The "Tent of Meeting" and the " Tent of Service" and the Double Role of the Kohanim (Part 2 of 2)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

[This is continued from the shiur on parashat Vayakhel.]


Last week we developed an understanding of the literal text based on the interpretation of Rabbi Akiva and the Ibn Ezra: on the first of Nissan the Mishkan was erected and the Shekhina filled it; from this point onwards it was ready for God's meetings with Moshe. This day was simultaneously the beginning of the "seven inaugural days," following God's command to Moshe to commence them and to sanctify Aharon and his sons (Vayikra 8:2). Was this Divine command to Moshe the first that was transmitted to him in the Ohel Mo'ed? We shall see that it was not.

The first Divine utterance to Moshe that emanated from the Ohel Mo'ed was the command with which Sefer Vayikra opens (chapters 1-5), concerning the laws of individual sacrifices. These laws were addressed to Bnei Yisrael; they define the nation's relationship with the Mishkan from the point of view of their sacrificial service. Proof that this was the first command to Moshe from the Ohel Mo'ed arises from the first verse in Sefer Vayikra:

"And He called to Moshe, and God spoke to him from the Ohel Mo'ed, saying…"

This formulation appears nowhere else in Sefer Vayikra. Ramban explains it against the background of the concluding verses of Sefer Shemot (40:34-35): "And the cloud covered the Ohel Mo'ed and the glory of God covered the Mishkan, and Moshe could not approach the Ohel Mo'ed for the cloud rested upon it…" Ramban then explains the first verse in Vayikra as follows:

"'And He called' - for Moshe could not approach the Ohel Mo'ed, to come close to the place where God was, unless God called to him… as we find at Mt. Sinai, where it is written (Shemot 24:16), 'And He called to Moshe on the seventh day from within the cloud.'"

Thus the beginning of Sefer Vayikra is connected to the conclusion of Sefer Shemot, and there is direct thematic and chronological continuity between the two. Apparently it is God's deliberate intention that the first command transmitted to Moshe from the Ohel Mo'ed will be specifically the detailed laws of sacrifices meant for Bnei Yisrael. This intention arises from the well-known parallel hinted at in the above explanation of the Ramban, which he explains at greater length in his commentary at the beginning of parashat Teruma and in our parasha (40:34).

Shemot 24:16-18

"AND THE CLOUD COVERED the mountain…

and GOD'S GLORY dwelled upon Mt. Sinai


AND HE CALLED TO MOSHE on the seventh day from within the cloud."

Shemot 40:34-35 - Vayikra 1:1


and GOD'S GLORY filled the Mishkan.

And Moshe could not approach the Ohel Mo'ed for THE CLOUD RESTED UPON IT…

AND HE CALLED TO MOSHE, and God spoke to him from the Ohel Mo'ed…"

What was the purpose of Moshe's ascent to Mt. Sinai when God called to him? It was for the purpose of receiving the command that follows immediately afterwards, in chapters 25-29, beginning with:

"SPEAK TO BNEI YISRAEL and let them take for Me a contribution… AND THEY SHALL MAKE ME A TEMPLE and I shall dwell among them."

What was the purpose of Moshe approaching the Ohel Mo'ed, filled with God's glory, when God calls to him? It was, similarly, for the purpose of receiving the command that follows immediately thereafter, in chapters 1-5 of Sefer Vayikra:


Hence there is a parallel between the command concerning construction of the Mishkan and the command concerning the details of the sacrifices. The command to make the Mishkan in order that it may allow God's Shekhina to rest amongst the nation through His revelation to Moshe is given in Sefer Shemot, at Mt. Sinai, as part of God's revelation to Moshe at Mt. Sinai and as a continuation of that same revelation. Similarly, the command to turn the Mishkan into the place for Israel's sacrifices is given in Sefer Vayikra, in the Ohel Mo'ed, as part of God's first revelation to Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed and as a continuation of the establishment of the Mishkan and the resting of the Shekhina there, as described at the end of Sefer Shemot.


The distinction that we have drawn thus far between the "Mishkan of Meeting (or of Revelation)," where God meets with Moshe and which is commanded in Sefer Shemot, and the "Mishkan of Sacrificial Service" in which the Kohanim serve God by offering up the sacrifices of the nation and which is commanded in Sefer Vayikra, ignores an important point. It is not true that Sefer Shemot is talking about a Mishkan that is devoid of Kohanim. Although in parashat Teruma - in the command to fashion the Mishkan and its vessels - there is no mention of the Kohanim, we do find that in parashat Tetzaveh - which is the continuation of the same command - the Kohanim are the central focus. This parasha is divided into two main parts: the command to fashion the priestly garments (chapter 28), starting with the verse:

(28:1) "And you - bring Aharon your brother and his sons close to you from among Bnei Yisrael, to minister to Me…"

and the command concerning the seven inaugural days (chapter 29), beginning with the verse:

(29:1) "And this is the thing that you shall do for them, to sanctify them in order to minister to Me…".

