The Status of the Mishcan at Its Various Locations

And you shall take from the first of all the fruit produced by your land that Hashem your G-d is giving you. And you should place it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to associate with His name. (Devarim 26:2)

1. The Mishcan and its various locations
This pasuk introduces the mitzvah of Bikkurim. This mitzvah requires that the first fruit of the harvest be brought to Yerushalayim and presented to the Kohen. The mitzvah of Bikkurim does not come into effect until the land of Israel is conquered and settled.[1]

Our pasuk indicates that the Bikkurim are to be brought to the place that Hashem will associate with His name. What place fulfills this requirement? Certainly, the Bait HaMikdash – the Holy Temple – satisfies this criterion. However, the Bait HaMikdash was built by King Shlomo. How was the mitzvah of Bikkurim fulfilled prior to the construction of the Bait HaMikdash? The Midrash Sifrei discusses this issue. In order to understand Sifrei’s response, some background information is required.

At Sinai, Bnai Yisrael were commanded to build a Mishcan – the Tabernacle. This was a portable temple. During the travels in the wilderness, the Mishcan was the center for worship. All sacrifices were offered in the Tabernacle. When Bnai Yisrael entered the Land of Israel, the Mishcan was not abandoned. It was erected at Gilgal and it continued to function as the nation’s Temple. It retained this status until the Bait HaMikdash was constructed. The Mishcan was moved from Gilgal to Shilo. It was then moved to Nov. Later it was transferred to Givon.

2. Bikkurim were brought to the Mishcan only when it was at Shilo
Sifrei explains that Bikkurim were brought to the Mishcan only when it was situated in Shilo. However, prior to that point and once the Mishcan was transferred the mitzvah of Bikkurim was suspended. Performance of the commandment did not resume until the Bait HaMikdash was completed. In other words, as long as it was located in Shilo the Mishcan fulfilled the requirements of the mitzvah. Before its establishment in Shilo and once the Tabernacle was transferred from Shilo it no longer satisfied the criterion of the commandment.[2] Why was the Mishcan only appropriate for the mitzvah of Bikkurim when it was at Shilo? Why was it not suitable for the mitzvah when it was at Gilgal, Nov, and Givon?

The finest first fruit of your land you should bring to the House of Hashem your G-d. Do not cook a kid in the milk of its mother. (Sefer Shemot 23:19)

And the entire assembly of Bnai Yisrael gathered at Shilo and they established there the Ohel Moed. And the land was conquered before them. (Sefer Yehoshua 18:1)

3. The Shilo Mishcan status as Bait Hashem
Torah Temimah responds based upon the two passages above and a third passage in Sefer Shmuel. The first pasuk discusses the mitzvah of Bikkurim. In this passage, the Torah stipulates that the Bikkurim must be brought to Bait Hashem – the House of Hashem. This is an interesting term. This term is not used to refer to the Mishcan when it accompanied Bnai Yisrael in the wilderness. The term is also not used by the prophets when referring to the Mishcan of Gilgal, Nov or Givon. The prophets only call the Mishcan the House of Hashem when referring the Shilo period.[3] Torah Temimah suggests that the Torah requires the Bikkurim to be brought to Bait Hashem. The Mishcan only achieved this status during its Shilo period. After, it was only the Tabernacle but not the House of Hashem. What was special about the Shilo period and how did the Mishcan attain its special status during this period?

The second of the passages above explains that the Mishcan was established in Shilo through the decision of the entire nation. Torah Temimah explains that the decision reflected the agreement of Yehoshua, the nation’s elders and Bnai Yisrael.[4] Torah Temimah suggests that because of this consensus the special status of Bait Hashem was conferred upon the Mishcan in Shilo. The establishment of the Mishcan in Nov and Givon was not accompanied by this same level of consensus. The Mishcan was not referred to the Bait Hashem during its sojourns in these locations. Therefore, the Bikkurim could not be brought to the Mishcan while it was at these sites.[5],[6]

Torah Temimah is providing a clear distinction between the status of the Mishcan in Shilo and its status when located in Nov and Givon. However, two questions must be asked. First, why are Bikkurim brought only to the Mishcan when it has the status of Bait Hashem? Second, how did the consensus of Yehoshua, the elders and the nation confer this status?

