Lecture 93: The Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed Testimony and Meeting, The Tents of Kedar and the Curtains of Shlomo

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

LECTURE 93: THE MISKHAN AND THE OHEL MO’ED
TESTIMONY AND MEETING,

THE TENTS OF KEDAR AND THE CURTAINS OF SHLOMO

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

TESTIMONY (EDUT) AND MEETING (YI’UD)

 

            In continuation of what we said in previous lectures regarding the relationship between the Mishkan,[1] which is chiefly connected to the Holy of Holies, and the Ohel Mo'ed, which is primarily connected to the Heikhal, we will now add another layer that provides additional meaning to this distinction.[2]

 

            In previous lectures, we brought three main understandings regarding what is meant by the word "edut" (testimony) in the expression "Mishkan Ha-Edut":

 

  • The ark itself, which is called in several places "the ark of testimony."
  • The tablets of the law – "the tablets of testimony."
  • The Torah itself, which is called "testimony."

 

These three understandings relate to an object, the place of which is in the Holy of Holies: the ark, the tablets that lay inside it, or the Torah itself. The tablets and the Torah are undoubtedly a written expression of God's will and of the commandments given to the people of Israel, which tell them how to behave. The tablets are the written word of God given to Moshe in God's own hand, as it were. The Torah – whether it was given in bits and pieces or as a single unit – is the direct word of God to Moshe.

 

The ark contains the tablets,[3] and the Torah rests in the Holy of Holies (either in the ark itself or on a shelf alongside it, two opinions in the gemara in Menachot). The Torah and the tablets are clear expressions of God's revelation to man. This testimony is testimony in the simplest and deepest sense to the entry into a covenant between God and the people of Israel. The Torah and the tablets are written expressions of this covenant.

 

It turns out, then, that in the Holy of Holies there is the ark, the tablets, and the Torah, all of which attest to the covenant between God and the people of Israel. Accordingly, the term "Mishkan Ha-Edut" expresses the dimension of revelation, of Divine presence, and of the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

 

As opposed to the Holy of Holies/the Mishkan, which is the site of testimony, the Holy/the Heikhal is the site of the meeting, of the encounter between God and the people of Israel. The "meeting place" is the place where God meets someone. Whom does God meet? Sometimes, He meets with Moshe and sometimes He meets with Israel.

 

Thus, for example, in God's command to Moshe regarding the building of the ark, it says:

 

And you shall put the kaporet above, upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Shemot 25:21-22)

 

On the simple level, the meeting mentioned here is directed at the site of the kaporet and the ark of testimony mentioned in the previous verse.

 

            Once again, in the commandment regarding the copper brass altar, God says to Moshe:

 

And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the kaporet that is over the testimony, where I will meet with you. (Shemot 30:6)

 

The altar is located in the Heikhal, but it is precisely aligned with the kaporet and the ark of the testimony. This is the place where God meets with Moshe. The Torah repeats this idea in its command regarding the preparation of the incense (ibid. v. 36).

 

In other cases, the “meeting” is with Israel, as, for example, in connection with the rods of the tribal princes:

 

And you shall lay them up in the Ohel Mo'ed, before the testimony, where I will meet with you (lakhem [plural]). (Bamidbar 17:19)

 

Similarly, at the end of the section dealing with the daily offering, the Torah says:

 

This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak there to you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by My glory. (Shemot 29:42-43)

 

            Where does God engage in meeting? It is clear that the Divine word issues forth from above the kaporet, between the two keruvim. But from where does Moshe hear God's word?

 

            The Sifrei in Parashat Naso (58) addresses this question, citing a contradiction between the verses and its resolution:

 

"And I will speak with you from above the kaporet" (Shemot 25:22). And elsewhere it says, "And the Lord called to Moshe, and spoke to him out of the Ohel Mo'ed saying" (Vayikra 1:1) – this refers to the Mishkan outside the veil. Thus, the two verses contradict each other. A third verse comes and resolves the contradiction between them: "And when Moshe was gone into the Ohel Mo'ed to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from above the kaporet that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two keruvim; and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89). Moshe would enter the Mishkan, and once he came into the entrance, a voice would descend from heaven to between the keruvim, and from there it would go out and be heard by Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

            This is also how Rashi explains the matter in his commentary to Bamidbar 7:29. He first cites the Sifrei and then says that the voice went forth from heaven to between the two keruvim, and from there it went out to the Ohel Mo'ed. According to this understanding, it turns out that the place from which Moshe heard the voice issuing forth from between the two keruvim was the Ohel Mo'ed, the Heikhal. The place of speech was the Holy of Holies and the place of hearing was the Holy.

 

            In his commentary to the verses cited above describing the offering of the daily sacrifice (Shemot 29:42-43), Rashi cites Baraita De-Melekhet Ha-Mishkan, chap. 14, to clarify the location of the meeting place. The verse to a place “where I will meet you to speak there to you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel.” Where is the "there" appearing twice in these verses?

