was part of a plan designed by Shmuel and had an educational objective. The reality of the Mishkan in Shilo in the days of Eli was that his sons Chofni and Pinchas were treating the sacrifices in a sacrilegious manner and relating to the ark as an instrument that could independently deliver Bnei Yisrael. Shmuel thought that in order to wean Yisrael from the perverted relationship toward the ark that had taken root among the priesthood and in the Mishkan service, Yisrael had to be detached from the ark. In this way, in the future they would relate to the ark in an appropriate and fitting manner and not believe in it as a magical instrument through which Bnei Yisrael can be delivered in times of distress.


            This argument is a logical one, but practically speaking it is valid primarily with respect to the period following the destruction of Shilo, which roughly corresponds to the periods of Shmuel and Shaul (when the Mishkan was in Nov, according to Chazal, for 13 years). In reality, the ark remained in Kiryat Ye'arim for 20 years, including the 7 years during which David ruled as king in Hebron and Ish-Boshet ruled in Machanayim. David's first act as king over of all of Yisrael was to bring the ark up to Jerusalem and not to Giv'on. As for David's action, our argument is that David wanted to demonstrate that it was his fervent desire that the future Mikdash be built in Jerusalem; he therefore brought the ark up to that city, with the hope and expectation that the site of the Mikdash would be in his capital city. He therefore brings the ark up to the city of David and deposits it in a tent in the heart of the city.[11]


            Rav Eitan Sandorfi suggests that Shmuel was familiar with Chana's prophecy, in which she said:


The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; out of heaven shall He thunder upon them. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed. (I Shmuel 2:10)


            The medieval commentators understand that Chana's words allude to the possibility of a monarchy, and that once there is a monarchy, the Mikdash will be built. Shmuel left the ark outside the Mishkan in order to intensify the yearning for it, and thereby bring about the building of the Mikdash.


            This explanation resolves the difficulty arising from Shmuel's conduct, but the question remains regarding the extent to which this influenced Bnei Yisrael.


            Even if we don't accept Rav Sandorfi's explanation, it can at least be argued that David saw his bringing the ark up to Jerusalem as part of his seeking the Mikdash and his desire to bring the ark closer to the future site of the Mikdash, and thus to fulfill the obligation of "there shall you seek Him, at His dwelling, and there you shall come."


            Rav Sandorfi[12] brings additional explanations for why the ark was not returned to the Mishkan for so many years. These explanations include:


Security rationales:


· Bnei Yisrael feared that the Pelishtim would once again take the ark.


· The Pelishtim did not allow Bnei Yisrael to return the ark to the Mishkan.


Rationales connected to the building of the Mikdash:


· Bnei Yisrael wanted the ark to be "between the shoulders" of Binyamin, and therefore they left it in Kiryat Ye'arim.


· Bnei Yisrael wanted the ark to remain close to the king.


He also cites Halakhic arguments: Bnei Yisrael knew that this was supposed to be a time during which bamot are permitted; the ark is not supposed to be brought into the Mishkan when the tablets of the law do not rest in it.[13]




            In this lecture, we have examined the various stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael.


            After examining the time frame, we tried to understand what the plain sense of Scripture says regarding the move from one place to the next and the use of and attitude toward the Mishkan at each station.


            We were surprised to learn that apart from the period of Yehoshua, from the days of the Shoftim and until David's seeking out the site of the Mikdash almost no interest is shown in the Mishkan or in what is going on there. There are few descriptions of the workings of the Mishkan, its move from one place to the next, or incidents illustrating Yisrael's practical relationship to the Mishkan.


            The conclusion that seems to follow from this is that over the course of over 420 years, the Mishkan did not play a major role in the life of the people (as is evidenced by what is written in the books of Shoftim and Shmuel, and to a lesser degree in Divrei Ha-yamim). The primary reason for this seems to be that the transition from a camp in the wilderness concentrated around the Mishkan to settlement throughout Eretz Yisrael brought the tribes to focus on settling the land. This led to a certain disregard of the central ritual site, both during the period of Shilo, when alien forms of worship were practiced alongside it, and during the periods of Nov and Giv'on, when the allowance of bamot lessened Yisrael's connection to the Mishkan.


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] In contrast, Scripture describes the wanderings of the ark in great detail, as we will see below.

[2] The only person who manages to escape from Shaul is Evyatar the son of Achimelekh, who runs away to David and whom David will make use of in the future.

[3] In the book of Divrei Ha-Yamim, there is no mention whatsoever of the Mishkan in Nov.

[4] It is difficult to draw conclusions from the various names of the Mishkan in Giv'on, but one important point is worthy of our attention: Chazal do not relate in any way to the structure of the Mishkan in Giv'on. The mishna states that the Mishkan in Shilo was made of stone at the bottom and of curtains at the top, but it does not describe the Mishkan in Giv'on; was it a continuation of the Mishkan in Shilo or a different entity entirely? The fact that the Mishkan is described here as "the house of the Lord" may indicate that the Mishkan in Giv'on was, in a certain sense, a continuation of the Mishkan in Shilo.

[5] The term, "the house of God," requires further study. How can that name be applied to a great bama, when the ark is not found there?

[6] Rav Eitan Sandorfi, in his book, Hadar Olam (Sifriyat Bet-El, Jerusalem, 5755), pp. 384-415, raises the question of why Bnei Yisrael did not return the ark to the Mishkan. He cites many sources relating to this issue, some of which we will bring below.

[7] A question that hovers over the entire discussion relates to the extent to which Bnei Yisrael were aware of the prohibition to offer sacrifices outside the Mishkan during the period when bamot were forbidden. It stands to reason that following the covenant at Mount Eival and the giving of the blessings and curses and after the assembly at the end of the book of Yehoshua (chapter 24), which was sort of a reenactment of the giving of the Torah, the people were indeed familiar with this law.

On the other hand, the gemara in Zevachim 119a brings a Tannaitic disagreement regarding the question of what "the rest" and "the inheritance" mentioned in Devarim 12:8 are. The gemara cites the view of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who says that they both refer to Jerusalem. Based on this, Rashi explains (ad loc.) that until the building of the Temple, bamot were never forbidden. According to this opinion, bamot were permitted even during the period of Shilo.

In any event, the plain sense of Scripture implies that the people understood that it was forbidden to offer sacrifices on bamot, even to God, while the Mishkan stood at Shilo.

[8] To the exclusion of the war against Binyamin in the wake of the incident involving the concubine in Giv'a, during which all the tribes united against Binyamin to eradicate the injustice.

[9] Many explanations have been given for this event. Without going into detail, this incident clearly attests to the fact that Bnei Yisrael had not yet achieved the proper attitude toward the ark, and that they failed to approach it with appropriate caution and sanctity.

[10] Introduction to Da'at Mikra, Shmuel (Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, Jerusalem, 5741), p. 107, note 29.

[11] We already dealt with this issue in our lectures on the period of David, and we will deal with it again in future lectures.

[12] See Rav Sandorfi's article, note 18.

[13] We have not expanded upon these arguments, for they do not seem to be the principal reasons.