Lecture 91: The Relationship Between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed (I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

 

LECTURE 91: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MISHKAN AND THE OHEL MO'ED (I)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In this lecture, I wish to examine the relationship between the two lower curtains, the Mishkan and the Ohel, in actual practice.[1]

 

            In order to do this, and in order to clarify the significance of this relationship, we will begin with an exact account of the structure of the Mishkan. In order to understand the meaning of the structure, analysis of the fine details is necessary. We will open with background material – several fundamental facts regarding the dimensions of the structure and the dimensions of the curtains - and afterwards we will try to understand the relationship between the curtains and the structure.

 

THE DIMENSIONS OF THE STRUCTURE

 

            The structure of the Mishkan consisted of 20 boards in the north and in the south. On the assumption that each board was a cubit and a half wide, we arrive at a sum of 30 cubits.

 

            In the west, there were 8 boards X 1.5 cubits, a total of 12 cubits.

 

            It turns out, then, that the inner width of the Mishkan was 10 cubits X 30 cubits (excluding the thickness of the boards).

 

THE THICKNESS OF THE BOARDS

 

            The Torah states:

 

And you shall make boards for the Mishkan of shittim wood standing up. Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the breadth of one board. (Shemot 26:15-16)

 

            The thickness of the boards is not spelled out in the verses, but Chazal learned that the boards were a cubit thick. How exactly were the boards constructed? We find a disagreement on this matter in the gemara (Shabbat 98b):

 

  • According to R. Nechemia, the thickness of the boards both at the bottom and at the top was a cubit.
  • According to R. Yehuda, the boards were a cubit thick at the bottom, but they tapered as they went up until they were only a finger thick at the top.

 

The Ba’alein Ha-Tosafot disagree regarding whether, according to the view of R. Yehuda, the slope began at the bottom of the boards or only in the middle. This disagreement is of great importance regarding the manner in which the curtains roofed the structure of the boards.

 

On the north-south axis, the difference between the two opinions is two cubits, which impacts primarily on the question of the extent to which the curtains covered the boards and the sockets.

 

On the east-west axis, the difference between the two opinions is a cubit, which impacts primarily on the question of the size of the remnant of the curtain on the western side behind the Mishkan.

 

Of course, it also makes a difference whether we measure the length and width of the structure from the inside, i.e., the dimensions of the inner space, or we include also the external framework, i.e., the measurements include the thickness of the boards. This issue also affects the manner in which the Mishkan was covered the inner curtains and the curtains of goats' hair.

 

THE DIMENSIONS OF THE CURTAINS AND THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY WERE PLACED ON THE BOARDS

 

1. THE INNER CURTAINS OF THE MISHKAN

 

            Each curtain was 28 cubits by 4 cubits, and the covering of the Mishkan was comprised of 10 such curtains = 40 cubits X 28 cubits.[2] (The ten curtains were divided into two equal sections of 5 curtains apiece.)

 

            At the outer edge of each section, there were loops of blue by means of which the two sections were connected together with fifty golden clasps.

 

THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CURTAINS WERE PLACED UPON THE STRUCTURE – THE ROOF OF THE MISHKAN

 

            As stated above, the length of the structure from east to west was 30 cubits, and the height of the western wall was 10 cubits.

 

            The thickness of the boards on the western side depends on the dispute mentioned above. Assuming that the thickness of the boards was one cubit, following R. Nechemia, we reach a total of 41 cubits.

 

            How, then, were the curtains – the total length of which was 40 cubits – placed upon the Mishkan?

 

Resting the curtains from east to west leaves the bottom cubit of the western wall exposed, but the entire roof and the rest of the western wall covered by the Mishkan.

 

Resting the curtains, which were 28 cubits wide, along the width of the Mishkan, which totals 32 cubits, leaves the 2 bottom cubits exposed on both the northern side and the southern side. (One cubit corresponds to the bottom end of the board and the second cubit corresponds to the sockets.)

 

According to this explanation, the curtains of the Mishkan completely cover the structure. In the west, one exposed cubit remains – the cubit of the sockets. In the north and in the south, two exposed cubits remain at the bottom – a cubit of boards and a cubit of the sockets.

 

This basic division is brought by Rashi (who decides in accordance with R. Nechemia that the boards were one cubit thick all the way up):

 

