Parashat Terumah opens with the phrase, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8). A parallel phrase is found in Parashat Tetzaveh, at the end of chapter 29:
“I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the LORD their God.” (Shemot 29:45-46)
These two phrases appear to be bookends, and everything included in it – the commandments to build the ark, the menorah, and other items in the Mishkan, the instructions on building the Mishkan itself, and how to appoint the kohanim, and laws of their clothing – is part of one literary unit.
Following that section, there are a number of additional laws related to the Mishkan, before we read the story of the Golden Calf. These laws are often called an “appendix” because they are not part of the main body of laws mentioned above.
Many commentators have approached the question of why these particular laws were assigned to the appendix. Of particular concern is the first law, the instructions for the incense altar (Shemot 30:1-10), at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh.
I can’t share every answer, but here are two that I found compelling. One is by the Vilna Gaon, in his Aderet Eliyahu commentary on Shemot 30:1. He says that everything mentioned between the “bookends” (Shemot 25-29) is intended to enable a place for God to dwell – hashra’at shechina. The following sections are not about a place for the shechina, but about atonement.
This can be seen in this verse dealing with the incense altar:
“Once each year Aaron shall make atonement on the horns of [this altar]. For all generations, he shall make atonement with the blood of the atonement sacrifice once each year.” (Shemot 30:10)
Atonement is also the purpose of the census, the next set of laws:
“You will take this atonement money from the Israelites and use it for making the Communion Tent. It will thus be a remembrance for the Israelites before God to atone for your lives.” (Shemot 30:16)
My teacher, Shimon Heksher, took a different approach in his book V’Ani Lo Bati Ela. He writes that all the laws in the appendix are “accessories” to the main service in the Mishkan. This can be seen clearly in the example of the washstand (Shemot 30:17-21), which was intended for the kohanim to wash themselves before approaching for the service.
Heksher went further, and claimed that even the incense altar was an accessory, since in general the incense provided a screen between the High Priest and the Holy of Holies. However, at the height of the Yom Kippur service, no incense was brought, indicating that the incense altar was not essential for the shechina to be present.
All of this leads to a question: Why does Parashat Tetzaveh end where it does, after the laws of the incense altar? Why not end it with the final verses of chapter 29? Why is any of the appendix included?
A technical answer could be that Parashat Terumah begins with God speaking to Moshe (25:1), and the next time we find mention of God speaking again is 30:11, the beginning of Parashat Ki Tisa. However, we noted in a previous post, that the Sages didn’t have a problem breaking up a “speech” of God, and started Parashat Mishpatim a few verses after God spoke at the end of Parashat Yitro.
I propose a different answer. I think it is noteworthy that all three parshiyot – Terumah, Tetzaveh, and Ki Tisa – begin with a commandment for the Israelites to contribute something. The choice to begin each parasha where it did has brought up a number of questions, and yet that was the decision made, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
What is the lesson? The Sages determined the parasha breaks after the destruction of the Temple. I believe that by repeatedly emphasizing that the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan was dependent on the contributions of the Israelites, they were teaching their generation (and later ones) that the future Temple would not simply descend from Heaven, without effort on our side. Human contribution to the building of the Temple, along with the entire process of redemption, is essential. By repeating this idea three times, they hoped we would learn the message.