Shiur #05: The Functions of the Mikdash (Part I) - The Place Where God Rests His Shekhinaand the Place Where Man Worships God

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #05: The Functions of the Mikdash (Part I)

The Place Where God Rests His Shekhina and the Place Where Man Worships God


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the next five shiurim, we shall examine the essence of the Mikdash and its various functions.  In this shiur we shall focus on what we understand to be the two supreme objectives of the Mikdash: 1) the place where God rests His Shekhina; 2) the place where man serves God in His house.  We shall begin by adducing proof to this assertion, and then we will consider the many varied manifestations of this assertion in the Mikdash as well as its ramifications.


I.          IN SCRIPTURE




At the end of the dedication of the first Temple, God reveals Himself to Shlomo a second time and explains the objective of the Mikdash:


And the Lords said to him, I have heard your prayer and your supplication, that you have made before Me: I have hallowed this house, which you have built, to put My name there forever; and My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually (I Melakhim 9:3).


And the Lord appeared to Shlomo by night, and said to him, I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place to Myself for a house of sacrifice (II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:12).


            These parallel verses clearly present two essential aspects of the Temple service: "to put My name there" and a "house of sacrifice." Interestingly, the book of Melakhim – which was written during the first Temple period, during most of which  the Shekhina rested in the Temple (until the ark was stored away in the days of Yoshiyahu - see our shiurim on biblical Jerusalem, year II, shiurim 26-28) – emphasizes the putting of God's name in the place, whereas the book of Divrei Ha-yamim, which was written by Ezra during the second Temple period when the Shekhina did not rest in the Mikdash (Yoma 9b), emphasizes man's service – the sacrificial order.  In short, each book emphasizes that aspect of the Temple service that best suits the period during which it was written.  This difference also finds expression in Shlomo's description of the Mikdash to Chiram:


And, behold, I purpose to build a house to the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spoke to David my father, saying, Your son, whom I will set upon your throne in your place, he shall build the house to My name (I Melakhim 5:19).


Behold, I build a house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to Him, and to burn before Him sweet incense, and for the continual showbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the appointed seasons of the Lord our God.  This is an ordinance forever to Israel (II Divrei Ha-yamim 2:3).




            In the wake of the census and the plague, the prophet Gad reveals to David the site of the Mikdash in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, and David builds there an altar, offers sacrifices, and calls out to God.  God answers his call with fire from heaven descending upon the altar.  After this revelation, it is stated:


Then David said, This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel.  (Divrei Ha-yamim 22:1)


            David defines here the two aspects of the Mikdash: the house of God, where God rests His Shekhina and reveals Himself to Israel, and the worship of man – the altar of the burnt offering.  The Mikdash is comprised, then, of a house and an altar: a house for the Divine presence, and an altar so that man can turn to God in the place where He reveals Himself to him.




            David's words are very reminiscent of what Yaakov said when God revealed Himself to him at Bet-El.  In his dream, Yaakov saw a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching the heaven, and God standing above it.  Following this exalted vision, Yaakov says:


How dreadful is this place! This is no other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Bereishit 28:17).


            Like the ladder, which bridges between heaven and earth, Yaakov also relates to the two essential aspects of the Mikdash:[1] the resting of the Shekhina – the house of God - and man's worship – the gate of heaven, the place of prayer, where man can turn to God.[2]




            The account of the Akeida does not explicitly mention these two aspects, but they are nevertheless present in the substance of the story: on the one hand, the altar and the offering of Yitzchak as a burnt offering, and on the other hand, the Divine revelation, the angel's call from heaven, and the naming of the place, "The Lord will appear," in the sense of Divine selection of the place.




Chazal understood that the world and man were both created at Mount Moriya.  Regarding the creation of the world, we find in the Tosefta (Yoma 2:14):


There was a rock there from the days of the early prophets called Shetiya… At first the ark stood upon it.  When the ark was removed, the incense burnt in the innermost sanctuary would be burnt there.  Rabbi Yose says: The world was founded upon it, as it is stated: "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth" (Tehillim 50:2).