 

            It may be suggested that the reference is to the site of the altar at the entrance to the Ohel Mo'ed:

 

Some of our Rabbis learn from here that it was from above the brass altar that the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke with Moshe after the Mishkan was erected… But some say that He spoke from above the kaporet of the ark, as it is said, "And I will speak to you from above the kaporet" (Shemot 25:22), and that the words, ""where I will meet you" which are said here are not used in reference to the altar, which was at the entrance of the Ohel Mo'ed, but in reference to the Ohel Mo'ed itself, which is mentioned in this verse.  

 

This baraita brings another viewpoint, according to which the meeting place was above the golden altar in the Holy.

 

            There are thus three views regarding the location of the meeting that took place between God and the people of Israel:

 

1)      Above the kaporet, between the two keruvim, in the Holy of Holies.

2)      Above the incense altar in the Holy.

3)      Above the burnt offering altar in the courtyard.

 

As stated above, according to one view, the meeting took place above the golden incense altar, which was precisely aligned with the ark of testimony. According to this understanding, the place of testimony was in the Holy of Holies, whereas the place of meeting was in the Holy, with the voice issuing forth from between the two keruvim.

 

There is clearly a close and essential connection between the place that expresses the testimony and the place that expresses the meeting, especially according to the assumption that the place from which the speech issued forth was the Holy of Holies. There is a direct connection between the place that expresses the written testimonial that is closest to the presence of the Shekhina and the place where the Shekhina meets with man – with Moshe who represents the people of Israel.

 

There is, however, another dimension to this matter regarding the speech itself in the Holy of Holies.[4] We must consider the relationship between the tablets and the written Torah resting in or alongside the ark and God's words to Moshe and the people of Israel from above the kaporet between the two keruvim. The speech between the two keruvim expresses in great measure the Oral Law, the law that renews itself, the Torah and commandments given to Moshe in view of reality.

 

In this sense, the ark and the keruvim represent, in essence, the Written Law with the Oral Law. What this means is that God meets with Israel from above the place where the written contract containing the covenant between God and the people of Israel is physically found. This physical proximity seems to teach us that the Torah is one; it has a written dimension – the Written Law - and it has a renewable dimension – the Oral Law - and they are connected to one another. The Oral Law explains the Written Law, and the one needs the other. In addition, the place of both of them is in the Holy of Holies, in the place which expresses more than anywhere else God's revelation and the Shekhina's presence in the world.

 

What is interesting, according to this understanding, is that there is a certain parallel between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed, on the one hand, and the Written Law and the place from which God met with Moshe and the people of Israel, on the other.

 

The Mishkan, which expresses the Shekhina's presence in the world, is connected to the Holy of Holies – the place where God's presence in the world reveals itself in the Written Law and in the tablets of the law, which represent the written covenant between God and the people of Israel.

 

The Ohel Mo'ed, the place of the encounter and meeting between God and the people of Israel, is the place in which Moshe stands and hears the voice that issues forth from between the two keruvim with Torah and mitzvot, the Oral Law that is not a fixed and sealed Torah, but rather a Torah that renews itself and reveals itself to the people of Israel wherever they are.

 

According to this, there is a parallel between the essence of the Holy of Holies and the vessels found therein and the inner curtains of the Mishkan, and there is a parallel between the essence of the Holy and the curtains of the Ohel Mo'ed that lie above the curtains of the Mishkan.

 

Similarly, in the Holy of Holies itself, there is a parallel between the ark containing the tablets and the Written Law and the inner curtain, and between the kaporet and the keruvim and the curtains of the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

From here we come to the understanding that there is an inner-essential connection between the vessels and the curtains, similar to what we cited from the Meshekh Chokhma regarding the parallel between the walls and structure of the Mishkan and the curtains above it.

 

It follows that there is an exceedingly interesting parallel between the two vessels in the Holy of Holies, the ark, on the one hand, and the kaporet and the keruvim, on the other, and the Mishkan and the curtains of goats' hair (the inner curtain and the tent above it) and between the general relationship between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.

 

THE TENTS OF KEDAR AND THE CURTAINS OF SHLOMO

 

            There is room for additional consideration of the relationship between the curtains of the Mishkan and the curtains of the Ohel Mo'ed – the curtains of goats' hair.[5]

 

            As we already mentioned, the curtains of goats' hair are curtains characteristic of shepherds in the wilderness in their form, material, and in the structure of a residence whose basic roofing is curtains of goats' hair.

 

Below the curtains of goats' hair lay the curtains of the Mishkan. From the perspective of the material from which these curtains were made, and from the perspective of the form of their connection, these curtains were far more magnificent. In a certain sense, they bring to mind royal curtains.

 

It may be proposed that these two curtains express two forms of God's governance of the people of Israel – as shepherd and as king. An allusion to this is found in a verse in Shir Ha-shirim:

 

I am black, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Shlomo. (Shir Ha-shirim 1:5)

 

            It is possible that we have here a two-fold parallelism: "black" corresponds to "the tents of Kedar," and "comely" corresponds to "the curtains of Shlomo."

 

            The tents of Kedar are the tents of shepherds; the curtains of Shlomo are royal curtains. In this sense, the black curtains are the outer ones and the curtains of artistic work are the inner ones. The simple curtains are the outer ones, and they protect the inner more magnificent curtains.

