What was Moshe’s part in the making of the Mishkan?
(38,21) “These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moshe’s command; the work of the Levites under the direction of Itamar the son of Aharon the Kohen. And Betzalel son of Uri of the tribe of Yehudah had made all that Hashem had commanded Moshe.”
Rashi explains that “the work of the Levites” refers to their job of carrying, dismantling and setting up of the Mishkan. But if so, what relevance does this have to the accounting of the Mishkan, the subject of our posuk? And what is the relevance here of the fact that Betzalel made all that Hashem commanded Moshe?
It seems that the Torah is coming to tell us the reason why Hashem commanded Moshe to make an accounting of the Mishkan. Although there is a Midrash that teaches that the reason was because Yisrael suspected Moshe of embezzlement and therefore he needed to demonstrate that all the donations were accounted for, there are many different ways to explain the Torah. Therefore we shall instead explain that there was no such suspicion of Moshe, but rather the accounting was done for Moshe’s benefit, so that it would not seem as if he had no part in the making of the Mishkan.
Because if the craftsmen had only been able to make the physical component of the Mishkan, but the spiritual preparation, to make it fitting to be a dwelling place for Hashem, could only have been done by Moshe, this would have been his portion in the making of the Mishkan. But Betzalel knew how to do everything, even that which Hashem had commanded Moshe concerning its holiness. And Moshe was not even appointed to oversee the work of the Levites in carrying the Mishkan, because this was done by Itamar. Thus, Moshe did not do anything. And even though the Torah says that Moshe erected the Mishkan, the Midrash says that in fact the Mishkan was erected by itself. Hence, Moshe had no real part of the Mishkan at all. Therefore, Hashem commanded him to make an accounting, and this would be his portion in the Mishkan.
This is what the Torah is saying: “These are the accountings of the Mishkan…which were counted at Moshe’s command”. And the reason why this was done was because “the work of the Levites (was) under the direction of Itamar”, and not of Moshe. And as for the holiness of the Mishkan, “Betzalel…had made all that Hashem had commanded Moshe” - everything that Hashem had commanded Moshe, Betzalel had already done. Therefore, since nothing was left for Moshe, Hashem gave to him the task of accounting everything that went into the building of the Mishkan, and thereby he would also have a portion in it.
How did donating gold for the Mishkan atone for their giving gold for the golden calf?
(38,21) “These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moshe’s command; the work of the Levites under the direction of Itamar the son of Aharon the Kohen.”
Rashi explains that the Mishkan was called the Mishkan of the Testimony because it was a testimony that Hashem had forgiven Yisrael for the sin of the golden calf. But what connection does this have with the accounting of the Mishkan, the subject of our posuk?
Also, the accounting starts with a tally of the gold that was donated for the Mishkan: “All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary, the gold of the waving was twenty-nine talents, seven hundred and thirty shekels, according to the holy shekel”. Why was there a need to know how much gold was donated for the Mishkan?
The answer to these questions is given by the Midrash, which tells a parable about a young man who entered a certain province and saw some people collecting for charity. They told him to give and he gave until they told him that he had given enough. He walked on further and saw some people collecting for a theatre. They told him to give and he gave until they told him that he had given enough. So too Yisrael. They gave gold for the calf until they were told it was enough, and they donated gold for the Mishkan until they were told that it was enough, as it says in 36:7 “and the work was sufficient”. Said Hashem: Let the gold of the Mishkan come and atone for the gold of the calf.
At first glance it is not clear what point the Midrash is making, and also it is difficult to understand why their giving gold for the Mishkan should be an atonement for the gold of the golden calf - since they gave gold also for the calf it would seem that it was their nature to be liberal with their money, so what was so novel and praiseworthy about their giving for the Mishkan?
But the Midrash is saying that if we did not know the amount of gold that they gave for the Mishkan, we might have thought that the amount of gold was the same that they had given for the calf, and so since they had given gold also for the calf there was nothing remarkable about their giving gold also for the work of the Mishkan. Therefore the Torah told us the amount of gold that was given for the Mishkan, so that we would know that they gave many times more than the amount that they had given for the calf; they gave enough gold for all the work of the Mishkan, whereas for the calf they gave enough gold for only one calf. Therefore, the gold of the Mishkan could atone for the gold of the calf.