This is what is meant by the expression "makbilot," "one opposite the other." In the Targum, the translation of "neged" ("opposite") is "lekavel." The curtains were twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide, so when they joined the five curtains together [along their lengths] it followed that their width was twenty cubits. The same was the case with the other section. The Mishkan was thirty cubits in length from east to west, for it is said (39:23): "Twenty boards for the south side (which was the long side of the Mishkan) southward," and the same is stated with reference to the north side; and as each board was one cubit and a half in breadth you have thirty cubits from east to west. The width of the Mishkan from north to south was ten cubits, for it is said (36:27, 28): "And for the side of the dwelling westward he made six boards… and two boards… for the corners of the dwelling," so you have ten cubits. [This appears to give a breadth of twelve cubits, but each of the corner boards stood partly behind the thickness of the adjoining board that stood at right angles with it, and as the thickness was one cubit it took a cubit on each side from the inside measurement.] I shall explain these verses each in its place. They spread the curtains with their length over the breadth of the Mishkan, whereby the ten middle cubits served as a roofing for the inside over the width of the Mishkan and a cubit on each side [of these ten cubits to cover] the thickness of the boards which were one cubit thick, so that there remained altogether sixteen cubits – eight hanging over on the north side and eight on the south side, covering the vertical boards, which were ten cubits in height; consequently the two lowest cubits [of the boards] were left showing. The breadth of the curtains after having been joined together was forty cubits, twenty cubits for each section. Thirty cubits of these served as a roofing for the inside of the Mishkan over its length, and one cubit for the thickness of the tops of the boards of the west side and one more cubit to cover the thickness of the columns in the east side – for there were no boards in the east side but there were five columns on the hooks of which the screen was spread and hung as a kind of curtain (27:10). Thus, there remained eight cubits, which hung on the back of the Mishkan on the west side, leaving the two lowest cubits showing. This I have found in the Baraita of 49 Middot. But in tractate Shabbat (8b) it is stated that the curtains did not cover the thickness of the columns on the east side, and consequently there were nine cubits of the curtains hanging on the back of the Mishkan. The text of this section supports this view, since it states (v. 33): "And you shall hang up the partition veil under the catches." For if it were as the Baraita states the partition veil would have been distant from the catches one cubit to the west. (Shemot 26:5)

 

2. THE CURTAINS OF GOATS' HAIR – THAT WERE PLACED ON THE CURTAINS OF THE MISHKAN

 

            Each curtain was 30 cubits by 4 cubits. All together, there were 11 curtains and they were divided into two sections, one with 6 curtains and the other with 5 curtains. It is reasonable to assume (although this is not explicitly stated in the verses) that the section containing 6 curtains was on the eastern side, and that the section containing 5 curtains was on the western side. (This is based primarily on the assumption that the doubling of the sixth curtain in the forefront of the Mishkan was on the side of the entrance on the east.) The total length of the two sections of curtains of goats' hair was 44 cubits X 30 cubits.

 

            Regarding the east-west axis, assuming that we also take into account the thickness of the boards on the west side, the total - which includes the 30 cubits of the roof of the Mishkan, the 1 cubit of the thickness of the boards, and the 10 cubits of the height of the western wall – is 41 cubits.

 

            One cubit remains behind the Mishkan on the west side, the remnant that remains over the back of the Mishkan (based on Shemot 26:12),[3] and two cubits remain in the front on the east side ("And you shall double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the Mishkan" - Shemot 26:9).

 

            On the north-south axis, the width of the curtain is 30 cubits. The roof of the Mishkan, the thickness of the boards, and the northern and southern boards together total 32 cubits. Thus, on the north-south axis, the curtains of goats' hair cover the roof of the Mishkan, as well as the northern and southern boards. The cubit of the sockets remains exposed and is not covered by the tent.

 

            To summarize – based on the viewpoint of R. Nechemia that the thickness of the boards at the top was a cubit, it turns out that the Mishkan covered the boards in the following manner:

 

            On the western side: the wall of boards to the exclusion of the silver sockets.

On the northern and southern sides: the walls up to 8 cubits; one cubit of the boards was exposed, as was the cubit of the sockets.

 

(According to R. Yehuda, on the western side, the Mishkan was fully covered, whereas on the northern and southern sides, only the silver sockets were left exposed.)

 

            The Ohel (the curtains of goats' hair) provided full coverage on the western side - the entire wall including the sockets - with a remnant of a cubit. On the northern and southern sides, only the cubit of the sockets remained exposed.

 

            (According to R. Yehuda, on the western side, the Ohel covered the entire wall including the sockets, and the remnant measured two cubits, the size of half a curtain. On the northern and southern sides, it covered the entire wall and the silver sockets.)

 

THE COVERS AND THE STRUCTURE

 

            We must consider the significance of the relationship between the coverings and the structure itself according to the two positions.

 

            Regarding the covering of the Mishkan: What is the significance according to R. Nechemia, who draws a clear distinction between the western side of the Holy of Holies, where the silver sockets are exposed, and the northern and southern sides, where a cubit of the boards is also exposed? What is the significance according to R. Yehuda, who says that on the western side of the Holy of Holies everything is covered, whereas on the northern and southern sides the silver sockets are exposed? According to both views, a distinction is made between the western side and the northern and southern sides.