            Rashi explains (Yoma 54b): "Zion was created first, and clods of earth were attached around it in all directions until the far corners of the world."


            Regarding the creation of man, we find in Bereishit Rabba (14:8):


"Of the ground (adama)" – Rabbi Berakhya and Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachman: He was created from the place of his atonement, as you read: "An altar of earth (adama) you shall make unto Me" (Shemot 20:21).  The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "Behold, I will create him from the place of his atonement, and may he endure!"


            And similarly in Targum Yonatan (Bereishit 2:7, 15): "And He took dust from the site of the Temple…  And the Lord took the man from Mount Moriya, where he had been created."


            According to Chazal's description, Mount Moriya's purpose was evident from the very beginning of creation.  On the one hand, the world was created from the Holy of Holies, the site where God rested His Shekhina in the world, namely, the place which marks God's connection to the formation and maintenance of the world.  It was from the Holy of Holies, the place where God reveals His Shekhina, that the entire world – God's "hidden" revelation - was created.  On the other hand, man was created from the place where God is worshipped, the place of the earthen altar (the altar of burnt offerings, the outer alter), and this is what allows man to repair himself.  Material man, who is liable to sin, was created from the very place where he can achieve atonement.




This division at Mount Moriya between two essences – the place of the revelation of the Shekhina and the place of human worship – finds expression in the structure of the Mishkan.


            The Holy of Holies, which during the first Temple period was also called the Devir (see, for example, I Melakhim 6:5), because from there God spoke (dibbur), was meant to express the fact that the Mikdash served as the house of God and the place where He rests His Shekhina.  It was from there that the Shekhina revealed itself to Moshe and spoke to him from between the two keruvim on top of the cover on the ark (Shemot 25:22; Bamidbar 7:89).  Only once a year, on Yom Kippur, was a service performed there by the High Priest, who entered the chamber to perform four rites with the incense and the blood.  The significance of this entry is that on that day, God, as it were, invites the High Priest, as the representative of all of Israel, to enter more deeply into the place of God's Shekhina, following a process of purification and preparation.


            The vessels that are found in the Holy of Holies are not vessels used for the Divine service; these vessels – the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim – represent the resting of the Shekhina.  The ark represents the footstool of God's kingdom, as, for example, in the words of David: "As for me, I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2).  The keruvim that rest on the kaporet represent the throne itself, the seat of the Shekhina, as in the expression, "the ark of the Lord of hosts, who sits upon the keruvim" (I Shemuel 4:4).  The proof to this argument is that during the second Temple period, when the Shekhina did not rest in the Mikdash, the Holy of Holies was absolutely empty; nothing replaced the ark, the kaporet, or the keruvim.


            In contrast to the Holy of Holies, which was the innermost chamber of the Mikdash, the outer altar stood in the courtyard.  As a rule, the line that separates between the resting of the Shekhina and human worship runs between the Holy (the heikhal) and the Holy of Holies (the devir).[3] In the heikhal, the priests performed the inner service – the service connected to the table, the menora, and the incense altar, which relate to the senses of taste, sight and smell, respectively.  In the courtyard, on the outer altar, they performed the outer, more "material" service – the sacrificial order.


            This division also finds expression in the relationship between the vessels in the Holy – the table, the menora, and the incense altar and the three articles placed in the Holy of Holies, in addition to its vessels.  The Baraita in Yoma (51b) states that when the ark was concealed, the jar of manna and Aharon's staff (as well as the flask of anointing oil and the chest sent by the Pelishtim), which were also in the Holy of Holies, were also concealed.  The Torah scroll written by Moshe was also found in the Holy of Holies, as the verse states: "Take this book of the Torah, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you" (Devarim 31:26).  It seems that we can find a correspondence between these articles found in the Holy of Holies, which represent what was received from God, and the holy vessels, which represent human action directed toward Divine revelation:[4]


        ·          The table, the shulchan, symbolizes the bringing of bread on the part of man.  Corresponding to it, we find in the Holy of Holies the jug of manna – "bread from heaven" (Shemot 16:4), which gives expression to Divine Providence.

