Lecture 92: The Relationship Between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed (II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

LECTURE 92: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
THE MISHKAN AND THE OHEL MO’ED (II)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            In this lecture, we will continue our discussion of the relationship between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed. Our primary focus will be on the relationship between the two coverings – the linen inner curtains of the Mishkan and the goats' hair curtains of the Ohel.

 

            One of the most instructive points regarding the relationship between the two coverings was voiced by the Ibn Ezra in his commentary to the following verse:

 

And you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain of the second coupling. (Shemot 26:10)

 

The Ibn Ezra comments:

 

And you shall make the number of loops on the curtains of the Ohel as the number of the loops of the Mishkan, and similarly regarding the clasps. Only that the loops of the Ohel and its clasps were not aligned with the loops of the Mishkan and its clasps, but rather behind them two cubits towards the west.

 

            The Ibn Ezra argues that the loops of the Ohel – the goats' hair curtains that rested on top of the curtains of the Mishkan – were not precisely aligned with the loops of the Mishkan. Accordingly, if we calculate the positioning of the curtains based on the data in the verses, we find that the brass clasps of the goats' hair curtains were two cubits west of the golden clasps of the curtains of the Mishkan.

 

            The Netziv also tries to reconcile the difference between the Mishkan, about which it says, "Upon the edge of the one curtain that is at the edge of the first coupling; and likewise shall you make in the uttermost edge of the curtain, that is outmost in the second coupling" (Shemot 26:4), and the goats' hair Ohel, about which it says that the loops are made upon the edge of the curtain in both couplings (Shemot 26:10):

 

We learned that the word "upon" ("al") implies that he should move slightly away from the edge of the curtain, and there sew the loops, which is not the case regarding "in the edge," which implies that it should be sewn on the actual edge. The reason is that the one curtain rested half on the Holy of Holies and half behind the Holy of Holies, and the second curtain rested on the length of the Heikhal, which is the Holy. And the loops were aligned with the veil that separated between the Holy and the Holy of Holies, as I wrote below (v. 33) on "And you shall hang up the veil under the clasps." Now the loops of blue indicate a lofty connection to sanctity, as I wrote above. For this reason, in the first half, which is the place of the Holy of Holies, the loops spread out on the inside towards the west. But in the second curtain, which was over the Heikhal, which is unconsecrated in relation to the Holy of Holies, the blue ended at the actual edge, the place of connection, and not further toward the east. This was not the case regarding the loops of the goats' hair curtains, for even though presumably the loops were also of blue, for we learn the unspecified from the explicit, nevertheless, the connection was on the inside two cubits to the west, as will be explained (v. 9). If so, both [sets of] loops were over the place of the Holy of Holies. Therefore, both of them were "upon the edge" of the curtain (Shemot 26:4).

 

            The Netziv repeats this idea in his commentary to Shemot 26:9, where he explains in greater detail how this gap of two cubits comes into being:

 

"And you shall double the curtain, etc." Had the intention been to explain the place of the surplus, its place would have been in verse 12: "And the remnant that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, you shall double in the forefront of the Mishkan, and the half curtain, etc." Moreover, the wording, "And you shall double the sixth curtain," implies the entire curtain, but in truth it was only half of it. Rather, the principle that Scripture is teaching us is that larger coupling with the six curtains should be on the outside toward the forefront of the tent, and not the other way around. If so, that the sixth curtain was on the outside, the clasps connecting the two couplings were two cubits in towards the Holy of Holies. This is what I wrote above on v. 4, that for this reason, it is written regarding both of them (v. 10), "upon the edge of the curtain."

 

Cassutto explains similarly in his commentary to the book of Shemot.[1]

 

THE GAP BETWEEN COVERINGS

 

            We will first explain how the gap is created between the inner curtains of the Mishkan and the goats' hair curtains of the Ohel, and afterwards we shall try to understand the meaning of this difference.

 

            The Torah describes in precise fashion the relationship between the veil that separates between the Holy and the Holy of Holies and the loops and clasps between the two couplings of the Mishkan:

 

And you shall hang up the veil under the clasps, that you may bring in there within the veil the ark of the Testimony; and the veil shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy.[2] (Shemot 26:33)

 

            The Rashbam explains:

 

"And you shall hang up the veil under the clasps" – of gold, which are at the end of the twenty cubits of the curtains spread out from the front of the Mishkan. For the Mishkan was thirty cubits long and the clasps were in the middle of the forty cubits of the ten curtains. It turns out that from the veil to the eastern entrance there is the twenty cubits of the Heikhal, and from it towards the west there is the ten cubits of the Holy of Holies.

 

In other words, the place where the two couplings of the curtains of the Mishkan were connected was precisely over the veil that separated between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. What follows with respect to the curtains is that they are connected precisely in the middle; twenty cubits to the east is the Heikhal, and twenty cubits to the west is the Holy of Holies, 10 cubits from east to west, and 10 cubits of the western wall from top to bottom.