This is what the posuk is saying. “These are the accountings of the Mishkan” - to establish that they gave a very large amount, much more than what they had given for the golden calf. Therefore, this reveals why it is “the Mishkan of the Testimony” - testimony for Yisrael that they had been forgiven for the sin of the golden calf. (And this is what the posuk about the gold is saying: “All the gold that was used for the work” - for the work of the golden calf, was removed and erased by “all the work of the sanctuary”.)
Now, in the incident of the golden calf they sinned in two ways - by giving the gold and making the calf, and by the speech of their mouths when they said: “These are your gods, Yisrael”. Therefore, they needed two atonements - for the sin of their deed, and for the sin of their speech. Their donation and the making of the Mishkan of gold atoned for their giving gold and making the calf, and the second atonement was achieved with the red heifer. And therefore the Mishkan was divided into two parts. The actual structure of the Mishkan was the portion of Yisrael, and the Holy Ark and the other vessels were the portion of Moshe Rabbeinu, as I wrote elsewhere.
And because these two aspects of the sin of the golden calf just mentioned were attributed also to Aharon, since he caused them these sins by his reluctant overseeing of the making of the calf, atonement was needed both for himself and for Yisrael. And it was his four sons who came to atone for this - two of his sons died for the two aspects of the sin which he had caused, and the other two sons remained alive to atone for Yisrael. Itamar atoned for the sin of the actual deed through his overseeing of the making of the structure of the Mishkan, and their sin of speech which was atoned for by the red heifer was done through Elazar, the second son of Aharon.
This is the flow of the posukim: “These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the testimony”, that through the counting of the gold, the gold of the Mishkan became an atonement for the gold of the calf, and was a testimony for Yisrael that the sin of the calf was forgiven. But this was only one aspect of their sin, “the work of the Levites, under the direction of Itamar son of Aharon” - this atonement was achieved through his service, and was his portion. But the atonement for the second aspect, that which they had sinned through speech and said “these are your gods”, this was not achieved through Itamar, but rather through Elazar in a completely different way, through the red heifer.
Did Yisrael perform other mitzvos whilst they were involved with the work of the Mishkan?
(39,32) “All the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting was completed, and the Children of Yisrael did according to all that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they did.”
One who is involved in the performance of a mitzvah is exempt from performing other mitzvos. Therefore, as long as Yisrael were involved in the work of the Mishkan they were exempt from other mitzvos.
We can prove this from the fact that at the beginning of parshas Vayakhel the command to observe Shabbos precedes the instructions concerning the building of the Mishkan, and Rashi explained that this is to teach us that the mitzvah of observing Shabbos was not pushed off because of the work of the Mishkan. But why is such a teaching required? It must be because I would have thought that they were exempt from observing Shabbos whilst they were involved in the building of the Mishkan. From this it is clear that from all other mitzvos they were indeed exempt. But afterwards, when the work of the Mishkan was completed, they were again obligated in all the mitzvos.
This is what the posuk is saying: “All the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting was completed”, and so “the Children of Yisrael did according to all that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they did” - they once again started to fulfil all the mitzvos as required.
Another way of explaining this posuk is that it is coming to relate the praises of Yisrael. Because now that the Mishkan was built and they had a place to atone for their sins - as it says in the Haggadah: “and He built for us the Temple to atone for all our sins” - perhaps they might have thought that from now on there was no need to be so careful in the performance of the mitzvos, because if they sin the Mishkan would atone for them. Therefore, the posuk comes to tell us that even though the work of the Mishkan was completed, “the Children of Yisrael did according to all that Hashem had commanded Moshe”, without omitting a thing.
A third way to explain it is that until the completion of the Mishkan the sin of the golden calf was hanging over them, and so they could not be considered as if they kept all the Torah. But once “all the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting was completed” and so now the sin of the golden calf had been forgiven, they were now considered to be completely righteous. Therefore, the posuk now accredits them as if they had fulfilled the whole Torah, and says that now “the Children of Yisrael did according to all that Hashem had commanded Moshe”.
Why did Hashem choose Moshe to be the one to inaugurate the Mishkan?
