“And these are the accounts of the Mishcan — the Tabernacle of the Testimony – that were calculated by Moshe. It was the service of the Leveyim under the authority of Itamar the son of Ahron the Kohen.” (Shemot 38:21)
This pasuk introduces Parshat Pekudey. The parasha provides an account of the materials donated for the Mishcan and a description of the manner in which these materials were used.
The pasuk refers to the Mishcan as the Tabernacle of the Testimony. The simple meaning of this term is that the Mishcan housed the Luchot – the Tablets of the Decalogue. These Luchot provided testimony. They evidenced the authenticity of the Torah and the relationship between Hashem and His nation.
Rashi, based on Midrash Rabba, offers another interpretation of the testimony identified with the Mishcan. He explains that the Tabernacle indicated that Hashem had forgiven Bnai Yisrael for the sin of the Egel HaZahav – the Golden Calf. Upon the completion of the Mishcan, the Divine Presence descended upon the Tabernacle. This indicated that the relationship with Hashem was reestablished.
This interpretation of the midrash creates an interesting difficulty. The end of the pasuk explains that the service in the Mishcan was entrusted to the Leveyim and Kohanim. This was not the original design. Initially, service was commended to the first-born. However, the first-born became involved in the sin of the Egel. In contrast, the Leveyim and Kohanim withstood temptation and opposed the Egel. As a consequence, the responsibility for service in the Mishcan was transferred from the first-born to the Leveyim and Kohanim. The end of the pasuk confirms this change from the original plan.
According to the Midrash, the pasuk delivers a confusing message. The first part of the pasuk indicates that the Mishcan testified to Hashem’s forgiveness. The second part of the pasuk seems to indicate the opposite. The service was not restored to the first-born. This seems to imply that the sin of the Egel had not been completely forgiven.
Meshech Chachmah offers an interesting answer to this question. Maimonides explains that a Kohen who practices or confirms idolatry may not serve in the Temple. This law applies even if the Kohen repents fully from his sin. Why can the repentant Kohen not return to service? Presumably, Hashem has forgiven him! It seems that once the Kohen becomes associated with idolatry he is permanently unfit for service in the Mishcan. Repentance and forgiveness do not remove this association.
Based on this law, the Meshech Chachmah explains the message of the pasuk. The pasuk explains that Bnai Yisrael had, indeed, been forgiven for the sin of the Egel. Nonetheless, the first-born were no longer qualified to serve. They had identified themselves with the idolatry of the Egel and were permanently disqualified from service in the Mishcan.
“And they beat the gold into thin plates and cut them into threads, which they included in the blue, dark red, crimson wool, and fine linen as patterned brocade.” (Shemot 39:3)
The garments of the Kohen Gadol contain a number of materials. The basic threads are blue wool, dark red wool, crimson wool, and fine linen. The vestments also contain gold threads. However, the gold threads are interwoven into the other threads. How is this accomplished? Each thread of blue wool, dark red wool, crimson wool and fine linen is composed of seven strands woven together. Six of the stands are of the basic material of the thread. The seventh strand is gold. For example, a thread of blue wool in composed of seven individual strands woven together to create a single thread. Six of these strands are blue wool. The seventh strand is gold. In this manner, gold is included in each of the threads of the garment.
Our pasuk describes the process through which these gold threads are created. A quantity of gold is beaten into a thin plate or foil. Then, this foil is cut into fine threads.
The Torah does not provide many details regarding the manufacturing processes used in creating the Mishcan and the vestments of the Kohanim. For example, the craftsmen created silver sockets. The boards that supported the curtains of the Mishcan were inserted into these sockets. The Torah does not describe the process by which these sockets were fabricated. These details of the manufacturing process are not included in the Torah’s narrative.
The only detail that the Torah does provide is the method by which these gold threads were fashioned. It is odd that this detail should be mentioned. Why does this detail deserve special attention?
Nachmanides offers an answer to this question. He explains that the Torah did not dictate the specific manufacturing processes. The Torah described the elements of the Mishcan and the vestments of the Kohanim. However, the Torah did not command the craftsmen to manufacture these items in any specific manner. The craftsmen were free to rely on their own ingenuity to fashion these items. For this reason, the specific manufacturing processes are not included in the Torah. These processes were not part of the commandments to create a Mishcan and vestments for the Kohanim.
