Shema Yisrael Home

              Fish&Soup.jpg - 12464 Bytes Subscribe

   by Jacob Solomon

This Week's Parsha | Previous issues | Welcome - Please Read!


These are the accounts of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that were counted at Moses' command… All the gold that was used for the work - for all the holy work - the offered-up gold was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels…(38:22,24).

This Parasha opens with the accounts for the building of the Mishkan, which Moses presented to the Israelites. The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 51:4) brings a tradition as to why Moses - whom G-d describes as, "in My entire house, he is the trusted one", had to do this. Scoffers, brings the Midrash, mocked Moses, saying:

"How fat is the neck of the son of Amram (Moses)! One who is in charge of the work of the building the Mishkan should not become rich." Overhearing this arrogant remark, Moses said, "I shall give an account of every donation."

Nevertheless the text presents the following questions:

1. The accounts themselves open with the heading, "all the gold that was used for the work…", before "the gold… was twenty-nine talents…". What are the reasons for, and significance of that heading? Would not, "the gold… was twenty-nine talents…" be enough?

2. The word for, 'that was made' is 'he-a-sui'. This word - a participle - can also be translated into the present tense, rendering the sentence as, 'all the gold that is used - for all the holy work'. Why is this thought expressed in an ambiguous term?

One way of looking at these problems lies in comparing the Mishkan with the larger, far more expensive and elaborate Temple built by King Solomon. The former was permanent than the latter, as explained and elaborated below.

The Talmud (Sotah 9a) brings the tradition that the Mishkan's boards, hooks, bolts, columns, and sockets are in existence today - under the site of the First Temple, with their precise location a secret. So the ambiguities of 'he-a-sui' are both valid: they were made then, and they still remain 'made' today. That also helps to explain why the 'accounts' opened with that heading - they are in effect saying that the 'account' is permanent - for all time. This contrasts with both Temples, which were utterly destroyed.

The Mishkan, and the two Batei Mikdash (Temples) had different destinies for the following reason. The Mishkan was constructed with a much greater degree of dedication than the Batei Mikdash. The text relates that the walls of the Mishkan were composed of a series of vertically erected wooden boards placed side by side (36:20). The Midrash (Tanchuma 9) brings the famous tradition that the Patriarch, Jacob had been told that, one day, trees would be required for a Divine dwelling place. Jacob therefore planted acacia trees for this very purpose in Egypt, and before he died, he commanded his sons to tell their descendants to carry them up with them when they would leave the country. Rashi further explains that Abraham had originally planted those trees in Be'er Sheva (Gen. 21:33). This was one of the (non-explicit) reasons that Jacob traveled to Be'er Sheva on his way down to Egypt (Gen 46:1). As the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 49:1) implies, he infused his entire surroundings with kedusha - holiness. For example when travelers or visitors thanked him for his hospitality, he would say: "Do not thank me; thank the Almighty." In answer to the response, "Who is He?" he would try to persuade his guests to drop their idol worship and worship G-d. That was the sort of holiness that was absorbed by the very fiber of the boards of the Mishkan.

Because those acacia trees were planted with such dedication by Abraham, and were handled with reverence by generations of Israelites, they survive (in hiding) the vicissitudes of time. Likewise, the gold, silver, copper, and other items that were donated by the Israelites, and fashioned by Bezalel and those which G-d had given 'wisdom and understanding' (36:1), had been constructed with the highest degree of lishma - dedication for Divine service.

This contrasts with the first and second Temples, which were built by the Phoenicians and other hired people. It goes without saying that that they did not put the same dedication to the Creator into their work that the Israelites themselves put into the MIshkan. They later fell prey to the enemy and were destroyed.

Going deeper into the issues raised - the Mishkan and the Batei Mikdash were designed with different special spiritual characteristics. The S'forno (40:36) points out that whilst G-d's glory revealed itself in every part of the Mishkan, it was not felt outside the edifice. It may be derived from here that the Shechina (intense Divine Presence of G-d) must be sought after - it does not descend on It's own accord. The Shechina does not come to the people: the people have to come to the Shechina. Only when making the prolonged life-long dedicated effort towards spiritual perfection according to the Torah can one have the closest, most satisfying, and most enduring relationship with G-d. And that relationship is of a modest, individual nature - as symbolized by the exclusive nature of the Mishkan (40:35).

The First Temple was designed for a different purpose - a more universal base. King Solomon gave the Temple a wider spiritual appeal in his famous prayer where he dedicated the Temple: "when a stranger who lives in a distant land… comes to worship and pray to you in this Temple… you shall do all that the stranger asks you to do." (Kings I, 8:41-3). The idea - to promote monotheism and worship of the Almighty by the surrounding nations was of course a most worthy one. However, the cost of including the less spiritually worthy was a lower degree of spiritual perfection and dedication infused into the Temple…

We learn from this discussion that in all our undertakings in life, it is not only the act that counts, but the intention behind it. Put to extremes: as King Solomon expressed it: "Better to eat a meal of vegetables with love in it, than a fattened ox with hate in it" (Proverbs 15:17)..