 

            Regarding the covering of the Ohel, the curtains of goats' hair: According to R. Nechemia, why is there a difference between the western side, where everything is covered, and the northern and southern sides, where the silver sockets are exposed? Only according to R. Yehuda is there no distinction between the different sides, the entire structure being covered from top to bottom.[4]

 

            The Rashbam makes the calculations and decides in favor of the view of R. Yehuda:

           

"And you shall double the sixth curtain:" That is to say, half of it hangs down in the forefront of the Ohel, and half of the last [curtain] will remain behind the Mishkan two cubits past the curtains of the Mishkan. How so? The ten lower [curtains] when they are connected together – their length is 40 [cubits] and their width is 28 [cubits]. And the Mishkan was 30 cubits long, for the 20 boards on the north side and the 20 on the south side total 30 cubits, for the width of [each] board was a cubit and a half. When they are spread over the Mishkan, their length along the length of the Mishkan was 30 cubits, and 10 cubits hung behind the Mishkan; and on the northern side and on the southern side, of the 28 cubits, there were 10 over the Mishkan, and on the sides 9 [cubits] hung on this side on the northern wall, and 9 on the southern wall. And when the curtains of goats' hair was spread on top of them, which were 44 cubits long – a half curtain which is 2 cubits was doubled over downwards, and 30 were on the Mishkan, and 12 remained. 10 hung down behind the Mishkan, the same as the bottom curtains, and half of the remaining curtain, which was two cubits, past the bottom [curtains]. And when the width, which was 30 cubits after the curtains were connected, was spread over the width of the Mishkan which was 10 cubits, there were 10 cubits hanging on the northern side, and similarly on the southern side. You find that they extended past the lower [curtains] a cubit on this side and a cubit on the other side, for these were 9 on this side and nine on the other side, and these were 10. This is what the verse states: "And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side… over the sides of the Mishkan" (v. 13), to cover the cubit of the sockets to the ground. For the boards were ten cubits with the sockets. (Commentary to Shemot 26:9)

 

            Thus far, we have spoken about the way in which the inner curtains and the Ohel were placed on the Mishkan. The Netziv has a most novel position regarding the manner in which the coverings were placed one upon the other.

 

"To be a covering over the Mishkan" – It is not actually a covering of the linen curtains, but rather a separate "tent." And perhaps there was a handbreadth of air between them, for "there is no tent less than a handbreadth." And they put poles between them one handbreadth wide. And the reason that this is not mentioned in the Torah is, as I wrote above (25:26), that the Torah only mentions that which corresponds to something in the story of creation.

And there were two tents, a lower tent of linen curtains and above it a tent of curtains of goats' hair. And thus it was in the Temple, as we find in Pesachim (86a): "The attic of the Holy of Holies was more severe than the Holy of Holies, etc." And this too we learned from the fact that the clasps of the curtains of goats' hair were in the front, as will be explained below (v. 9). Thus, the outer curtain also had more of the sanctity of the Holy of Holies than did the lower curtains. (Shemot 26:7)

 

            The Netziv's main novelty is his understanding that the two curtains were separated by a handbreadth of air, and that poles a handbreadth wide were placed between them. It is interesting that he views the curtains of goat's hair as a separate tent, and that in a certain sense it has greater sanctity than the linen curtains of the Mishkan, just as in the Temple the attic of the Holy of Holies had greater sanctity than the Holy of Holies.

 

            It is important to note that this is a very novel position, and it is difficult to find even a hint to this in the plain sense of the Scriptural text. We only bring his position due to its great novelty.

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE COVERINGS

 

            What is the significance of the fact that the linen curtains of the Mishkan cover the structure of boards and golden clasps, whereas the curtains of goats' hair cover the silver sockets as well?

 

            Our assumption is that the answer to this question depends on the essential nature of each of the coverings, the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

            We shall later see[5] that, true to its name, the Mishkan represents the presence of the Shekhina, whereas the Ohel Mo'ed, also true to its name, represents the meeting place between God and the people of Israel. Accordingly, the curtains of the Mishkan, which represent the resting of the Shekhina from the perspective of God, cover the main structure of the Mishkan, represented by the gold-plated boards of the Mishkan, whereas the curtains of the Ohel Mo'ed - the curtains of goats' hair – represent the meeting point between God and Israel.

 

            The silver sockets were built from the half-shekels that all of Israel contributed to the Mishkan. They constitute the basis and foundation of all of Israel for the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan. According to this understanding, there is a full correspondence between the essence of each of the coverings and the parts of the structure that they cover.

 

            We shall expand upon this idea in the next lecture.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] R. Meir Shpiegelman has written extensively on this topic in various places, and we shall follow him on some of the issues.

[2] See R. Makover's book, Otzar Ha-Mishkan (published by Danny Sefarim) for helpful illustrations of the various components of the Mishkan.

[3] It is clear that according to R. Yehuda the verses may be understood in simpler fashion, for the verse in Shemot 26:12 states: "And the remnant that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the Mishkan" – the half-curtain, according to the plain sense, is two cubits. Acording to our calculation, based on the viewpoint of R. Nechemia, there is only one cubit, and this is less than half a curtain.

[4] We are unable to decide between the two views. In any event, it makes sense to preserve the internal dimensions of the structure as 30 X 10 cubits. There is good reason to decide in accordance with R. Yehuda, but the entire matter requires much additional study.

[5] We will expand upon this idea in the next lecture, and we will adduce proofs to this assertion. In this lecture, we relate exclusively to the issue of the coverings of the structure.