 

            The goats' hair curtains were placed as follows: The easternmost curtain extended two cubits east of the beginning of the structure (with the curtain folded into two). There were six curtains in the eastern coupling, the width of each curtain being four cubits. Thus, the western edge of the sixth curtain was 22 cubits west of the entrance (24 minus 2).

 

            The curtains of the Mishkan began at the eastern entrance to the structure. The eastern coupling was comprised of 5 curtains, each curtain 4 cubits wide, for a total of 20 cubits. Thus, it turns out that the loops and the clasps that connected the two couplings were situated twenty cubits west of the entrance to the structure, exactly above the veil separating between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. The loops and clasps that connected the two curtains of goats' hair were situated 22 cubits west of the entrance of the structure, 2 cubits west of the veil separating between the Holy and the Holy of Holies – that is, two cubits into the Holy of Holies. This, in essence, is what the Ibn Ezra, the Netziv, and Cassutto all argue.

 

What is the significance of this discrepancy of two cubits?

 

On the simplest level, it may be proposed that there is a certain expanse within the Holy of Holies that essentially belongs to both the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed. In order to better understand this, let us go back and examine the fundamental difference between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

In many senses, it is possible to point to the two primary objectives of the Mishkan, which find expression in the two names of the Mishkan.

 

The first objective of the Mishkan is to serve as the site of the resting of the Shekhina, the place where the Shekhina rests among the people of Israel. In this sense, the Mishkan gives expression to God's presence in the world; it is the place where He watches over the world and is present in it. This objective finds expression in the term "Mishkan," in the inner curtain and in the Holy of Holies.

 

The second objective of the Mishkan is to serve as the place where the people of Israel come to serve God in His house, the place where the encounter between God and the people of Israel takes place.[3] This objective finds expression in the term "Ohel Mo'ed," in the curtains of goats' hair, and in the Holy/the Heikhal.

 

Both the Mishkan – the inner curtains of fine twisted linen, of blue, purple, and scarlet, with keruvim of artistic work – and the Ohel, the curtains of goats' hair, covered the entire structure. But the primary resting of the Shekhina was in the Holy of Holies, and the primary encounter between God and Israel through the Divine service was in the Heikhal, the Holy.

 

The first commandment regarding the building of the Mikdash, "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8), defines two states – the creation of a sanctified site by the people of Israel, in the wake of which God dwells among the people of Israel. The component of the creation of the Mikdash is connected to the Ohel Mo'ed, to the curtains of goats' hair, whereas the element of the resting of the Shekhina is connected to the Mishkan and the inner curtains.

 

According to what we have argued, there are two cubits west of the veil that separates between the Holy and the Holy of Holies that express both dimensions. On the one hand, from God's side, they are in the Holy of Holies, owing to the Mishkan, the inner curtains. On the other hand, from Aharon's side, they are in the Heikhal, owing to the Ohel Mo'ed, the curtains of goats' hair.

 

It is clear that the site of the encounter with the Shekhina, where the inner service takes place (the lighting of the candlestick, the burning of the incense, and the placement of the showbread), must be connected to the place where the Shekhina rests. The connection between the inner curtains and the curtains of goats' hair, between the Holy of Holies and the Holy, is an inner, essential, and necessary connection, and therefore both the Mishkan and the Ohel cover and roof the entire structure, even though the primary resting of the Shekhina is in the Holy of Holies and the primary site of the encounter between God and Israel is in the Holy.

 

The characteristics of each part of the structure are clear:

 

The Mishkan is directed primarily at the Holy of Holies. It contains no vessels related to service – the ark and the kaporet and the keruvim are not vessels used in the Divine service. Each entry into the Holy of Holies begins with the burning of incense, the function of which is to separate between the appearance of the Shekhina and the entry of man. Entry into the Holy of Holies is only permitted to the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur to perform the special services of the day.[4]

 

For this reason, the Torah does not relate to the possibility of service in the Mishkan in the Holy of Holies or of encounter between God and Israel in the Mishkan. In some prophetic accounts, God is described as sitting upon the keruvim, which serve as His throne. The Torah prohibits the removal of the poles from the ark (Shemot 25:15) and the site of the throne. The keruvim are winged creatures in order to emphasize that the Shekhina can remove itself from the Mikdash.

 

The role of the Holy of Holies as the site of the resting of the Shekhina found expression even in the Second Temple, when the Shekhina did not rest in Israel (Yoma 21b) and when    the Holy of Holies did not house the ark, the kaporet, or the keruvim; the inner chamber was totally empty. During this period, when the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he would rest the spoon and the pan on the even ha-shetiya (the "foundation stone"). Since there is no substitute for the site of the resting of the Shekhina, no other vessels were brought into the Holy of Holies in place of the ark, the kaporet, and the keruvim. The chamber remained empty to give expression to the Shekhina's absence.