It is not only these major sections of parashat Tetzaveh that deal with the Kohanim, with their sanctification and their role in the Mishkan. The beginning of the parasha and its conclusion, which address the service performed with two of the vessels of the Mishkan (the menora and the incense altar), set aside these services for the Kohanim. At the beginning of the parasha we are told (27:21), "In the Ohel Mo'ed… Aharon and his sons shall prepare it [the eternal flame of the menora]," and at its conclusion we read (30:7-8), "And Aharon shall offer upon it the fragrant incense each morning; when he prepares the lights he shall offer it. And when Aharon kindles the lights in the evening he shall offer it…"

At the end of Sefer Shemot we also find the command to sanctify the Kohanim:

(40:12-15) "And you shall bring Aharon and his sons close to the entrance of the Ohel Mo'ed… and he shall minister to Me. And you shall bring his sons close… and they shall minister to Me."

The fulfillment of most of these commands pertaining to the Kohanim is described not in Sefer Shemot but rather in Sefer Vayikra, chronologically following the events with which Sefer Shemot concludes. The only command pertaining to the Kohanim whose fulfillment is described in Sefer Shemot is the fashioning of the priestly garments, to which a considerable portion of parashat Pekudei is devoted (39:1-31). But what we have said above is sufficient to show that Sefer Shemot deals at length with the presence of the Kohanim in the Mishkan and with their role there (at least on the level of the COMMAND). This, then, would seem to eradicate our distinction between the "Mishkan of Revelation," discussed in Sefer Shemot, and the "Mishkan of Priestly Service" discussed in Sefer Vayikra.

But attention must be paid to the role of the Kohanim in the Mishkan described in Sefer Shemot. They are not commanded here to offer the sacrifices of the nation, so what is their role?

The answer to this question is to be found in both the beginning and the end of parashat Tetzaveh: THE ROLE OF THE KOHANIM IS TO PERFORM THE DAILY SERVICE INVOLVING THE FOUR VESSELS OF THE MISHKAN. It is true that the Mishkan established by Moshe (in accordance with the command in parashat Teruma, including the four "daily services" that Moshe performs as part of his completion of the vessels for the Mishkan) is ready for an encounter between God and Moshe as it stands, eno Kohanim have begun to serve in it and before the Mishkan and its vessels have been consecrated for their regular service. But such an encounter is not a one-time event; it will occur many times over a long period of time. Such encounters, possible at any time, require a place of meeting whose vessels are constantly ready to receive God's Presence as He speaks to Moshe. And it is this role - maintaining the constant presence and required state of the four "permanent fixtures" of the Mishkan - that God gives to Aharon and his sons.

This also explains the brief section preceding parashat Tetzaveh:

(27:20-21) "And you shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall take to you pure olive oil for light, to kindle the eternal light. In the Ohel Mo'ed, outside of the covering that is upon the Testimony, shall Aharon and his sons light it - from evening until morning, before God, an eternal statute for your generations by Bnei Yisrael."

We learn for the first time, then, at the beginning of parashat Tetzaveh, that the special role of Aharon and his sons in the Mishkan involves certain services. It immediately becomes clear that their responsibility extends not only to the eternal light of the menora, but also to the showbread upon the table (25:30). But the service of lighting the menora each evening is more frequent than the exchanging of the showbread (which is performed only once a week, as commanded in Vayikra 24:8). Therefore it is the service of the lights that is selected to represent the role of the Kohanim in the Mishkan.

When we reach the conclusion of the command to construct the Mishkan (end of chapter 29) and learn of the need to offer the daily burnt sacrifice upon the copper altar, we conclude that this role, too, is given to Aharon and his sons. And the first appendix to the command of making the Mishkan - discussing the construction of the incense altar and its service - likewise states explicitly that this regular service, too, belongs to Aharon, and is related to his preparation of the lights in the morning and his kindling of them in the evening.

This framework of parashat Tetzaveh - opening with the eternal flame of the menora and concluding with the regular incense offering - creates a clear definition of the role of the Kohanim in the Mishkan. They are responsible for the four permanent services of the Mishkan, the two discussed explicitly teaching us also about the two that are not made explicit.