(39,33) “And they brought the Mishkan to Moshe, the tent and all its furnishings, its clasps, its planks, its bars, its pillars and its sockets.”
The reason why the setting up of the Mishkan and the inauguration of its service was done initially by Moshe, and only afterwards by Aharon, can be explained by Chazal’s teaching that Torah sages are called Kohanim, as it says in Shmuel (8,28) “and the sons of Dovid were Kohanim”. Moreover, a Torah sage has the right to be first, because Chazal taught that there are three crowns - the crown of Torah, the crown of royalty and the crown of priesthood, but the crown of Torah is above all of them.
Therefore, Hashem commanded that the inauguration of the Mishkan, both its setting up and its offerings, should be done first by Moshe and only afterwards by Aharon, to show everyone that Moshe is also a Kohen and is first in all things of holiness.
What did Moshe need to see before he could give a blessing to Yisrael?
(39, 43) “And Moshe saw all the work and behold, they had done it, as Hashem had commanded so they had done, and Moshe blessed them.”
We can explain the flow of the posuk according to Rashi, who quotes the teaching of the Midrash that the blessing that Moshe gave them was “May it be Hashem’s will that the Divine Presence rest upon the work of your hands”. And it is clear from the Zohar (and it is brought by the Taz at the beginning of the laws of Chanukah) that a blessing can only take effect on something which already contains a little bit of the subject of the blessing. But if there is nothing there, then the blessing cannot take effect. And just as this is true in the physical realm, so is it true in the spiritual realm.
Here too, since Moshe wanted to bless them that the Divine Presence should rest upon the work of their hands, if he did not see that there was already some holiness in the work of the Mishkan his blessing would not help, and so he could not bless them. But since "“he saw that all the work, and behold, that they had done it, as Hashem had commanded so they had done“, he saw that it already had some holiness. Therefore, Moshe blessed them that the Divine Presence should rest upon the work of their hands.
What did Moshe do thirty days before he erected the Mishkan?
(40,16) “And Moshe did according to all that Hashem had commanded him, so he did.”
Behold, this posuk seems to be superfluous, because the subsequent posukim relate in detail that on the first of Nisan, Moshe did all that Hashem had commanded him. So what is the purpose of this posuk?
But we can explain that since the halachah teaches that one should discuss the laws of Pesach thirty days prior to Pesach, and in the opinion of many authorities this law applies to other festivals, here also, since Moshe had been commanded to erect the Mishkan and offer sacrifices on the first of Nisan, he started to discuss this thirty days before.
This is what the posuk is saying: “And Moshe did according to all that Hashem had commanded him” - just as Hashem had commanded him about Pesach Sheni thirty days before the date of Pesach Sheni, from which Chazal learned that one should discuss the laws of an event thirty days before, here too “so he did” - he discussed the laws relating to the Mishkan thirty days before, and then on the first of Nisan he actually erected the Mishkan.
When is giving considered to be taking?
(40,20) “And he took and he placed the testimony (the two tablets) in the ark.”
Notice that with regard to all the other vessels of the Mishkan the Torah says only that Moshe placed the vessel in its place, but here by the Holy Ark it says “he took and he placed the testimony in the ark”.
We can explain this anomaly with the teaching of Chazal, that if one gives a gift to an important person it is considered as if he has received something from him because of the pleasure and honour that he derives from giving to an important person. Various commentaries have used this teaching to explain the posuk 25:2 “Speak to the Children of Yisrael, that they shall take for Me an offering”. It should have said “they shall give to Me an offering”, but since giving to Hashem is considered like taking, it uses the expression of taking.
Therefore, since none of the vessels were so important that Moshe would feel honoured because of them - on the contrary, they were honoured because of him - the Torah simply mentions that he placed them. But since the Holy Ark was the most important of all the vessels, and Moshe was honoured to have merited the placing of the tablets there, in this case Moshe’s placing was considered as if he was taking.
This is what the posuk is saying: “and he took and he placed” - by his placing the testimony into the Ark he was considered like someone who gives to an important person, and therefore was considered a taker.
Why was Moshe not able to enter the Tent of Meeting immediately?
(40,35) “And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud dwelled upon it (עליו), and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.”