 

This is also the reason that the inner curtain in the Mishkan was made of curtains of blue, and purple, and scarlet and linen, there being nothing like it except for the veil that leads into the structure. This is also the reason that the curtains did not cover the silver sockets that represent the people of Israel, because the Mishkan represents the site of the Shekhina's presence.

 

This difference also finds expression in the clasps that connect the curtains. Whereas the clasps connecting the two couplings of the Mishkan were made of gold, the material that was typical of the structure of the Mishkan itself, the clasps connecting the curtains of goats' hair were made of brass, the material that was characteristic of the courtyard of the Mishkan.

 

As opposed to the Holy of Holies, which was, as stated above, the site of the Mishkan, the Ohel Mo'ed was the site of the service. This point also finds expression in several points, including:

 

·         The vessels found in the Ohel Mo'ed were vessels used in the daily service, in which there was a fixed meeting with God. The people of Israel were represented in the Holy through the lighting of the ner tamid, from night to morning “before God always” (Vayikra 24:3). Similarly, the people of Israel set the showbread on the table before God at all times, “a permanent covenant” (Vayikra 24:8).

 

If the vessels in the Holy represent the furnishings found in all homes (as can be seen in the famous correspondence to the house of the Shunamit, "and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp"[5]), the bread and the permanent lamp are those things offered by the people of Israel.

 

·         The curtains of goats' hair also cover the silver sockets, which represent the people of Israel, as opposed to the Mishkan, which does not cover the silver sockets. In this context, it should be noted that the kid goats brought as sin offerings were usually brought as communal sacrifices that come to atone for the people of Israel (e.g., on the pilgrim festivals). There seems to be a certain connection between the curtains of goats' hair and the kid goats.

 

·         The two couplings of the curtains of goats' hair were connected with brass clasps. Brass is a material that was not found in the structure of the Mishkan, but only in the courtyard, the realm that clearly characterized the people of Israel, who brought their sacrifices to God on the brass altar.

 

Now that the two coverings have been clearly distinguished, each one with its own characteristics, let us return to the two cubits to the west of the veil that separates between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.[6]

 

The curtains of goats' hair were divided into two parts, dividing the Mishkan into an outer section, into which entrance is permitted, and an inner section, into which entrance is forbidden. However, the inner section of the curtains of goats' hair do not begin exactly over the veil, as one might have expected. The clasps that connect the two curtains of goats' hair are situated, as stated above, two cubits past the location of the veil, which is found exactly below the clasps that connect the curtains of the Mishkan. What is created, thereby, is an expanse of two cubits with a double standing. From the perspective of the curtains of the Mishkan, which constitute the resting place of God in His house, this expanse is part of the Holy of Holies. On the other hand, according to the location of the curtains of goats' hair, which symbolizes the Mishkan as the site of God's encounter with the people of Israel, this expanse is still not part of the Holy of Holies, and it constitutes a part of the Holy.

 

When the High Priest entered into this area, from his perspective, he still belonged in the framework of the Holy, whereas from God's perspective, he was already found in the inner sanctum, in the Holy of Holies. This double standing is what makes the High Priest's partial entry into the Holy of Holies possible. This entry necessitates the shifting of the veil two cubits inwards, for it is the veil that separates between the outer portion in which entry is permitted, and the inner portion in which it is forbidden. It would appear that this movement of the veil is achieved by way of the cloud of the incense, which serves as a veil that separates between the priest entering and the ark.

 

This issue has exceedingly important ramifications regarding the division of the structure of the Mishkan. On the simplest level, the structure can be divided into three parts:

 

The Mishkan - the inner curtains that are directed primarily at the Holy of Holies, the place where God rests His Shekhina.

 

The Ohel – the curtains of goats' hair that are directed primarily at the Holy, the Heikhal – the place where God meets the people of Israel, and they come to visit Him in his house.

 

The courtyard where the brass altar stands, which represents the offering of the sacrifices of the people of Israel.

 

In the coming shiurim, we will deal with the division of the Mishkan – the structure itself, including the Holy of Holies, as opposed to the courtyard.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Shemot 26:11, p. 246

[2] It is interesting that we learn about the location of the veil separating between the Holy and the Holy of Holies from what the Torah says about the clasps.

[3] At the beginning of our series on the Mikdash, we devoted several lectures to the topic of the functions of the Mikdash. There, we noted the various expressions of these objectives. What we said there should be joined to what we say here in this lecture.

[4] There were four entries according to Chazal: the burning of the incense, the sprinkling of the blood of the bullock, the blood of the goat, and removal of the incense spoon and pan.

[5] There is room to consider what the chair and the bed are in the Mishkan. Similarly, the analogy provides no direct reference to the incense altar. As is well-known, the incense altar was not part of the original command by God to Moshe regarding the Mishkan in Parashat Teruma, and it was only added at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh.

[6] To summarize this point, see the words of R. Meir Shpiegelman, whose approach we have followed, in his shiurim on Parashat Ha-Shavua http://www.etzion.org.il/vbm/archive/8-parsha/19teruma.php.