It was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month
that the Mishkan was erected.
From the look of things, Moshe’s role in the setting up of the Mishkan was
quickly accomplished. At least it seems that way when you look at the
pesukim, which speak only of putting all the pieces together a single time,
on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Our pasuk contains no hint of the multiple
repetitions that accompanied the readying of the Levi’im for their tasks,
and the consecration of the mizbe’ach. There, all ceremonies were
repeated until they had been performed for seven days.
Chazal , however, understood that the repetitions were all synchronous.
They tell us that the assembling of the parts of the Mishkan was also done
and undone multiple times. Our pasuk simply reports the final occasion; it
was preceded by seven more. For an entire week, Moshe had the Mishkan put
together and anointed – and then taken down again. Here, on the final day,
it remained standing, having been permanently inaugurated.
While Chazal do not tell us the purpose of this, we might guess that the
Torah wished to allude to multiple constructions and destructions of the
Mishkan in the fuller historical sense. Indeed, when we count up the
different instantiations to date of the Mishkan, we find exactly seven, all
limited by time. Only the eighth is destined to last without interruption.
Thus, Bnei Yisrael 1) built a Mishkan in the wilderness before entering the
Land. After entering, they 2) brought it to Gilgal, 3) Shiloh, 4) Nov, and
5) Givon. These were followed by 6) Shlomo’s Beis HaMikdosh, and 7) the
Second Beis HaMikdosh. Each would be undone or destroyed – but would be
followed by a third Beis HaMikdosh that would not. “ It will happen in the
end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established
as the head of the mountains…They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against
nation and they will no longer study warfare.”
Moshe’s Abrupt Exit5
Moshe erected the Mishkan…and Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting, and
the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.
Moshe’s exit from before the Divine Presence seems appropriate enough. His
re-entrance to the Mishkan later, when called upon by Hashem, is also in
order. Taken together, however, the sequence is jarring. As far as what is
reported in the text, nothing happens in between these two events, other
than closing Chumash Shemos and beginning Chumash Vayikra. Moshe leaves
only long enough to come right back!
In fact, Moshe’s actions place a frame around two distinct stages in the
development of the Jewish people. Hashem Himself had spelled out His goal in
the redemption from Egypt: “I will take you to Me as a people.” Nothing
pointed to the accomplishment of that goal more than His resting His
Presence upon the Mishkan. It demonstrated that the Torah had found a home
among the Jewish people. The handiwork of flesh and blood, infused with a
spirit of dedication to Him and meticulous attention to His commands, had
accomplished what is rationally unexpected – it created a place suitable to
contain the Presence of G-d.
All of this happened on Moshe’s watch, under his direction and tutelage.
Completing the most important construction project ever undertaken by Man
was a feather in his cap. Precisely when it all comes together, Moshe exits.
By doing so, he minimizes his own importance relative to the Mishkan. As
crucial as he was in erecting it, ultimately the Mishkan was not about him,
but about the Jewish People. There could be no Divine Presence among human
beings without a Torah, and there could be no practice of the Torah without
a Torah Nation. Moshe exits – leaving the people as a whole front and center.
The Torah does not even tell us about the events of the inauguration of the
Mishkan. That would have to wait until the middle of Chumash Vayikra.
Instead, the Torah immediately begins a new Chumash with a new focus and a
new mission. Hosting the Shechinah places demands upon individuals and upon
the community. Vayikra begins with Moshe being called out of his brief
“retirement” to instruct the people in the avodah of korbanos. Their deep
symbolism would teach the people how to translate the immediate presence of
the Divine into actions that would permeate every situation and moment of
their lives. They would cherish the Torah that enabled the indwelling of the
Shechinah not because they believed in it, but because they would come to
know its uplifting effect upon them by experience.
Between the two roles, Moshe has to leave and reenter, underscoring for us
the great but different importance of the two stages: inviting Hashem in to
dwell, as it were, among us; and responding in an ever-progressing journey
towards Him, to keep ourselves worthy of His Presence.
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 40:17
2. Shemos 29:30, 37
3. Sifrei, Bamidbar 7:1
4. Yeshayahu 2:2,4
5. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 40:18
6. Shemos 40:18, 35
7. Shemos 6:7