Since the beginning of parashat Tetzaveh hints - through the parasha of the eternal light - that this is the role of the Kohanim, Moshe's command goes on to explain how the Kohanim are to function in the Mishkan and what will in fact make them into Kohanim: special clothes must be made for Aharon and his sons "to sanctify him, that he may minister to Me" (28:1-5). Towards the end of chapter 28, following the list of garments that are to be made, we are told:

(28:41) "And you shall dress Aharon your brother and his sons with him in them, and you shall anoint them, and train them, and sanctify them to minister to Me."

Like the other elements of the Mishkan, these priestly garments are also fashioned by Betzalel and his team (39:1-31), and they, too, are brought to Moshe as part of the completed Mishkan (39:41).

In God's command to Moshe concerning the establishment of the Mishkan, at the beginning of chapter 40, God repeats the command from parashat Tetzaveh to bring Aharon and his sons close, to dress them in the priestly garments and to anoint them, in order that they will thereby be sanctified to minister to God.

Thus the function of the Kohanim in Sefer Shemot is related very closely to the function of the Mishkan itself in this Sefer, as a Mishkan of Revelation. By carrying out the regular services that are their responsibility, they facilitate the encounter between God and Moshe in the Ohel Mo'ed at any time.

But if this is the case, we come back to our question: why does Sefer Shemot not complete the description of Moshe's fulfillment of God's command regarding the sanctification of the Kohanim? The answer we have suggested thus far - that their sanctification is related to their role in offering the sacrifices of Israel, and that this role is discussed only in Sefer Vayikra - does not fit in with what we have discovered thus far concerning the role of the Kohanim in Sefer Shemot.


If we examine the command to make the priestly garments in chapter 28, we find that it hints to the fact that the role of the Kohanim exceeds what we have been told thus far, and that it extends much further than maintaining the four services in the Mishkan of Revelation.

Already in the command to make the "efod" we find such a hint:

(28:9) "And you shall take two shoham stones and you shall inscribe upon them the names of Bnei Yisrael...

(12) And you shall place the two stones upon the shoulders of the efod - stones of remembrance for Bnei Yisrael, AND AHARON SHALL BEAR THEIR NAMES BEFORE GOD, UPON HIS TWO SHOULERS, AS A REMEMBRANCE."

Again, in the command concerning the "choshen ha-mishpat" and the "urim ve-tumim:"

(21) "And the stones shall be upon the names of Bnei Yisrael, twelve - by their names…


(30) And you shall place upon the choshen ha-mishpat the urim ve-tumim, and they shall be upon Aharon's heart when he comes before God, AND AHARON SHALL BEAR THE JUDGMENT OF BNEI YISRAEL UPON HIS HEART BEFORE GOD ALWAYS."

The role of the Kohanim, as defined thus far, contains nothing that would explain this three-fold emphasis that Aharon is the representative of Bnei Yisrael before God in the Mishkan, and that his shoulders and his heart are to be devoted to bearing their names before God as a remembrance.

In the fashioning of the "tzitz" we find the explanation of these hints:

(36) "And you shall make a tzitz of pure gold, and engrave upon it - like the engraving upon a signet - 'Sanctified to God.'


The "tzitz" teaches us that Aharon's role is related not only to the regular services of the Mishkan of Revelation, but also to the sacred offerings of Bnei Yisrael and the gifts that they bring to the Mishkan, that are to be offered by him (or by his sons). The "tzitz" upon his forehead is what makes them all acceptable before God. Here, for the first time, we find a hint at the role of the Kohanim and the role of the Mishkan in the context of the sacrifices that Bnei Yisrael are destined to bring - i.e., the context described in Sefer Vayikra.

Thus we find here, retroactively, a reason for Aharon bearing the names of Bnei Yisrael upon his shoulders and his heart as a remembrance before God. Aharon is the representative of Israel in their Divine service in the form of the sacrifices that they bring to the Mishkan.

The priestly garments thus have a dual function. On the one hand, they are meant to glorify and honor the functionaries of the Mishkan of Revelation. On the other hand, they enable the representatives of Israel in the Mishkan of Divine Service to serve and represent the nation, making their service in the Mishkan acceptable in God's eyes.

The Kohanim with their garments therefore represent a link between the two functions of the Mishkan. They are responsible for the perpetual services, so that the Mishkan will be ready at all times for God's revelation to and encounter with Moshe. They also perform the sacrificial service in it, on behalf of the entire nation of Israel.


In four places in Sefer Shemot we find a command concerning the sanctification of the Kohanim for their service:

1. 28:1-2 and verse 40 - within the framework of chapter 28, commanding the fashioning of the priestly garments.

