Is Moshe Massive, or the Mishkan a Miracle? by Yehuda Feman


Parashat Pekudei concludes the Torah’s account of the Mishkan’s construction. The Torah states, “VaTeichel Kol Avodat Mishkan…VaYavi’u Et HaMishkan El Moshe,” “All the work of the Mishkan was completed…And they [Bnei Yisrael] brought the Mishkan to Moshe” (Shemot 39:32-33) Rashi (39:33 s.v. VaYavi’u Et HaMishkan) records that the Mishkan was brought to Moshe Rabbeinu because Bnei Yisrael were unable to erect it themselves due to the excessive weight of the beams. Moshe, who had not yet been involved in the physical construction of the Mishkan, was instructed by Hashem to complete its construction. Rashi concludes by quoting the Midrash (Tanchuma 11) which relates that the Mishkan would miraculously erect itself and it would only appear as if Moshe was erecting the Mishkan. Moshe is present merely to facilitate the miracle, perhaps to make it more of a hidden miracle than an open miracle.

The Be’eir BaSadeh, Rav Meir Danon’s nineteenth century commentary on Rashi, poses a stunningly obvious question on Rashi’s interpretation. While it is understandable that one person could not lift the beams, how could it be that a group of people could not use their combined strength to life each beam? He suggests that perhaps in order for the beams to stand up straight, a central main beam needed to be inserted first. Since this central beam needed to bend around corners, all of the builders of the Mishkan were unable to calculate a way to insert this beam. It is the erection of this central beam which constituted the true miracle of the Mishkan.

There is yet another question posed by the Nachalat Ya’akov on Rashi’s interpretation of the Pasuk. The Gemara (Nedarim 38a) states that Moshe was ten Amot tall (approximately fifteen feet). It seems that Rashi rejects this Gemara as Moshe should be able to lift the beams which themselves are ten Amot tall (Shemot 26:15).  From the fact that Rashi believes the final erection of the Mishkan is accomplished via a miracle, it is apparent that Moshe is not ten Amot tall.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, though, explains why Rashi does not cite this Gemara based on a more careful reading of the text. The clearest answer is that the Torah makes no mention of Moshe’s astonishing height. The Torah often quotes the miraculous physical features of its characters, especially if that feature is connected to a recorded action of that character, such as in this case of Moshe erecting the Mishkan. Secondly, if we look at one of the first stories regarding Moshe in the Torah, perhaps we see that he is not ten Amot tall. After running away from Mitzrayim to Midyan, Moshe saves Yitro’s daughters from shepherds by the well. When describing their savior, Yitro’s daughters relate to Yitro, “Ish Mitzri Hitzilanu MiYad HaRo’im,” “An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds” (2:19). Certainly it would have been more natural for the daughters to describe Moshe based on his unique height rather than common nationality. Implicitly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out, it must be that Moshe was not ten Amot tall. Due to these textual proofs, Rashi opts to follow the Tanchuma’s rendering of the story rather than the potential explanation of the Nachalat Ya’akov. It is clear, nevertheless, according to either explanation that the final erection of the Mishkan is done by miracle. The need to erect the Mishkan via a miracle teaches us a very important lesson. Although the Mishkan is constructed in order to enable Bnei Yisrael to more easily connect to Hashem, it is ultimately Hashem who must help them reach this level. We must work on ourselves to have a relationship with Hashem, although we must also recognize that we need Hashem to ultimately offer us His help to ultimately succeed.

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