        ·          The menora symbolizes human wisdom coming from below ("Rabbi Yitzchak said: He who wishes to become wise should turn south, to become wealthy should turn north.  And your sign is: the table in the north and the menora in the south" Bava Batra 25b).  This corresponds to the Torah scroll placed alongside the ark in the Holy of Holies, which symbolizes the revelation of Divine wisdom from above.

        ·          The incense altar in many ways represents the uniqueness of priestly service (see Devarim 33:8-10: "And of Levi he said… They shall teach Yaakov Your judgments, and Israel Your Torah; they shall put incense before You…," and the Rishonim, ad loc.).  Parallel to the incense altar, the staff of Aharon that issued blossoms was placed in the Holy of Holies, as a sign of the Divine selection of the tribe of Levi.




The two vessels that best express the polarity of the two focuses of the Mikdash – the resting of the Shekhina and human worship – are the ark and the altar.  It is interesting that separate commands were issued regarding these two vessels even before the command was given to establish the Mishkan, and that, under certain circumstances, both of these vessels can exist independently even after the Mishkan was established.


1.         THE ALTAR


Following the revelation on Mount Sinai, prior to the command regarding the establishment of the Mishkan, the Torah issues a command regarding the construction of the earthen altar:


An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings, and your peace offerings, your sheep, and your oxen; in all places where I cause My name to be pronounced, I will come to you, and I will bless you.  (Shemot 20:21)


            This section, which stands on its own, gives the altar independent status even after the establishment of the Mishkan, as was the case in the period of the patriarchs and, for example, when Moshe erected an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai.  This independent status finds expression during the period when bamot were permitted, as is stated in the Mishna:


Until the Mishkan was erected, bamot were permitted… When the Mishkan was erected, bamot became forbidden… They came to Gilgal and the bamot were permitted… [When] they came to Shilo, the bamot were forbidden… [When] they came to Nov and to Giv'on, the bamot were [again] permitted… [When] they came to Jerusalem, the bamot were [again] forbidden, and were never again permitted; and it was the "inheritance" (Devarim 12:9).  (Zevachim 14:4-8)


After the sanctity of Shilo, bamot were permitted, but after the sanctification of Jerusalem, bamot were not permitted.  (Megila 1:11)


            The Rambam explains this in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (positive commandment 20):


It is true that He has said with regard to the altar, "An altar of earth you shall make unto Me" (Shemot 20:21), so that one might suppose this to be an independent commandment, apart from the commandment to build the Temple, but the true state of the case is as I will explain to you.  The literal sense of the verse refers to the time when bamot were permitted to us and we were allowed to make an altar of earth in any place and to offer sacrifices on it.  The Sages already declared that the purpose of the verse was to command us to build an altar attached to the earth, which would not be movable as it had been in the desert.  This was said by them in the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, where the verse is thus interpreted: "When you enter the land you are to make unto Me an altar attached to the ground." This being so, the commandment [about the building of the altar] is one which is binding for all time, relating to one of the parts of the Temple – that is to say, the verse in its entirety means that the altar to be built must be of stone. 


            Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai learns from this command about the primacy of the altar, a primacy that can be witnessed in many periods of our history:


Great is the [sacrificial] service, for Scripture opened with it [as the first commandment after the giving of the Torah]: "An altar of earth you shall make to Me, and you shall sacrifice on it." And similarly you find in the Tent of Meeting, where it opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated: "And the Lord called to Moshe, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord'" (Vayikra 1:1-2).  And similarly you find when they entered the Land, they opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated: "Then Yehoshua built an altar to the Lord God" (Yehoshua 8:30).  So, too, in the future, they will open with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated: "I will go into Your house with burnt offerings" (Tehillim 66:13).  And similarly you find when they returned from the exile, they opened with the [sacrificial] service, as it is stated: "And they set the altar upon its bases" (Ezra 3:3).[5]


            As is noted by the Midrash, during the period of the return from Babylonia the initial service was performed on the altar.  This altar was used for about twenty years without a Temple, as is stated in the Mishna:


Rabbi Yehoshua said: I have heard that sacrifices may be offered even though there is no Temple… because the first sanctification was valid both for its own time and for the time thereafter.  (Eduyot 8:6)


            And the Gemara states in tractate Zevachim (62a):


Rabba bar bar Chana said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Three prophets went up with them from the exile… and the third testified to them that they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple.


            That is to say, the sacrificial service can be performed on an altar on Mount Moriya even without a Temple.  In recent generations, Rav Kalischer, the Karliner Rav and many others ruled that the altar should be rebuilt and sacrifices should be offered on it even before the Temple is rebuilt.


            Rav Moshe Adas[6] notes that there are several indications that the altar enjoyed independent status even within the framework of the Mikdash:


1) It was forbidden to use iron when building the altar, as the Torah commands: "And if you will make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have defiled it" (Shemot 20:22).  Contact with an iron implement disqualifies a stone from being used for the altar, and stones were therefore taken from bedrock.  The rest of the Temple's vessels must be made of metals. 


2) The altar has a ramp, in keeping with the Torah's command: "Neither shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness be not exposed to it" (ibid. v. 23).  We do not find similar concern regarding any of the other vessels, and indeed the menora had steps which the priest ascended (Rambam, Hilkhot Bet Ha-bechira 3:11).


3) The altar must be attached to the ground, as the Torah states: "An altar of earth you shall make to me" (ibid.  1:13) – in contrast to the Temple Mount, which was built on vaults (Rambam, Hilkhot Para Aduma 2:7).


4) While in transit in the wilderness, the altar was covered with a crimson colored cloth, whereas the other vessels were all covered with a blue cloth (Bamidbar 4).


5) Most of the Mikdash stood on the territory of the tribe of Binyamin, but "a strip of the portion of Yehuda jutted out into the portion of Binyamin, upon which the altar was built" (Yoma 12a).


            Rav Adas suggests that these differences can be understood in light of the altar's significance as the focus of man's worship of God in the Temple:


1) The prohibition to use iron in the construction of the altar intimates that man's turning to God must be pure even of the thought of bloodshed.  In contrast, the other vessels of the Mikdash are made of various metals, because they represent the revelation of the Shekhina, the perfect Divine appearance in the Mikdash.


2) Turning to God demands a very high level of abstention, especially in the realm of sexual relations, and the altar therefore requires a ramp so that "your nakedness not be exposed to it." When lighting the menora, on the other hand, the priest does not turn to God, but he rather allows Divine light to appear in the world by way of the menora.


3) Building the Mikdash over vaults intimates that the Shekhina hovers up above, whereas the altar must be attached to the ground because it is wholly concerned with raising the world to God.[7]


4) During the journeys in the wilderness, the other vessels were covered with blue, which is similar to the throne of glory (Menachot 43b), but the altar was covered in crimson, which alludes to the flame of human yearning for God coming from the blood of life (see Rav S.R. Hirsch on Shemot 25:3-8).  In similar fashion, the fire on the altar, which did not cease to burn even when the altar was in transit (according to Rabbi Yehuda, Bamidbar Rabba 4, 17), symbolizes man's uninterrupted yearning for intimacy with God.