The Torah seems to be saying that the reason why Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting was “because the cloud dwelled upon it”. But this is hard to understand, because when Moshe ascended to the heavens on Mount Sinai it says (Shemos 24:18) “and Moshe entered into the midst of the cloud”. If so, why here was he not able to enter because the cloud dwelled upon it?
Because of this difficulty it seems to me that the word עליו in this posuk does not mean "upon it" - referring to the Mishkan, but rather it means "upon him", referring to Moshe, like the opinion in the gemora in Yoma 4a that the posuk in Shemos 24:16 “the glory of Hashem dwelled upon Mount Sinai, ויכסהו הענן for six days”, means “and the cloud covered him (Moshe) for six days”. Because to be fitting to ascend to Hashem he required seven days of segregation and sanctificaton in the cloud. Here too, because of the extra holiness of the Mishkan, Moshe could not immediately enter there, but first had to undergo seven days of segregation and sanctification in the cloud.
This is what the posuk is saying: “Moshe could not come to the Tent of Meeting because the cloud dwelled upon him”, in order to sanctify him. And the reason that this was needed was because “the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan”, and hence the Mishkan had a special holiness. Therefore, he was not fitting to enter there without first being sanctified.
What is the connection between the end of sefer Shemos to its beginning?
(40,38) “For the cloud of Hashem was on the Mishkan by day and there was fire therein by night, before the eyes of all the house of Yisrael in all their journeys.”
We can explain the connection between the end of the book of Shemos to its beginning - “And these are the names of the Children of Yisrael” - according to the explanation of the sefer Akeidas Yitzchok of the posuk in Tehillim 37:21 “A wicked person borrows and does not pay, but a Tzaddik is gracious and gives”. He explains that one who gives a gift to his friend, for example Reuven gives to Shimon, even if Shimon gives back to him exactly the same gift he has nevertheless not yet fufilled his obligation to him, because he has not repaid Reuven for his initiating the giving of a gift. Therefore, he has to give to Reuven a second time, and with this he will have fulfilled his obligation also for the initiation. Therefore the posuk says that “the Tzaddik is gracious and gives” a second time.
For this reason it seems that whenever Chazal mention repentance they also mention together with it good deeds, for example in Pirkei Avos 4:11 “repentance and good deeds are a shield against punishment”. Because a sinner is like someone who borrows from Hashem, as it says in Pirkei Avos 3:16 “the shop is open and the shopkeeper gives credit”. And this is even more clear from the Midrash on parshas Ki Sisoh which teaches that Hashem said: Yisrael are obligated to Me, tell them that they should repay Me. Therefore, repenting is like the repayment of the loan, and so even if a person repents and thus pays back the loan, he has still not fulfilled his obligation to Hashem for initally giving to him. Therefore, after he has repented he should start doing new good deeds in order to repay Hashem completely, as the posuk says “the Tzaddik is gracious and gives”.
Now, the reason why Yisrael merited that the Divine Presence should dwell among them even though they had sinned with the golden calf, was because the Mishkan atoned for the sin of the golden calf. This we learn from the Midrash which teaches that with the word ‘these’ they sinned, as it says “these are your gods, O Yisrael”, and with the word ‘these’ their repentance was accepted, as it says in 38:21 “these are the accountings of the Mishkan”.
But this one rectification by itself was not enough because they still needed to rectify Hashem's initially giving to them. Therefore, they needed a second rectification, and this was achieved with the words that the sefer Shemos begins with - “these are the names of the Children of Yisrael”. Thus they were atoned for twice by the word ‘these’: for the sin of “these are your gods, O Yisrael” they were atoned for by “these are the accountings of the Mishkan”, and the repayment to Hashem for initially giving to them was rectified by “these are the names of the Children of Yisrael”.
And this is what the Torah is saying here: “For the cloud of Hashem was on the Mishkan by day and there was fire therein by night, before the eyes of all of the house of Yisrael in all their journeys”. But how did they merit this? Surely they had sinned with the calf, saying “these are your gods, O Yisrael”? It must be that with the merit of both “these are the accountings of the Mishkan” and “these are the names of the Children of Yisrael”, their sin was atoned for, and thus they merited that the Divine Presence dwelled amongst them.