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   by Jacob Solomon

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These are the accounts of the mishkan (Tabernacle), the mishkan of testimony that were reckoned at Moses' command. It was the work of the Levites, under the authority of Itamar the kohen. Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah did everything that G-d commanded Moses (38:21-22).

The Sforno observes that the mishkan of Moses had never been captured and had never been desecrated. That is in contrast with both Temples, which suffered neglect as well as final destruction by occupying forces. Indeed, the mishkan was able to serve its purpose until giving way to the larger and more permanent structures that came with the Israelites settling the Land.

The Sforno sees a strong hint for the mishkan's long life in these opening sentences of the parasha. Instead of going straight to the financial accounting, it gives information on those involved with the construction. That was done to emphasize four elements that combined to give a special dimension of holiness to the mishkan:

(a) It was the "mishkan of testimony", the testimony referring to the two Tablets of Stone.
(b) It was under the command of Moses, the greatest of all the prophets.
(c) It was constructed by the Levites, the only tribe that had shown the ultimate loyalty in the aftermath of the Golden Calf.
(d) The building procedures were directed by Betzalel. He used his G-d-given capacity to build the mishkan to reflect G-d's creative power.

That contrasts with both Temples. Both were partially built by foreign labor.

Thus the parasha's accounting opens by implying that the mishkan had a special holiness of its own through which it would serve the Israelites for a long time, even after their entry to the Land. Put simply, a magnificent investment for those who donated.

However, in contrast to the Ramban who sees the mishkan as re-enactment of G-d's intense presence at Mount Sinai and His forgiveness for the Golden Calf, the Sforno views the mishkan only as a second best. The original plan was that G-d would dwell amongst the Israelites without special structures or offerings. He would be present wherever His name would be mentioned, including though Torah learning. Because of the Golden Calf, the Israelites lost their closest relationship with G-d. It had to be more indirect, though kohanim and korbanot - priests and offerings.

Yet despite the whole plan being a second best, the Israelites did not continue to mourn the departure of G-d's intense presence (33:3-4), but they put their failure behind them and threw themselves enthusiastically into what was the best spiritual opportunity at the time - the mishkan.

This is a lesson for the many good people who wish they were greater in Torah and mitzvot than they believe themselves to be. They look sadly and nostalgically to the spiritual giants of the past and feel that those personalities epitomize the lost golden ages. The message is that they have to give the maximum service to Torah teachings with the second or even third-best that they have, and do it lishma - without any ulterior motive.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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