 

            This twofold image expresses the two forms of governance through which God governs Israel.

 

            On the one hand, the guidance of a shepherd characterizes the nomadic reality of the wilderness, guidance that reflects simplicity, great proximity, and the shepherd's intimate acquaintance with his flock. In addition to the shepherd's concern about the life of his flock (pasture and the like), it is the shepherd's role to protect his flock, and when necessary, to fight on their behalf.

 

            On the other hand, a king rules his kingdom; a king sits in judgment; a king has royal manners; a king builds magnificent royal buildings; a king rules over his people from above, at a distance from his subjects.

 

            The desert-like curtains of goats' hair are characteristic of nomadic life, of transient and changing reality, of a more vulnerable and sensitive reality that is very dependent upon weather conditions, of a simpler life. In contrast, the royal curtains of the Mishkan represent splendor and royalty, distant and institutionalized governance that expresses stability and order.

 

            The outer curtains of goats' hair are more connected to the essence of a shepherd, who is found outside the house, whereas the inner curtains, the Mishkan, are connected to the king, who is found inside his house.[6]

 

            These two forms of governance together express the mutual connection between the people of Israel and God - on the one hand, closeness, on the other hand, distance; on the one hand, love, on the other hand, fear.

 

            In the past,[7] we dealt with the various aspects of the Mikdash, with the amazing combination of fear and love in one place, which expresses the idea that there is no essential contradiction between the two. We have here a twofold governance, on the one hand, and the unity of opposites, on the other.

 

            According to this understanding, it is fascinating to see how the curtains of the Mishkan and the curtains of goats' hair symbolize the different modes of Divine governance. The very structure of the Mishkan, which symbolizes the presence of the Shekhina in the world, itself symbolizes the modes of God's governance of the world.

 

            In a certain sense, it is possible to set up a correspondence between these two dimensions and King David and King Shlomo, who express these two different modes of governance.

 

            David began his life as a shepherd, and later was pursued by Shaul until he rose to the throne. He was at all times connected to the tribes and dependent upon them. David built his house in the city, and he fought the wars of Israel in order to establish his monarchy.

 

            In contrast, his son Shlomo was born into the royal court and lived a life of richness and splendor in a time of economic prosperity, rest from the enemies, peace all around, and recognition of this kingdom on the part of the nations of the world. Shlomo built the house of God opposite the city.

 

            It is interesting to connect these reflections to the fact that David and Shlomo together built the house of God, and without a doubt each of them left his mark on the character of the Temple. Owing to his seeking out of the place, his search, his yearnings, his finding of the place, his acquisition of the place with the money of all of Israel, his building of the altar, his drawing up of plans, his gathering of the building materials and craftsmen, and even his setting up of the mishmarot and ma'amadot – David was the soul of the Mikdash.

 

            It would appear that Shlomo received everything all prepared and ready, and his basic contribution in the end was to actually build the Temple, to execute the project, to take all of David's preparations and turn them into a great and important structure as part of the complex of royal buildings and the house of God.

 

            It is possible to explain these matters differently. It is possible to argue that the various curtains point to a historical process that the people of Israel went through in their wanderings. According to such an approach, the desert-like curtains of goats' hair symbolize the days of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness and the period of a portable Mishkan that could be dismantled, whereas the inner curtains, the Mishkan, symbolize the period of permanence and of the kingdom of Israel.

 

            In this symbolic sense, the two sets of curtains enclosing the boards of the Mishkan symbolize two fundamental states in the history of the people of Israel – the state of wandering in the wilderness and the state of permanence in Eretz Yisrael and the building of the kingdom.

 

            In the next lecture, we will deal with the relationship between the Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed in the context of the various modes of the resting of the Shekhina.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] To understand this lecture, it may be helpful to look at the following picture of the goat hair coverings:  http://www.etzion.org.il/vbm/archive/15-jeru/08yeriot.jpg. It should be noted that this picture follows the viewpoint of R. Nechemya who maintains that the curtains of goats' hair reached the sockets, but did not cover them. In the lecture, we follow the viewpoint of R. Yehuda, who maintains that the curtains of goats' hair covered the cubit of sockets as well.

[2] I reached this understanding through the help of my revered teacher, R. Yaakov Medan.

[3] We shall not involve ourselves here with the disagreement among the Tannaim and the Rishonim whether there was one ark or two arks, one containing the first tablets and the second containing the second tablets.

[4] This issue is directly connected to the relationship between the kaporet and the keruvim, and it requires a broad and independent discussion of its own. We will deal with this issue later in the series.

[5] I heard this idea from my revered teacher, R. Yaakov Medan.

[6] These modes of governance bring to mind our relationship to God, on the one hand, as children who are very close to their father, just as sheep are close to the shepherd, and on other hand, as servants who are very distant from their king.

[7] We dealt at length with this issue in the first lectures of this series, and we demonstrated that the Mikdash in general and the keruvim in particular represent, on the one hand, the site of God's kingdom, and on the other hand, the site of God's love for the people of Israel.