5) The Mikdash stood entirely on the territory of Binyamin, the portion of the Shekhina, which joins together the Shekhina and the land, matter and spirit.  The spiritual power of Yehuda was situated to its south and the material power of Yosef was located to its north (see our shiurim on biblical Jerusalem, year 1, shiurim 16-19 – "The Territory of Binyamin – the Territory of the Shekhina").  The altar, however, was built in the territory of Yehuda, who knew how to confess his sins and repent.


2.        The ark


The ark exists independently of the Mikdash, as well.  In Parashat Ekev, Moshe states as follows:


At that time, the Lord said to me, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me into the mountain, and make for yourself an ark of wood.  And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you did break, and you shall put them in the ark." And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and went up to the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand.  And He wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the Ten Commands… And the Lord gave them to me.  And I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they were, as the Lord commanded me.  (Devarim 10:1-5)


            The Rishonim (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, ad loc.) write that this command was issued at the end of the second period of forty days that Moshe was on Mount Sinai, and the Chizkuni identifies it with the command given in Parashat Ki-Tisa, "Hew for yourself" (Shemot 34:1).  All agree, then, that this was a command that was given prior to the construction of the Mishkan, and according to some of the Rishonim (Rashi, Seforno, Rabbenu Bachye), even before the commandment to build the Mishkan.


            The Rishonim disagree, however, about this ark.  According to Rashi, this is not the ark that was fashioned by Betzalel; following the construction of the Mishkan, there were two arks serving different functions:


And He said to me, "Hew for yourself [two tablets]," and afterwards, "Make you an ark of wood." I, however, made the ark first, because when I came with the tablets in my hand where could I place them? Now this was not the ark which Betzalel made for the Mishkan, because with the Mishkan, they did not occupy themselves until after Yom Kippur, for only when he came down from the mountain on that day did He give them the command regarding the construction of the Mishkan, and Betzalel made the Mishkan first and afterwards the ark and the other articles.  It follows, therefore, that this was another ark; and it was this that went forth with them to battle, while that which Betzalel made went forth to battle only once, in the days of Eli, and they were punished for this, for it was captured by the Pelishtim.


            The Ramban agrees that this ark was not the ark made by Betzalel, but he understands that this ark served as a temporary ark until the Mishkan was constructed; it was then put aside and replaced by the golden ark, with the kaporet and keruvim:


"And make you an ark of wood" – The meaning thereof is that you should put the tablets into this ark when you descend [the mountain].  Now this ark, including its cover, is to be entirely of wood… And the tablets should remain there until the Mishkan is made.  [Only] then, they made the ark which was covered with gold and the kaporet upon it of pure gold… And the meaning of the verse, "And there they were, as the Lord commanded me," is that the tablets were there [in the ark] until the Mishkan was made, concerning which He commanded me, "And you shall put the kaporet upon the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you" (Shemot 25:21)… Rather, [we must say] that this ark of Moshe was stored away upon the completion of the ark of Betzalel, as is the law of implements of holiness [which must be stored away after having served their purpose].[8] (Ramban, commentary to Devarim 10:1)


            The Ramban attributes Rashi's position to a sole dissenting view among the Tannaim, and bases the matter on a Tannaitic dispute found in Yerushalmi Shekalim (6:1):


It was taught: Rabbi Yehuda ben Lakish said: Two arks went with Israel in the wilderness, one in which the Torah was placed, and one in which the broken tablets were placed.  That which contained the Torah rested in the Tent of Meeting.  This is what is written: "Nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moshe, departed not out of the camp" (Bamidbar 14:44).  That which contained the broken tablets went out and came in with them, and sometimes it appeared with them.  The Sages say: There was [only] one ark; once it went out in the days of Eli and was captured.


            According to Rabbi Yehuda ben Lakish, two arks traveled with Israel through the wilderness, each of them serving a different function.  One of them housed the broken tablets; it went before Israel on their journeys (see Bamidbar 10:33-35) and it went out with them to battle.  The second housed the second set of tablets and the Torah scroll, and it remained in the Tent of Meeting.  According to the Sages, a single ark filled both functions.


