The relationship of the command to build the
Mishkan and the narrative of its actual construction is quite
puzzling. That is to say, in Parshas Terumah, we find that God
commanded Moshe first to build the holiest kelim - the Aron (Ark)
and Keruvim (Cherubs) - followed by objects of lesser holiness -
namely, the Shulchan (Table) and Menorah - while the actual
Mishkan structure and perimeter were commanded last. On the other
hand, when it came time to construct the Mishkan, Bezalel reversed
the order, first establishing the outer chambers and sections, and
constructing and installing the holy furnishings (Aron, Shulchan,
Menorah) last. (Shmos 38:22). In fact, Rashi (ibid.) quotes the
Tamlud which explains that Moshe Rabbeinu agreed to this order.
Why, then, was the command to build the Mishkan in reverse?
On a simpler level, one can question why the narrative of the
Mishkan's construction details every facet of the work, for all
details of the Mishkan were already presented in the command to
build it. Could the Torah not have simply told us that all that
Moshe was commaded was carried out by Bezalel and his workers
without repeating each elaborate step?
I believe that both of the above questions share one answer.
According to the Ramban, who posits that the Mishkan was commanded
to be built before the Chet Ha-Egel (Sin of the Calf) and that the
construction commenced subsequent to the Chet Ha-Egel, we must
understand that the Mishkan's role changed as a result of the Sin
and was redefined thereafter. Prior to the Chet, the Jews were
treated as deserving to be experience God's holiness and goodness
almost effortlessly. The radiant tablets were gifted without human
toil, and - so too - the Mishkan was to be a place of God's lofty
Presence in our midst, and we were not expected to do anything to
merit this state other than build the Mishkan. It is for this
reason that the most holy kelim (vessels) were commanded first, as
the idea of the Mishkan was for us to experience God's holiness in
all of its intensity, to the greatest extent humanly possible. The
exterior of the Mishkan was a mere contained for the holy kelim.
With the Chet Ha-Egel, all changed. We took God's Presence for
granted and no longer deserved automatic exposure to
manifestations of His holiness, just as we no longer merited to
have the first set of tablets, which were a supernatural object of
absulute, unfathomable kedusha. Henceforth, the Jews needed to
appreciate God's Presence, and they had to work for His closeness.
This is why Moshe had to personally carve the new tablets, and why
Hashem said that He would not personally accompany Bnei Yisroel
after the Chet. He was teaching us that we need to put forth
effort and show a desire to be close to Him. So, too, the Mishkan
now took on a new identity. It was to be a place for Bnei Yisroel
to approach Hashem and seek Him. Thus, the structure, being a
place of prayer and a venue to approach God was primary, and the
keilm were secondary. This explains the reverse order of the
Mishkan and vessels at the time of its construction.
Thus, there were really two Mishkans. One was a container for
kedusha, as depicted prior to the Chet. Another was a place for
getting close to Hashem, as narrated in the post-Egel parshiyos of
the Mishkan's construction. The Mishkan is thus presented twice,
as it was truly a dual or two-function structure. This idea is
borne out in Rashi (from Torah Kohanim) in Shmos 40:35, in which
he explains that there seems to be a contracdiction in how Hashem
spoke to Moshe in the Mishkan. On the one hand, the Torah states
that God's voice came to Moshe, while another pasum explains that
Moshe came to the Mishkan to God. Both of these ideas reflect the
dual nature of the Mishkan.
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