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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashios Vayakhiel/Pekudie 5767

This week's double sedra ends off the readings from the Book of Exodus. Its central topic is the Mishkan and G-d's using it as a means of communicating to Israel through their prophet, Moses. Regarding Moses' entrance into the Mishkan to receive the prophecy we read at end of Pekudie:

Exodus 40:34-37.

34: The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.

35: And Moses was not able to come to the Tent of Meeting for on it rested the cloud, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan

36: When the cloud was lifted up from upon the Mishkan, the Children of Israel would journey on all their journeys.

37: If the cloud did not lift up, they would not journey until the day of its lifting up.


35: And Moses was not able to come to the Tent of Meeting: Rashi: But another verse (Numbers 7:89) says:" And when Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting" There comes a third verse and reconciles them: "for on it (i.e. the Tent) rested the cloud." Say therefore: as long as the cloud was upon it, he (Moses) could not come in, but once the cloud left he would enter and (G-d) would speak with him.


Rashi has quoted one of the 13 rules Rabbi Yishmael, the Talmudic sage, for interpreting the Torah. These rules are recited every day before the regular Morning prayers. The last rule is that when two verses in the Torah appear to contradict each other, we draw on a third verse to reconcile the apparent contradiction. The two verses Rashi quotes relate to Moses' being able or not being able to enter the Tent of Meeting. One verse says he could not enter the Tent the other verse clearly says that Moses would enter the Tent. Comes the third verse and clarifies: The meaning is that when the cloud was upon the Tent then (and only then) could he not enter. But when the cloud was not upon it, then he could enter.

Note: The 'third verse" is actually just the second half of the first verse (our verse above). So really there are only two verses. One which says that Moses could not enter the Tent because the cloud was on it, and the second verse which says he could enter the tent.

What would you ask about this comment? What do think about Rabbi Yishmael's rule? Does it teach anything important?


A Question: Once we realize that there are really only two verses and that the first verse immediately explains the reason that Moses could not enter the Tent was because the cloud was over it, we wonder what the contradiction was in the first place. It seems quite artificial - breaking up the first verse before we had a chance to see the reason that Moses couldn't enter and then pointing out an artificial contradiction! It is like saying "He could not go to the store because it was Shabbat" while another time it says "He could go to the store"! Obviously it is no contradiction - he could go to the store when it was not Shabbat. Obviously, Moses could enter when the cloud was absent.

Can you make sense of this comment and the meaning of Rabbi Yishmael's rule in this case?

A difficult question.

Hint: Read all the verses I quoted above (verses 34-37)

Your Answer:


An Answer: The answer requires some new thinking.

Actually verse 34 explains that the cloud covered (enveloped) the Tent then the next verse says that Moses could not enter it. Remember that this was the first day of the Tent of Meeting's existence. It had just been built. Now it had a cloud enveloping it. The people probably thought (and we likewise could have thought) that this would be the daily custom - a cloud covering the Tent. With this assumption we have our contradiction - for it says in Numbers that Moses did enter the Tent. So the question is: when did he enter, if the cloud always covered it? Comes the "third verse" to tell us that the cloud enveloped the Tent only on that first day when the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.

How does the " third verse" (which says almost the same thing as verse 34) tell us this? Look at the word order. Both verses 34 and 35 tell us the cloud covered the tent. But verse 34 says (in Hebrew) "And the cloud covered the Tent and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan"" while verse 35 says "because on it rested the cloud and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan." Both verses say the glory filled the Mishkan. This was a unique event which occurred only on the first day after the Mishkan was built (the Ramban points out that the cloud suffused the Mishkan then, which was unusual) because at all other times the cloud just covered the Tent but did not fill it with the glory of Hashem. The " third verse" lets us know that this was a one time event by a subtle grammatical nuance. We must be aware of the significance of Word Order in the Chumash. The earlier word in a verse always carries more significance than the word that comes later. So when the Torah writes: "The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting " the word cloud comes first, before mention of the Tent. The news was that there was a cloud here. But the next verse says: "for on it rested the cloud," First comes "on it" which refers to the Mishkan then comes the word "cloud." The order here tells us that the Mishkan was the significant thing in this verse - what was significant about the Mishkan? It was brand new, its first day. It is telling us that then the cloud enveloped this new Mishkan.

So the "third verse" does stress a point we hadn't realized- that the cloud here was not permanent; it was unique in that it filled the Tent with glory on that day only. And for that reason Moses could not enter, but at other times when the cloud was not there (filling the Mishkan) Moses could enter.

Realizing that the cloud on that first day was different from the cloud that covered the Tent afterwards helps us understand another apparent difficulty


Rashi says that when the cloud lifted then Moses could enter the Tent. But look at verses 36 and 37. They say: "When the cloud was lifted up from upon the Mishkan, the Children of Israel would journey on all their journeys. If the cloud did not lift up, they would not journey until the day of its lifting up.

So we see that when the cloud lifted the people journeyed, which means they took down the Mishkan to carry it. We find the following situation: When the cloud was there and the Tent -Mishkan was standing -Moses could not enter (because the cloud was there). But when the cloud left then there was no standing Tent of Meeting then Moses could enter (because the cloud was gone) but where would Moses enter, there was no standing Tent? Strange, to say the least.

Can you explain this in light of what we said above?

Your Answer:


An Answer: As we said, the cloud referred to in these verses was the regular cloud that hung OVER (not inside) the Tent. This was not the cloud that suffused the Tent with the Glory of Hashem on the first day. That "first-day" cloud prevented Moses from entering but not the cloud that hung above the Tent when it rested. Then Moses could enter.


The words of Rashi, the words of the Torah, and the words of the Sages require deep reflection. All reasonable questions must be studied. An answer will be found.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

More Rashi thoughts can be found in the Megillas Esther volume of What's Bothering Rashi? At your book stores.

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