4. Transforming Mishcan into Bait Hashem
Perhaps, the explanation is provided by an interesting law related to the Shilo Mishcan. During the time that the Mishcan was in Gilgal it was permitted to offer certain sacrifices outside of the Mishcan. When the Mishcan was transferred to Shilo, these sacrifices became prohibited. This prohibition remained in place during the entire Shilo period. In other words, the Shilo Mishcan was the exclusive location for sacrificial service. The Mishcans of Nov and Givon did not have this exclusive status. During the Nov and Givon period and until the building of the Bait HaMikdash, it was again permitted to offer certain sacrifices outside of the Mishcan. This law suggests that the Mishcan of Shilo was designated as the central and exclusive place for sacrificial service and worship. For this reason, the prophets refer to the Shilo Mishcan and Bait Hashem. Bikkurim can only be brought to a Mishcan or Mikdash that is designated as the central and exclusive location for worship – as Bait Hashem.

This explains the significance of consensus. In order for this designation to fully exist, it must emerge from the consensus of the leader or prophet, the elders and the nation. Only through the acquiescence of all these parties does the Tabernacle become the unique central location for worship – the Bait Hashem. In other words, the consensus endows the Mishcan with a higher designation and sanctity. This higher designation is essential to the mitzvah of Bikkurim.

5. The relationship of the Mishcan to the Land of Israel
Don Yitzcahk Abrabanel suggests an alternative distinction between the Mishcan of Shilo and the Mishcan of Gilgal, Nov and Givon. He observes that the walls of the Mishcan in the wilderness were made of curtains. These curtains were supported by wooden boards. In Shilo these walls were replaced by a stone structure. Only the roof of Mishcan was still composed of curtains. In Nov and Givon the original system of curtain walls supported by boards was restored. Abrabanel contends that these walls endowed the Shilo Mishcan with the status of a House of Hashem. Because the Tabernacle of Nov and Givon lacked stone walls, the Mishcan could not be defined as a house while at these locations.[7]

It seems odd that the structure of the walls of the Mishcan would determine suitability for the mitzvah of Bikkurim! How did walls produce this effect?

It seems reasonable that the presence of stone walls indicated some level of permanence. Without these stone walls the Mishcan was essentially a portable structure. It had no relationship to its current location. Once the boards and curtains were replaced by stone walls, the Mishcan was transformed. It assumed a relationship with its location. It became a feature of the Land of Israel.

Abrabanel apparently maintains that the mitzvah of Bikkurim requires more than a Tabernacle. It demands a geographically unique location sanctified as the Land of Israel spiritual center. The Bikkurim cannot merely be brought to a holy structure. They must be brought to that special location in the Land that is endowed with sanctity. A portable Tabernacle has no relationship with the land on which it is situated. It has no effect on the sanctity of its geographical location or the land. It is on the land but not a feature of the land. This changes once walls are erected. The Mishcan becomes a feature of the land. Now the geographical location is sanctified and the Land of Israel has a spiritual capital.

6. Consensus endows Mishcan with its connection to the Land of Israel
Malbim suggests that the approach of Torah Temimah and Abrabanel are related. The Mishcan of Shilo was erected with stone walls as a result of the consensus. It seems that Malbim maintains that the Mishcan cannot be assigned a relationship with a geographical location without the consensus of the prophet, elders and nation. Only when the walls are erected out of this consensus does the structure become a feature of the Land of Israel.[8]

Malbim’s approach explains another halachah. Maimonides explains the process for extending the boundaries of Yerushalayim and the courtyards of the Mikdash. He explains that this process requires the consensus of the king, prophet and Sages. Why is this consensus needed? According to Malbim, we can understand this requirement. An addition to the city of Yerushalayim endows the geographical location with the sanctity of the city. Extending the courtyards of the Temple has the same effect. It bestows sanctity upon the location. The association of these sanctities with a geographical location requires the consensus of the nation. This only emerges though the participation of the king, prophet and Sages.

1. Mesechet Kiddushin 37b.

2. Sifrei Parshat Ki Tavo, chapter 2.

3. Sefer Shemuel I, 1:24.

4. Sefer Yehoshua 18:1.

5. Rav Baruch HaLeyve Epstein, Torah Temimah on Sefer Devarim 26:2.

6. Torah Temimah does not discuss status of the Mishcan during the Gigal period. The Mishcan was placed in Gilgal by Yehoshua and it seems reasonable that this decision should have the same status as his subsequent decision to move the Mishcan to Shilo. Perhaps, because Bnai Yisrael was still deeply involved in taking possession of the land, the mitzvah of Bikkurim was not yet in place during the Gilgal period.

7. Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Commentary on Sefer Devarim, p 245.

8. Rabbaynu Meir Libush (Malbim), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 26:2.

9. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Bait HaBichirah 6:11.