Sefer Shemot: Rising, Falling, and Rising Again by Avi-Gil Chaitovsky


As we conclude Sefer Shemot this week, one may recall that just a few months ago we read at the beginning of the Sefer that Bnai Yisrael were slaves in Mitzrayim.  We read about the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea.  We read about Bnai Yisrael’s first few problems in the desert — their lack of food, lack of water, and an attack by Amalek.  Then we heard the עשרת הדברים, the ten commandments, that formed the basis of the Brit (covenant) between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael.  Our system of civil law was established and Moshe was commanded to build the Mishkan.

Last week, in Parshat Ki Tisa, the rise from slavery in Mitzrayim to a ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש, “kingship of Kohanim and a holy nation,” came to a sudden halt.  After Moshe “disappeared” on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights, Bnai Yisrael grew restless, Aharon threw their jewelry into a fire, and the עגל מסכה emerged.  When Moshe returned he smashed the Luchot, and with it the Brit that Hashem had established with His nation.  Moshe was able to restore the Brit, however: וינחם ה' על הרעה אשר דבר לעשות לעמו, “And Hashem was consoled from the evil that he wanted to do to his nation” (32:14).

The Sefer, it seems, should end with one simple Pasuk that tells of the construction of the Mishkan.  Now we can continue to Sefer Vayikra and learn about the Avoda, the service of the Mishkan.  Yet, this is not the case.  Instead of one Pasuk, the Torah takes 214 Pesukim to inform us of the Mishkan’s construction — the entirety of this double Parsha.  If the Torah does not contain even one letter that is unnecessary, why does it need to repeat all the details of the Mishkan that we heard in Parshiot Terumah, Tetzave, and the beginning of Ki Tisa, when Hashem gave Moshe the command?

When comparing the two descriptions of the Mishkan, a small set of important differences emerge:

One difference that is often pointed out is the order of construction.  When Hashem told Moshe to build the Mishkan, He first instructed Moshe to build the Aron, the Shulchan, and the Menorah.  Only after the command to build these כלים, holy articles, did Hashem describe the building that would house them.  Yet, when Betzalel built the Mishkan, he constructed the building before the כילם.  This is easy to explain: When Hashem commanded Moshe to construct the כלים before commanding him to construct the building, He was informing Moshe that the כלים were more important than the building itself.  When Betzalel built the Mishkan, however, he was much more practical — build the building first, and then its “furniture.”  (See Berachot 55a)

A more profound difference, one that relates to the entirety of Sefer Shemot, is seen many times throughout this double Parsha.  The promise of Hashem, ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, “Build Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among you” (25:8), is no longer present.  The אורים and the תומים, stones that had the ineffable name of Hashem etched upon them, that were to be put in the חשן of the Kohen Gadol, are not mentioned during the construction.  We are not told ונעדתי לך שם על ארון העדות, that Hashem would meet with Bnai Yisrael from the Aron, as we were in Parshat Terumah (25:22).  The prohibition against removing the בדים, the carrying poles, from the Aron is also omitted.

Why has the Mishkan changed?  Did Moshe forget some of the Halachot?  Did Betzalel not follow the word of Hashem?  Or is there some greater reason that the Mishkan is described in full detail so we can point out the differences between the initial command and the actual construction?

The latter seems to be the most viable.  The Mishkan was a testimony to the Brit between Hashem and the nation.  When the nation violated the Brit by worshipping the עגל, the nature of the Brit changed.  Granted, Hashem did not carry out the evil that He wished to do to His nation, but that does not mean that everything went back to the way it was originally.  Every fast day we are reminded that the second Luchot were different from the first — while Hashem made the first Luchot Himself, the second Luchot were made by Moshe (פסל לך).  If the Brit changed, then surely the Mishkan, the physical representation of the Brit, should change as well.

No longer were we assured of Hashem’s presence —we showed Hashem that we were not deserving of that promise because we may once again turn to other gods, חס ושלום.  The אורים ותומים were also no longer given to us; we were not worthy of having a way to communicate with Hashem by asking the אורים ותומים a question like a “magic 8-ball,” להבדיל.  And we certainly were not worthy of ונעדתי לך שם; no longer could we meet with Hashem from atop the Aron.

We see that we were not at the highest point when the Sefer concludes.  The highest point was reached right before חטא העגל.  From there, we descended and then ascended again, but not to the level we had once attained.  In fact, it seems that we never reached that high point again —we never restored the Brit to what it once was.  For 3000 years we have been operating on a Brit that is less than what it could have been.  The only time that we may be able to completely rebuild the Brit is with the building of the third Bait Hamikdash, במהרה הימינו.

Work for Shabbat by Josh Strobel

Appointments and Responsibilities by Rabbi Herschel Solnica zt"l