Ari Sacher
Ari Sacher

‘Temporary and Permanent’ Vayakhel–Pekudei–HaChodesh 5781

The Tabernacle (Mishkan) was finally complete. The Jewish People had managed to create an earthly abode for G-d’s Divine Presence. An entire nation held their breath as the Cloud of Glory descended from heaven [Shemot 40:34]: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting[1] and the Presence of G-d filled the Mishkan”.

And then they hit a roadblock [Shemot 40:35]: “Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of G-d filled the Mishkan”. Moshe was locked out of the Mishkan, which was highly problematic because G-d had explicitly told Moshe that He would be speaking with him from within the Mishkan [Shemot 25:22]: “There I will meet with you and I will impart to you – from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant – all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people.” Fortunately, the setback was only temporary. The Torah later attests that G-d did indeed speak regularly with Moshe from within the Mishkan [Bemidbar 7:89]: “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him”. How did Moshe gain entry? Rashi, the premier medieval commentator, who lived in France in the eleventh century, notices this discrepancy and offers a solution based on the exegetical rule of “Two contradictory verses whose reconciliation comes from a third verse”. Rather than referencing a third verse, Rashi draws our attention to the second half of the first verse, “…because the cloud had settled upon it”. Rashi concludes, “Hence you may say: whenever as the cloud was upon [the Mishkan], ‘he was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting’, but as soon as the cloud disappeared, he entered it and spoke with Him”.

Rashi’s grandson, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, known as the Rashbam, offers a slightly different solution. He suggests that G-d’s Divine Presence that blocked Moshe’s entrance to the Mishkan was a one-time phenomenon that occurred only on the day of the Grand Opening of the Mishkan, as a demonstration of His Love for His people. Eventually, the Divine Presence entered the Mishkan and entrenched itself in a permanent location “above the cover of the ark, between the two cherubim”. The Rashbam notes that a similar phenomenon occurred at the Grand Opening of the first Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) [Kings I 8:11]: “The Priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of G-d filled the House of G-d”. The Rashbam concludes, “Afterwards, [G-d] reduced His presence to the [Holy of Holies], enabling the priests to perform their duties.”

For some reason, instead of concluding his explanation, the Rashbam continues, going completely off-topic: “Anyone who pays careful attention to the words of our Creator will not depart in his exegesis from that of my grandfather Rabbi Shlomo (Rashi). Most of the laws of the Torah which have been attributed through exegesis as being derived from the text of the written Torah are very close to the plain meaning of the written text. The basic approach to his exegesis was to derive meanings from superfluous words or letters, or from missing words or letters in the text of the written Torah. It would be well if you also accepted what I have explained and you would do well not to ignore it.” To summarize: [1] My grandfather was brilliant, and [2] I’m pretty smart, too. Whatever brought that on?

Before we address this question, we require one additional piece of information. Rabbi Eliezer Zev Rosenbaum, the Grand Rabbi of the Kretshnif (Romania) Hassidism in the previous century, asks in “Raza d’Shabta” why G-d chose to demonstrate His love in a way that prevented Moshe from entering the Mishkan. Rabbi Rosenbaum begins his answer by referencing the Talmud in Tractate Berachot [34a] that states that the spiritual level of a person who has repented for his sins – “a ba’al teshuva” – is so great that a perfectly righteous person (Tzaddik Gamur) cannot stand next to him. He then reminds us that the Mishkan was created as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel). When G-d’s Divine Presence entered the Mishkan, it was a clear sign that the sin had been forgiven[2]. The Jewish People, as a result, attained the status of “Ba’alei Teshuva” and so Moshe, who was truly a Tzaddik Gamur, could not stand in their presence. There could be no greater demonstration of Divine Love.

It turns out that the raison d’être of the Mishkan is the subject of a disagreement between Rashi and Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, who lived in Spain and in Israel about a century after Rashi. Rashi asserts that the Mishkan was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf while the Ramban asserts that the Mishkan would have been built whether or not the Jews had sinned. The point of contention lies with the location in the Torah of the sin of the golden calf, in Chapter 32 of the Book of Shemot. This episode is sandwiched between commandment to build the Mishkan, given in Chapter 25, and the actual construction of the Mishkan, described beginning in Chapter 36. The Ramban, as a rule, interprets the Torah chronologically and so asserts that the commandment to build the Mishkan chronologically preceded the episode of the golden calf. Rashi, who posits that the Torah will sometimes forego chronological order for thematic order[3], asserts that the episode of the golden calf preceded the commandment to build the Mishkan. The ramifications of this disagreement are huge. If Rashi is correct, then the unavoidable conclusion would have to be that had the Jewish People not sinned with the golden calf, there would have been no need for a Mishkan, and by extension, for a Beit HaMikdash, or for any kind of synagogue, for that matter. Judaism would have been very different than it is today. Rashi’s explanation is nothing less than revolutionary.

Rabbi Menachem Liebtag, who teaches at Yeshivat Har Etzion, comes to Rashi’s  rescue. Rabbi Liebtag shows[4] that the requirement for an earthly sanctuary preceded the sin of the golden calf. For instance, long before the sin of the golden calf, when Jacob awakens from a dream in which angels are ascending and descending a ladder, he promises [Bereishit 28:22] “This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be G-d’s abode”. Similarly, at the Revelation at Sinai G-d commands [Shemot 23:19] “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the House of G-d”. Rabbi Liebtag differentiates between the word “Mikdash” – a permanent sanctuary – and “Mishkan” – a temporary sanctuary. The concept of a permanent sanctuary is fundamental to our faith. A sanctuary is vital to bridge the infinite void between the spiritual and the corporeal. The debate between Rashi and the Ramban pertains only to a temporary sanctuary. According to the Ramban, the Jewish People, who were at the time only eleven days away from the Land of Israel, could have waited until they arrived in Jerusalem to build the Beit HaMikdash. Rashi, on the other hand, posits that as a result of their grievous sin, they needed physical contact with the Divine sooner rather than later.

Now we can return the Rashbam’s soliloquy. Rabbi Rosenbaum makes it clear that the Rashbam rules like his grandfather, that the Mishkan was built in atonement for the sin of the golden calf. I suggest that the Rashbam is warning the reader not to accuse Rashi of rewriting Judaism by suggesting that communal prayer in the synagogue was a result of circumstance. On the contrary: Rashi’s interoperation is “very close to the plain meaning of the written text”, as Rabbi Liebtag has shown. To understand Rashi, continues the Rashbam, we must differentiate between the temporary and the permanent. Just like the barrier that prevented Moshe from entering the Mishkan was temporary, so was the Mishkan, itself. Both were necessary to demonstrate G-d’s eternal and unconditional love for His children. May it be the Will of G-d that He speedily rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, where can we can worship Him and where He can revel in us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Iris bat Chana.

[1] The “Tent of Meeting” used here is synonymous for the main structure of the Mishkan.

[2] Rashi states this clearly in his commentary on the words [Shemot [38:21] “Tabernacle of Testimony”.

[3] This is referred to by our Sages as “Ein mukdam u’me’uchar ba’Torah”. This does not mean that the Torah is a random array of snippets, but, rather, that chronological order is not necessarily maintained.

[4] See https://outorah.org/p/37446/

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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