The Mishkan

  • Harav Baruch Gigi







With gratitude and in honor of the bar mitzvah,
this year b'ezrat Hashem, of our twin sons,
Michael and Joshua - Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise



The Mishkan

Translated by Kaeren Fish



The commentators are divided over the question of when it was that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to build the Mishkan. Some maintain that the parshiot of Sefer Shemot recorded in chronological order, such that the command precedes the sin of the golden calf.  Others believe that the command was given after and in response to the sin, after it was clear that for Bnei Yisrael – at least at that time – God’s transcendental reality in the world was not sufficient; they could not maintain a complete physical severance from God and needed some tangible manifestation of His Presence in their midst.


Rashi’s well-known position (31:18) is that “The Torah does not follow chronological order. The sin of the golden calf preceded by far the command to fashion the Mishkan.”


Ramban (33:7) disagrees:


“Rashi wrote… ‘and the Torah does not follow chronological order.’ But this does not seem correct to me, for what reason is there to mention this [i.e., the command to build the Mishkan] here, in the middle of the narrative [if it did not actually take place at this point]?”


Ramban’s position, here as elsewhere, is that the order of the Torah does follow the chronology of the events that it records. His approach in our context implies that the construction of the Mishkan is a fundamental, essential component in the life of the nation, rather than just an act of repair following the sin of the golden calf – since, in his view, the construction of the Mishkan had already been commanded before that incident occurred.


In his introduction to Sefer Shemot, Ramban develops this idea:


“When they left Egypt, even though they had emerged from the house of slavery still they were considered exiles, for they were in a land that was not their own, wandering about in the wilderness. And when they came to Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan, and the Holy One, blessed be He, restored His Presence to their midst, they regained the level of their forefathers, who had enjoyed God’s Presence over their tents, and they themselves became His chariot, [as it were], and then they were considered truly redeemed. And therefore this Book (Shemot) ends with the completion of the matter of the Mishkan and of God’s glory filling it perpetually.”


Thus, the redemption of Am Yisrael did not end with the Exodus from Egypt, nor even with the giving of the Torah. Redemption means a life lived before God, and on the national level – Am Yisrael representing a “chariot for the Divine Presence.” A person who lives a full and interesting life, but bereft of any consciousness of standing before God, is not redeemed. Thus, the Mishkan is an essential part of the national life of Am Yisrael, granting the nation the title of “chariot for the Divine Presence.”


The presence of the Mishkan is a continuation of the experience of Sinai, and a foundation for God’s perpetual presence in the midst of the encampment, creating a life of holiness. Without the Mishkan, Am Yisrael is not living that life of holiness before God.


“Then they regained the level of their forefathers” – which forefathers? Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who “hosted” God in their tents, as it were, as a matter of course: “And God appeared to him at Alonei Mamrei while he sat at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Bereishit 18:1)!


God cannot be revealed to every individual in the nation of Israel; hence He chose to let His Presence rest in one place – the Mishkan – in order to offer every individual member of the nation the possibility of a redeemed and holy life with an awareness of God’s Presence in their midst:


“Let them make Me a Mishkan, that I may dwell in their midst” (25:8).