Please note: Several of the structures of the Mishkan in this Parasha have already been dealt with in previous Parashiot.

Label the following parts of the set-up Mishkan - from A to M.


A - The Tabernacle (outer goat skin cover)
B - The Tabernacle (roof of ram/tachash skins)
C - Entrance tapestried screen to Tabernacle
D - Outer Altar
E - Courtyard open space
F - Pillars supporting the courtyard surrounding structure
G - Entrance embroidered screen to the Tabernacle Courtyard
H - Copper sockets supporting the pillars, in turn supporting the Courtyard Screen.
I - Copper sockets supporting the pillars in turn supporting the surrounding structure to the Courtyard
J - Overhangings - forming the perimeter to the Tabernacle Courtyard
K - Copper Laver
M - Ramp for ascending the Outer Altar


Explain the reason for the following:

(a) The Mishkan may be seen as having even greater intrinsic holiness than the First and Second Temples after it, according to the S'forno.

(b) Betzalel is credited with having done 'what G-d told Moses' rather than 'what Moses told him' in 38:22, according to Rashi.

(c) The work of the Mishkan is described as 'avoda' rather than 'melacha' (39:43), according to the Ramban.

(d) The connection between the events in this Parasha and Psalm 90, according to the Midrash (Tanhuma 11), quoted by Rashi.

In this Parasha (40:35), the text states that 'Moses could not enter the Ten of Meeting' as 'the glory of G-d filled the Tabernacle', but in Numbers (7:89), it states that Moses did regularly enter there. How does Rashi, quoting earlier commentaries, resolve this contradiction?


(a) The Mishkan may be seen as having even greater intrinsic holiness than the First and Second Temples after it, for four reasons - alluded to in the opening of the Parasha. It was the 'Tabernacle of the Testimony' - where the Tablets of Stone were placed - as testimony to G-d communication with the Israelites. It was built 'under Moses' charge' - gaining from his personal role, and was the 'service of the Levites' who proved themselves loyal during and after the Golden Calf. It was also built by Betzalel, who was 'filled with the spirit of G-d' (31:35). Because of all these factors the Tabernacle, in contrast to the Temples was never looted, nor did it fall into enemy hands. Solomon's Temple, by contrast, was built by non-Israelite workmen. Though the Shechina rested on it, its parts became worn and required repair and replacement.

(b) Betzalel is credited with having done 'what G-d told Moses' rather than 'what Moses told him'. According to the sources quoted by Rashi, that includes something that Moses did not reveal to Betzalel (but G-d did tell to Moses) - namely that the Mishkan should be constructed in the reverse order to G-d's directions stated in Parashat Teruma. There, the vessels to the Mishkan were detailed before the construction of the Mishkan itself. However, Betzalel's reasoning was in accordance to what Moses secretly knew to be correct - that the House (i.e. the Mishkan) should be made first, so that when the vessels were completed, they should already have an appropriate home…

(c) The work of the Mishkan is described as 'avoda' rather than 'melacha' to emphasize that those who constructed it did not work in the spirit of mere laborers, but with the dedication of Priests engaged in the 'Avoda' - the sacred Temple service.

(d) The connection between the events in this Parasha and Psalm 90 - 'A Prayer to Moses' is that its concluding verse formed the dedication of the Tabernacle - 'May of … G-d be upon us - our handiwork may He establish for us; our handiwork may He establish'. (Psalms 90:17)

The contradiction may be resolved as follows. The words 'because the cloud rested on it' (40:35) suggest that the Shechina was at its most intense then, but Moses could enter the Tabernacle to communicate with G-d at other times.


'The silver for the census of the community was a hundred talents and 1775 shekels…a half shekel…from each person who passed through the census takers, from the age of twenty five years and up' (38:25-26).

The text says that the silver was used for the sockets of the boards that formed the walls of the Mishkan, and it was also used in part of the construction for the outer courtyard. Yet the account of the collecting of the half-shekels is placed after the description of the making of those articles. Surely the text should have told us firstly about the collecting of the silver, and then what it was made into - i.e. in a chronological order?

*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related to the above may be found in the archives for 5760 in Shema Yisrael - on Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei. Please note that the diagrams are adapted from 'Melechet Machashevet' - issued by the Vaad L'Ezras Chinuch of Gateshead, UK (1974).

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.


Shema Yisrael Home

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel