Posted on March 23, 2011
by Avi Buchbinder
This week’s parsha describes the building of the tabernacle, or mishkan, a portable temple used by the Israelites in the desert in which they conducted the temple services. The structure of the description of the building of the mishkan is quite interesting. The account is essentially given twice. The plans for the mishkan are outlined in parshiot Trumah, Titzaveh, and the beginning of Ki Tissa. The mishkan is then described again, almost verbatim, in Vayekhel and Pekudei this week.
So why does the Torah repeat the account of the building of the mishkan? To understand we must look at the differences between the two accounts. In particular, the differences in the description of the ark are very insightful. The ark is the holiest part of the mishkan. It was made of gold, and in it were placed the set of tablets on which were written the ten commandments. On the lid of the ark were to cherubs, statues of sorts, which some say borderline on idolatry. They were a combination of angels and birds, and above them God supposedly spoke to Moses.
There are two interesting differenced between the account of the ark given in parshat trumah when the plan is given and in parshat vayakhel when the plan is implemented. The difference between the two accounts is a lack of information in this weeks’s parsha. In the building of the mishkan, the Torah fails to mention that 1) The ten commandments should be placed in the ark, and 2) That God will speak to Moses from above the cherubs.
Logically, to understand this difference we should look at what intercedes between the two accounts. It just so happens that pretty much the only thing which comes between the instructions for the mishkan and the building of the mishkan is the story of the golden calf. In that narrative the Israelites blatantly violate the very pact which they are to place within the ark. In fact, they replace God with a golden idol, not too different from the cherubs placed on top of the ark.
Because of the incident with the golden calf God’s attitude changed. He no longer says he will speak from above the cherubs – that would look too much like the Israelites were correct in worshiping golden idols. Furthermore, in order to insure that the Jews do not think that the commandments were given by an idol, they are placed in the ark later where there is no mention of the cherubs. In fact, special significance can be found in the fact that it is Aaron who actually puts the tablets in the ark (40:20), as it was Aaron who led the nation to idol worship.
The restatement of the instructions for the mishkan essentially is a restatement of the God’s covenant with the people. Even though they sinned, God still will dwell among the people in the mishkan. However, it is made very clear that it is actually God who the people are to worship. The cherubs of ark are downplayed and even Aaron shows that God’s covenant is still binding. This week’s description of the mishkan reiterates that our faith in God and God’s dedication to the Jewish people is always attainable, even after the hardest times.