By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
February 8, 2003
Hashem commands His people to build a Sanctuary, the Mishkan,
that I may dwell in their midst (Shemot 25:8).
The wooden planks of the Mishkan structure measured 30 by 10 cubits from
within, 32 by 12 cubits from without, and 10 cubits high. The Mishkan is
placed along an east-to-west axis.
The Mishkan is draped with a number of different coverings:
1. A layer of woven curtains (yeriot):
And the Mishkan shall you make of ten curtains; of six-ply-twisted fine linen,
blue, purple and scarlet wool, woven into cherubim shall you make them (26:1).
Each curtain-panel measures 4 by 28 cubits; five of them are sewn together,
one alongside the other, resulting in a larger curtain measuring 20 by 28
cubits. The other five panels are sewn together in the same manner, and then
the two larger curtains are joined, using fifty loops and S-shaped golden
hooks, into one very large curtain measuring 40 by 28 cubits.
The Parochet (Partition), which separates the Holy from the Holy-of-Holies, is
set directly underneath these hooks, which “resemble the stars set in the sky”
(Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, 5).
The woven curtain is placed directly on top of the Mishkan: The 28 cubits
cover the outer width (12 cubits) and then hang down, 8 cubits on each side,
leaving the bottom two cubits of the boards exposed; the 40 cubits cover the
inner length (30 cubits), plus the thickness of the rear (western) boards and
then hang down 9 cubits, leaving the bottom cubit exposed. The front (eastern)
entrance to the Mishkan is not covered by these woven curtains.
2. A layer of woven goats’ hair:
And you shall make curtains of goats’ hair as a tent (L’OHEL) over the Mishkan;
eleven curtains shall you make them (26:7).
Each of these curtain-panels measures 4 by 30 cubits. Five of them are sewn
together, one alongside the other, resulting in a large curtain measuring 20
by 30 cubits. The other six panels are sewn together in the same manner,
resulting in another large curtain measuring 24 by 30 cubits. The two large
curtains are joined, using fifty loops and S-shaped golden hooks, into one
very large curtain measuring 44 by 30 cubits. The goats’ hair layer covers the
woven curtains: the 30 cubits cover the outer width (12 cubits) and then hang
down, 9 cubits on each side. Each panel of the goats’ hair curtains overlaps
two halves of a woven panel. The two extra cubits at the eastern side hang
over the entrance, “like a modest bride whose face is covered with a veil” (Rashi,
The twelve cubits at the rear trail behind the Mishkan, “like
a woman who walks through the market, with the train of her gown behind her”
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) notes that the
curtains of goats’ hair forms a separate “tent” (L’OHEL). He postulates that
sticks measuring a handbreadth’s width were inserted between it and the woven
curtain, because the minimum height of an OHEL is one handbreadth (Sukkah
10a). The goats’ hair “tent” is a domain unto itself.
3. A layer of skins:
And you shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skin dyed red, and a
covering of tachash-skins from above (26:14).
The tachash was a multicolored creature created especially for this purpose.
The skins serve as a 10 by 30 cubit roof.
R. Nechemiah and R. Yehudah disagree about the skin roof covering (Shabbat
28a): According to one, there were two separate coverings, one atop the other,
while according to the other, there was one covering composed of both kinds of
skins. One suggestion for this second view is that the area was divided into
four right-triangles of 5 by 30 cubits, and two triangles were provided for
each type of skin; in this way, the entire length and breadth of the Mishkan
was roofed by both types of skins.
Keli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) writes that the
coverings of the Mishkan parallel the creation of the universe. The ten
curtains correspond to the ten Divine Utterances by which the world was
created, as well as the Ten Statements of the Decalogue, by which the universe
is maintained (Avot 5:1). The division of the curtains into two groups of five
corresponds to the two groups of commandments in the Decalogue, those that are
between man and G-d and those between man and his fellow man. The fifty golden
hooks symbolize, according to Ba’al HaTurim (R. Yaakov ben Asher, c.
1270-1340), the fifty gates of wisdom. Keli Yakar explains that man can join
this lower world to the upper worlds by ascending these fifty stages of
wisdom, in the same way that the fifty golden, star-like hooks join the two
segments of the woven curtain.
Hashem says to the angels (Tanchuma):
“See how I love the creatures below that I descend and dwell beneath curtains
of goats’ hair.”
And, just as the two curtains are separated by the merest distance, Hashem’s
revealed Presence and His concealed Presence in the world are also very close.
In the absence of a Mishkan, we turn to the synagogue as a model for
discovering Hashem’s Immanence. In “Judaism Beyond Words: Part 3” (Commentary,
November 2002), David Gelernter asks:
... what does it mean that the main facade of nearly all synagogues is not on
the outside but on the inside? Even in such medieval synagogues as the
Altneuschul in Prague or the reconstructed synagogue of Worms, where the ark
is plain and small, it is nonetheless the building’s main facade. . . .
To find the Torah, which is G-d’s word, we open the ark; we enter the
building’s interior facade. But this grand entryway doesn’t connect outer to
inner; it connects inner to innermost.
Hashem creates, and man perfects, His universe. It is Israel’s mission to show
that Hashem’s Presence can always be discovered, if man would only lift the
veil of reality that, just barely, conceals It.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parshat Terumah opens a series of five parshiot that
deal with the construction of the Mishkan. This was the structure in which
Divine service was performed on a daily basis in the desert, and which was
the forerunner of the Beit Hamikdash. Since the Mishkan was to last less
than forty years, it seems out of all proportion for the Torah, where
every word is measured, to devote so much space to teaching and repeating
the details of its construction.
The Midrash teaches us that when God created the world He yearned to have
a dwelling place in man's material world, to complement the one He has in
the spiritual world. To that end, God commanded "And make for me a mikdash
and I will dwell among them (Shemot, 25:8)." The commentators are bothered
by the deviation from the expected "and I will dwell in it," referring to
the mishkan. They explain that God's intention was that every Jew should
create an environment in the material world that would be conducive to
housing the Divine Presence. The Mishkan, and after it the Beit Hamikdash,
housed this presence on an ongoing basis. The environment that is
conducive to housing the Divine Presence is one where material possessions
and mundane activities are sanctified by their focus on the service of
This sanctification can be replicated both in time and place. Shabbat
Kodesh is the time when physical activities and pleasures can be
transformed into holy acts. Eretz Yisrael is the place where every Jew has
the ability to sanctify worldly activities. The exile has deprived us of
the Beit Hamikdash. But God is now providing us with the opportunity to
sanctify our daily activities, by doing them in Eretz Yisrael. The Torah
teaches us that every Jew is called upon to satisfy God's desire for a
dwelling place in the physical world. This can be done most effectively in
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320