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   by Jacob Solomon

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This is the work of the sons of Kehat…the Holy of Holies (4:3)

The text describes how the Mishkan - the portable Temple - was to be dismantled and packed each time the Israelites prepared to journey in the desert towards the Promised Land. The Ramban explains that only the Ark had techeilet (blue wool) on top of the tachash (Tabernacle covering made of animal skins). This was to symbolize its unique holiness - it was spiritually the center point of the Holy of Holies. The Talmud (Hullin 86a) states that techeilet symbolizes faith in G-d, for its blue cover makes people think of Heaven, the place of G-d's Throne of Glory.

Why is so much emphasis put on how the Ark and Holy Vessels were covered? And why is it linked to the detailed census of the Israelites, tribe by tribe? Indeed, why are the detailed duties of each Levite sub-tribe listed at all - in respect to the erection and dismantling of the portable Tabernacle?

In response, this arrangement was vital for the social and spiritual growth of the fledgling Israelite nation. This is elaborated below.

So far the Israelites had it made - bar the odd shortage of water here or there. G-d, through Moses and Aaron, took care of all their arrangements and day-to-day needs. They had physical and spiritual events, but they were building experiences rather than day-to-day experiences. They had already combined together in one major project - the building of the Tabernacle. But that project was at the terminus. It was completed.

The coverings of the Tabernacle and their materials and coloring were a visual reminder of the first project which engaged the Israelites - as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, "the house they built together". Diverse society, he explains, functions at its best when each person's involvement makes the environment, rather merely benefits from it as a guest or as a client. Doing challenging things together creates the bonds, rather than just enjoying things. You might well find it easier to make friends at a party with those who you have just been on a tough climbing trip, than those you meet "just at a party".

The exquisite and brightly colored Tabernacle coverings were reminders of that "touch climbing trip" - where relationships were made, friendships were forged, and society combined towards a common purpose. As Israelites decamped, moved on, and re-camped, these colors not only represented spiritual aspirations, but social achievements that needed to be perpetuated.

In addition, the different parts of the tribe of Levi having responsibilities with dismantling, transporting, and erecting the Tabernacle perpetuated their working together in a common purpose. This was reflected in the association of three tribes with each sub-tribe of Levi (e.g. Kehat sub-tribe of Levi, with Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, 2:10-12, 3:29).

This lesson applies to the perpetuation of possible communal life. A person's membership of a community is not just carried out by paying fees, but being positively involved in its activities. And it is the duty of community leaders to manage it in such a way that others wish to come forward.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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