2. 29:1-37 - the command concerning the seven inaugural days.

3. 3:30 - as part of the command to prepare the anointing oil and how it should be used.

4. 40:12-15 - within the framework of the command to Moshe to establish the Mishkan.

Of these four sources, the command in chapter 29 stands out - not only because of its great length, but also because it contains additions that are absent from the other sources, as I shall explain. The other commands in our Sefer echo one another, and an examination of the most detailed of them - the command in chapter 40 - shows that the following are the actions that must be performed in order to sanctify the Kohanim: (a) to bring Aharon and his sons close to the entrance of the Ohel Mo'ed; (b) to wash them with water; (c) to dress them in the priestly garments; (d) to anoint them with the anointing oil. The result of all of these actions will be that "you shall sanctify him, that he may minister to Me."

There are two principal additions in chapter 29:

i. a whole set of sacrifices that must be brought in order to prepare the Kohanim (10-28);

ii. the actions sanctifying the Kohanim and the altar must be repeated for seven days (35-37).

Chapter 29 would seem to be discussing a completely different process of sanctifying the Kohanim. But this is not the case: all of the instructions included in the other commands in Sefer Shemot appear again in chapter 29, in verses 1-9.

What is the meaning of these differences between the various instructions for sanctifying the Kohanim in our Sefer? In light of the dual role of the Kohanim in the Mishkan, the answer seems clear. The instructions specific to Sefer Shemot (excluding chapter 29) are meant to sanctify the Kohanim for their role in the Mishkan of Revelation, which is discussed in Sefer Shemot. This role does not include the offering of sacrifices of Bnei Yisrael. Their sanctification for this role - as functionaries in the Mishkan, responsible for maintenance of its vessels - requires only they be sanctified once, and there is no need for any special sacrifices to be brought to prepare and train them, for their role here does not involve sacrificial service.

Chapter 29, in contrast, commands the sanctification of the Kohanim for their role as representatives of the nation in the sacrificial service. This role is fundamentally different, and requires a different process of sanctification - the transfer of the ministering role from Moshe to Aharon and his sons, lasting for a period of seven days.

Chapter 29 actually belongs to the function of the Mishkan as a Mishkan of service and to the role of the Kohanim within it, i.e. - the subject of Sefer Vayikra. It is indeed in Vayikra that we find a detailed description of the fulfillment of the instructions of chapter 29 (in Vayikra 8). Why, then, does this chapter appear in Sefer Shemot?

The detailed command to sanctify the Kohanim in chapter 29 includes the other commands concerning their sanctification in Sefer Shemot, as mentioned above. Just as the command to fashion the priestly garments also includes those garments or parts thereof that are related specifically to the role of the Kohanim as those who offer the sacrifices of Israel (the stones of the "efod," stones of the "choshen," and the golden "tzitz"), so the command of sanctifying the Kohanim in Sefer Shemot appears in its complete form, including the preparation of the Kohanim for all their functions in the Mishkan.

We find, then, that the instructions concerning the sanctification of the Kohanim that are specific to Sefer Shemot (in chapter 28 and chapter 40) have no need of being fulfilled independently, since they will be fulfilled in any case (in Vayikra 8) within the framework of all the instructions of Shemot 29.

This is the reason that Moshe delays the fulfillment of two out of the three parts of God's command to him in chapter 40. The commands concerning the anointment of the Mishkan and its vessels, and the sanctification of the Kohanim, concern the Mishkan of Revelation of Sefer Shemot. However, they are destined to be included also in the actions that will begin on that day within the framework of the seven inaugural days - in preparation for the inauguration of the Mishkan of Sacrificial Service on the eighth day. And since these actions have no need for fulfillment on their own, and they need not be repeated twice on the same day, Moshe waits for God's additional command, instructing him to begin the actions of Shemot 29 - those related to the seven inaugural days.

How did Moshe know to wait for this command? It seems that he knew it from the inclusion of chapter 29 in the command to construct the Mishkan. Chapter 29 includes the instructions concerning the sanctification of the Kohanim that appeared in chapter 28, thus showing that the instructions of chapter 28 (dressing the Kohanim in their special garments and their anointment) should not be fulfilled until the time for fulfillment of the instructions in chapter 29 - i.e., until the beginning of the actions pertaining to the seven inaugural days, which prepare for the transformation from a Mishkan of Revelation to an additional function as a Mishkan for the nation of Israel's service of God.

(Translated by Kaeren Fish.

Click here for the unabridged Hebrew version of this shiur.