            In conclusion, it should be noted that during the time that the Mishkan was in Nov and Giv'on, the ark was not in the Mishkan, but rather in Kiryat Ye'arim and in the City of David.




            The altar of the burnt offerings and the ark are unique among the vessels of the Mishkan.  Inasmuch as they are the outstanding representatives of the resting of God's Shekhina and of man's worship, these vessels have independent status, even outside the framework of the Mishkan.  The full revelation of the Mikdash, however, occurs when they are together in one place.




It is interesting that the two kings who built the first Temple, David and Shlomo, clearly represent these two aspects.  David represents the aspect of the resting of the Shekhina, which finds expression in the ark, and Shlomo represents the aspect of man's worship, which is expressed in the altar.


David's connection to the ark is particularly striking.  It is David who brings the ark to Jerusalem after the twenty years that it rested in Kiryat Ye'arim (II Shemuel 6), and in various places he expresses his view that the Mikdash is the resting place of the ark.  For example:


The king said to Natan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtain." (ibid. 7:2)


As for me, I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God… to build a house for the sanctuary.[9] (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2, 10)


            Immediately after bringing the ark up to Jerusalem, David clearly differentiates between the site of the ark, which had been set to rest in the City of David, and the place of offering sacrifices, in the bama at Giv'on, and assigns each place watches of its own (I Divrei Ha-yamim 16:36-42).  David left the ark in Jerusalem during the period of Avshalom's rebellion, indicating his belief that the ark must be in Jerusalem, in the place where God rests His Shekhina, and not with the fleeing king (II Shemuel 15:25-26).  And finally, the Gemara (Shabbat 30a) relates that at the dedication of the Mikdash, Shlomo was only able to bring the ark into the Holy of Holies through the virtue of David.


            As opposed to David, whom we do not find offering sacrifices in Giv'on, Shlomo from the very beginning exhibits a strong connection to the sacrificial order:


And Shlomo loved the Lord… only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.  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 3:3-4)


            Shlomo later thanks God for having appeared to him in a dream by offering burnt offerings and peace offerings before the ark (ibid. v. 15).


            As we saw at the beginning of the shiur, when Shlomo asks for Chiram's assistance in building the Temple, Shlomo defines his goal as follows: "to burn before Him sweet incense, and for the continual showbread, and for the burnt offerings" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 2:3).  This understanding also finds expression at the dedication of the Temple.  We already saw above that it was only by virtue of David that Shlomo succeeded in bringing the ark into the Holy of Holies.  His words at the dedication ceremony (I Melakhim 8) are centered on prayer, implying that this is the primary purpose of the Mikdash.  The dedication itself stands out with an enormous number of sacrifices:


And the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the Lord.  And Shlomo offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered to the Lord, twenty-two thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep.  So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord.  On the same day did the king hallow the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord: for there he offered burnt offerings, and meal offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings: because the altar of brass that was before the Lord was too little to receive the burnt offerings, and meal offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings.  (ibid. 62-64)


            All this was noted by the Tanchuma (Acharei Mot 1), which defines Shlomo as "he who sacrifices:" "'And to he who sacrifices' (Kohelet 9:2) – this refers to Shlomo, as it says: 'And Shlomo offered a sacrifice of peace offerings.'"


            The fact that the construction of the Mikdash was the joint project of two kings allowed for these two fundamental aspects to reach full expression.




It is stated:


This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you, to speak there to you.  (Shemot 29:42)


            From where does God speak? Where is "there"? Rashi explains:


"Where I will meet you" – when I will appoint a place of meeting to speak to you, I shall choose to meet you there [at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting].  Some of our Rabbis learn from this that it was from above the copper altar that the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke with Moshe after the Mishkan was erected [for this was at the entrance]; but some say [that He spoke] from above the kaporet – 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 Tent of Meeting], but in reference to the Tent of Meeting [itself] which is mentioned in this verse [so that the meaning is: "at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting where, viz., in the Tent of Meeting, I shall be met by you].