This presented the craftsmen with a dilemma. They understood the description of the Kohen Gadol’s garments. They realized that the individual threads of the garments must contain a gold strand. However, they were not familiar with a process through which gold thread could be manufactured. This challenge exceeded their experience and knowledge. They were required to invent some novel process for manufacturing these gold strands. The Torah is describing the manufacturing process invented by the craftsmen of the Mishcan. This process is described in order to demonstrate the wisdom of these craftsmen. They invented a completely new process.
“And he burned incense on it as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” (Shemot 40:26)
After the craftsmen completed the Mishcan, they brought it to Moshe for assembly. There is a difference of opinion regarding the date of this event. Many authorities maintain that the Mishcan was first assembled on the twenty-third of Adar. On this date, a seven-day period of initiation began. Moshe assembled and took down the Mishcan every day. According to some Sages, Moshe repeated this process as many as three times daily. Ahron and the Kohanim did not perform the services during this seven-day initiation. Instead, Moshe acted as the Kohen Gadol and theonly Kohen. On the eighth day – the first of Nissan – the Mishcan was again assembled. However, on this day it was not disassembled. Ahron and his sons began to assume the duties of the Kohen Gadol and the Kohanim.
Our passage states that, as one of his duties, Moshe burned incense on the altar. It is not at all clear from the Torah whether this service was only performed on the eighth day, or whether it was also performed during the seven-day initiation period. Nachmanides takes the position that Moshe offered the incense each of the seven days of the initiation.
This position presents a problem. In Parshat Tetzaveh, Hashem commands Moshe to conduct the seven-day initiation. The Torah describes the sacrifices that Moshe was commanded to offer. In our parasha, Hahsem commands Moshe on the procedure he was to follow in erecting the Mishcan. Hashem tells Moshe that he should place the Mishcan’s vessels in their proper place. He also tells Moshe to light the Menorah and place the bread on the Shulchan – the table. However, no mention is made of offering incense. In short, in neither instance in which Hashem instructs Moshe on the procedures of the seven-day initiation is any mention made of offering incense. Why did Moshe perform a service not commanded by Hashem?
In order to answer this question, we must resolve another difficult issue. Why does the Torah divide the instructions for the initiation period between Parshat Tetzaveh and our parasha? Why are some instructions provided to Moshe in Parshat Tetzaveh and other instructions included in our parasha within the directions for the assembly of the Mishcan?
The answer is that these two sections are dealing with completely different aspects of the initiation process. Parshat Tetzaveh deals with the special offerings required to initiate Ahron, the Kohanim, and the altar. This parasha does not include the lighting of the Menorah or the placing of the bread on the Shulchan. These activities were not special services performed to initiate the Mishcan and the Kohanim.
Our parasha deals with a different aspect of the initiation period. During this period, Moshe performed the daily activities that are fundamental to the Mishcan. These activities include the lighting of the Menorah and the display of the bread on Shulchan. This section does not mention the special sacrifices offered as initiation. These sacrifices were not among the daily activities fundamental to the Mishcan.
It is noteworthy that the offering of the Tamid sacrifice is mentioned in both sections. The Tamid sacrifice is a daily offering made in the morning and afternoon. Why is the Tamid included in both sections? The answer is that apparently the Tamid serves two purposes. First, it is one of the fundamental daily activities of the Mishcan. For this reason, it is included in the instructions in our parasha. Second, all other sacrifices are offered after the morning Tamid service and before the afternoon Tamid. Therefore, the special offerings of the initiation period could only be sacrificed in conjunction with the Tamid. The requirement to sacrifice these special offerings generated an obligation to offer the Tamid sacrifice in the morning and afternoon. Therefore, the discussion of the special sacrifices in Parshat Tetzaveh includes mention of the Tamid.
We can now answer our question. Why did Moshe offer the incense during the seven-day initiation period? The answer is that our parasha clearly indicates that those services that are fundamental to the operation of the Mishcan were required during these seven days. For this reason, the lights of the Menorah were kindled and the bread was displayed on the Shulchan. Moshe recognized that the offering of incense is also a fundamental performance.
He concluded that the commands to light the Menorah, display the bread on the Shulchan, and offer the Tamid were only examples of a more general obligation to perform all services fundamental to the Mishcan. Therefore, he included in his daily service the offering of the incense. He realized that this service is included in the general obligation of performing all of the fundamental services.
 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 39:3.  Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 40:27.  See comments of Nachmanides Sefer Shemot 40:27.