The Sanctity of the Mishcan and its Component Utensils

As all I show you concerning the structure of the Mishcan and the structure of all of its utensils so you should do. (Shemot 25:9)

Parshat Terumah discusses the design of the Mishcan – the Tabernacle – that traveled with Bnai Yisrael through the wilderness. After the people entered the Land of Israel the Mishcan, in derivative forms, continued to function as the most sacred place of worship in the Land. Ultimately King Shlomo constructed the Bait HaMikdash – the Temple. The Bait HaMikdash replaced the Mishcan and became the focal point of sacrificial worship. In our parasha Hashem directs Moshe in the construction of the Mishcan – the Tabernacle, its components and utensils. Rashi explains that these instructions were to serve as the design for all generations. If any utensil should require replacement, these design specifications must be followed. For this reason, in the construction of the Bait HaMikdash, these basic design outlines were followed.[1]

The Chumash explains that in order to be initiated into service, each utensil of the original Mishcan was anointed with a specially formulated oil. The Talmud explains that this requirement did not extend beyond the initial Mishcan. A utensil constructed to replace an original component did not require anointing. For example, one of the component utensils of the Mishcan was the Shulchan – a golden table positioned directly outside of the compartment of the Mishcan that housed the Aron – the sacred Ark. The Shulchan that was fabricated in the wilderness as a component of the Mishcan was anointed with the special oil. However, if it becomes necessary to construct a new Shulchan as a replacement for the original table, the new Shulchan does not require anointing.[2] This suggests an interesting question. If the original components required anointing, why are replacements not subject to this requirement?

This question indicates an important concept. The initial anointing was performed upon specific objects. However, the process did not merely sanctify that object. Instead, the process sanctified the abstract element represented by the specific object. Let us consider an example. The original Shulchan – table – was anointed. This was not merely a sanctification of that specific object. With the anointing of the specific Shulchan in the Mishcan, the abstract element – the institution of Shulchan – was sanctified and incorporated into the Mishcan.

Now, it is possible to understand the Torah’s treatment of the replacement Shulchan. From where does this replacement derive its sanctity? It acquires its sanctity because it is a replacement or a new expression of an abstract element or institution already sanctified by the special oil. In other words, the anointing sanctified the abstract Shulchan. The new Shulchan is sanctified because it adheres to the specifications of this object. It is an expression of the element already sanctified.

This formulation reflects an important idea. The Mishcan and the Temple are permanent components of the Torah. This institution was created and sanctified in the wilderness. Each new Temple or component represents a new expression of a continuing institution. The third Bait HaMikdash will be a renewal of this permanent institution.

The Torah Promotes Peace among the Members of a Society

And the cherubs shall spread their wings upward, their wings covering the Ark-cover. And they shall face one another. They should face the center of the Ark cover. (Shemot 25:20)

The Aron – Ark – in the Mishcan held the tablets of the Decalogue. The opening of the Ark was sealed by the Kaporet – the Ark cover. Mounted on this golden cover were two cherubs. The golden cherubs were positioned at the ends of the cover. The cherubs faced one another. Their wings were spread forward and upward.

There are various opinions regarding the meaning of these cherubim. Don Yitzchak Abravanel explains that the cherubim symbolize two relationships. Their up-stretched wings represent the relationship between the individual and Hashem. The cherubim faced one another. This represents the relationship between a person and his or her friend. The cherubim were placed upon the Ark that contained the tablets. This communicates the message that both of these relationships must be based upon the commandments of the Torah.[3]

The importance of the Torah in regulating relations between individuals is reflected in a well-known teaching of the Sages. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world.”[4] This concise dictum communicates the lesson that the Torah is a guide for the treatment of one’s neighbor. Through following the principles of the Torah, a healthy community is formed.

It is interesting that our Sages taught that Torah scholars increase peace. Why did the Sages not say that the scholars create peace? Rav Zalman Soroskin zt”l offers an insightful response to this question. He explains that two issues must be addressed in order for peace to be achieved. First, there must exist, among the members of the society, a desire to establish peace. Second, wisdom is required to translate this goodwill into concrete rules for relationships. The scholar, through the Torah, can provide the framework in which peace can develop and flourish. However, in order for these efforts to be successful, there must first exist a sincere desire to pursue peace.

Based in this insight, the meaning of the Sages emerges. The Torah scholar cannot create peace. First, the desire must exist. However, given this desire, the scholar can help society achieve its goal.

Two Opinions Regarding the Design of the Menorah

Six branches should extend from to its sides – three branches from one side and three branches from its second side. (Shemot 25:32)

The Mishcan included a candelabrum – the Menorah. The Menorah consisted of a central trunk and six branches. Three branches extended from the right to the trunk. Exactly opposite these branches – on the left side of the Menorah – extended another three branches. The central trunk and each branch were capped with a flame.

The Chumash provides this general description of the Menorah. However, there is an interesting dispute regarding the specific design of the Menorah. According to Rashi, the branches of the Menorah were completely straight. They extended from the sides on a diagonal.[5] Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra disagrees. He maintains that the branches were curved. Each curved outward and then up from the trunk.[6] What is the basis for this argument?

We can gain some insight into Rashi’s position through a careful analysis of his comments. He begins by asserting that the branches were straight and angled upward. He then explains that the branches differed in length. Those branches lower on the trunk were longer. Those higher were shorter. This design assured that all the lights, located at the top of the branches, were at the same height.[7]

It is clear from Rashi that a fundamental element of the Menorah’s design was the height of the lights. The Torah required all the lights to be at the same height. Perhaps, this consideration determined the design of the branches. The branches were designed to serve a single purpose. They connected and related the lights to the trunk of the Menorah. If we assume that this is the sole function of the branches, we can understand their design. A straight diagonal branch describes the simplest path from the light to the body of the Menorah. In short, according to Rashi the fundamental design components of the Menorah were the trunk and the lights. The branches were required solely to relate the lights to the trunk.

Ibn Ezra seems to understand the design differently. According to him, the branches curved out from the trunk of the Menorah. They then rose in a path parallel to the trunk. These branches have their own design requirement and are not merely appendages joining the lights to the body. They seem to be an essential component of the Menorah. The Menorah was fundamentally a many-branched candelabrum.

In short, Rashi and Ibn Ezra differ on the function of the branches. According to Rashi, they are a functional element of the Menorah. They are required to relate and connect the lights to the trunk. Their form is dictated by this simple function. According to Ibn Ezra, the branches are a fundamental element of the form of the Menorah – a many-branched candelabra. Therefore, they are assigned their own unique design.

[1] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 25:9.

[2] Mesechet Shavuot 15a.

[3] Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Commentary on Sefer Shemot, p 252.

[4] Mesechet Berachot 64a.

[5] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 25:32.

[6] Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer Shemot, 25:32.

[7] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 25:32.