            Rashi's source is Baraita De-melekhet Ha-mishkan, chap.  14:


From where did the Shekhina speak to Moshe? Rabbi Natan says: From the Tent, as it is stated: "And you shall put it before the veil… where I will meet with you" (Shemot 30:6).  Rabbi Shimon ben Azai says: From the altar of incense, as it is stated: "And you shall beat some of it very small [… where I will meet with you]" (ibid. 36)…[10] Rabbi Yishmael's disciples say: From next to the altar of burnt offerings, as it is stated: "This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations… [where I will meet you, to speak there to you]" (ibid. 29:42).


The disciples of Rabbi Yishmael have an interesting position: the revelation was not from inside the Mishkan, the site of the resting of the Shekhina, but from the courtyard, from next to the altar of burnt offerings.  That is to say: Man's actions allow for revelation from the site of worship itself, and not only from God's place in the Holy of Holies.  Through the sacrificial order – the attempt to raise the entire world to God – it becomes possible to merit the resting of the Shekhina.[11]




In this shiur we noted the two main goals of the Mikdash – resting of the Shekhina and worshipping God.  In the next shiur we will examine these two goals and the connection between them.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1]   Bet-El was the patriarchs' "natural Mikdash," as is evidenced by its name and the revelation that occurred there – a ladder bridging between heaven and earth.  We will expand on this idea at a later point. 

[2]  There are many parallels between Yaakov and David, and there is a strong connection between them with respect to the Mikdash (see, for example, Tehillim 132:4; Yeshayahu 2:3; and elsewhere).  This broad topic would require a separate shiur.  We will merely note here that Yaakov – the first of the patriarchs whose entire family was included in the house of Israel - was also the first to refer to the site of God's revelation as a house (Pesachim 68a), in the sense of the permanency that the term implies. 

[3]   Alternative divisions exist as well, though we shall not deal with them in this context.

[4]   We shall deal with the correspondence between the vessels of the two sections of the Mikdash – between the table and the ark and between the menora and the kaporet and keruvim – in the shiur devoted to the structure of the Mishkan. 

[5]   The citation is based on Torah Sheleima, Yitro 521, based on Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (ed. Rav Hoffmann).

[6]  Rav Moshe Adas, "Ha-tzedadim Ha-enoshiyim Ve-ha-Elohiyim Be-mizbe'ach Ha-nechoshet," Ma'alin ba-Kodesh III, Karmei Tzur, 5761.

[7] The altar of burnt offerings in the Mishkan was also plated with copper (Shemot 27:2).  It may be suggested that the combination of the earth and stones inside the altar and the copper grate around it represent two aspects of the altar: the inner material expresses the human fire, man's efforts to draw near to his Creator, while the copper grate expresses the resting of the Shekhina, the fire from above.

[8]  The Ramban later suggests that there was only one ark: "In line with the plain meaning of Scripture, it is possible that the verse here, 'and make you an ark of wood,' refers to the ark which Betzalel made."

[9]   "For the sanctuary" means "for the ark;" see Bamidbar 4:20, 10:21.

[10]    Rabbi Shimon ben Azai's position depends on how we understand the function of the copper altar: Is its role to separate between man and the Shekhina, or perhaps to connect the entire world to the Shekhina? This is not the place to discuss this issue at length.

[11]   My friend, Prof. Menachem Kahana, pointed out to me that this position reflects the view of Rabbi Yishmael, that God's presence is everywhere - "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" (Yirmiyahu 23:24) - as opposed to the view of Rabbi Akiva, who thought that God in fact constricted His Shekhina between the two keruvim (Sifrei, Bamidbar 58; Sifra dibura de-nedava, parasha 1, chap. 2),.  See A. Heschel, Torah min Ha-shamayim Be-aspaklariya shel Ha-dorot, pp. 59-61.