Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
This parasha series is dedicated
in memory of Michael Jotkowitz, z"l.
This shiur is
dedicated in memory of Nathan (Naftali Chaim ben Akiva) Wadler – whose yahrzeit
is 29 Shevat.
I Send an Angel Before You…"
Usually, in shiurim – and especially in this sort of format – it
is customary to introduce some question or topic for discussion, and then to
treat or answer it during the course of the shiur.
The present shiur is different in this respect, for the principal
question that will be presented here is given no answer. It is a very difficult
exegetical and theological problem. I believe that it does have an answer, but
it is to be found elsewhere, and hopefully we will get around to it towards the
end of Sefer Vayikra. In the present shiur we shall suffice with
an analysis of processes, a review of different hypotheses, and the solution of
some interim problems.
The Promise of the "Angel"
Following the list of laws and judgments with which our parasha
opens, God tells Moshe the following:
(20) "Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way
and to bring you to the place which I have prepared.
(21) Beware of him and listen to him, do not rebel against him, for he
shall not bear your sin, for My Name is within him.
(22) But if you will obey him well and do all that I say, then I shall
be an enemy to your enemies and I shall bring suffering upon those who cause
(23) For My angel will go before you and bring you to the Emorites and
the Chittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Chivvites and the
Jebusites, and I shall annihilate them."
The above verses deal with the fulfillment of the promise to bring Bnei
Yisrael to the land ("The place which I have prepared"). But in
and of itself, this promise sounds very peculiar: where were we told that God
would dispatch an angel to bring the nation into the land? Where in the Torah
do we hear that we must obey an angel? And - most importantly – these verses
contradict all that we are going to read in the chapters to come, the crux of
that message being that God Himself is going to dwell amidst the camp of
Israel. In chapter 25 we read, "Let them make Me and Sanctuary, that I may
dwell in their midst." If God Himself goes amidst the camp, what need is
there for an angel? And why must Bnei Yisrael obey an angel, rather than
Likewise, in the well-known verses from Sefer Bamidbar, we read:
"And it was, when the Ark traveled, that Moshe said: Arise, O God, and let
Your enemies be scattered…." Even prior to that we read, "The Ark of
God's covenant traveled before them…" – in other words, God Himself – He
Who is "seated between the keruvim"  – journeys before the
camp of Israel; why, then, an angel?
It is not my intention to discuss the metaphysical aspect of these
verses. Let us assume, for the purposes of the shiur, that there is some
form of Divine guidance or spiritual reality which God empowers to act, and
which is called an angel. The problem is, how does what we read here fit in
with all that we read further on, about God leading Am Yisrael from
within the camp, by means of His Divine Presence that dwells in the Mishkan?
Is the Mishkan an Ideal?
In fact, the problem to which the "angel issue" gives rise is
a far more comprehensive one, and we must ask what place the idea of the
Mishkan occupies prior to chapter 25 of Sefer Shemot, where Moshe is
directly commanded, as he stands atop Mount Sinai, to build the Mishkan.
The answer to this question consists of two parts: that which is left
unsaid, and that which is said but contradicts, or clashes with, the idea of
which is not said:
The construction of the Mishkan is neither mentioned nor even hinted at
anywhere in Sefer Shemot until chapter 25.
In other words, in all the time leading up to, and
including, the revelation at Sinai there is no indication that God is going to
instruct that a Mishkan be built and promise that He will dwell in the midst of
Israel. This omission pertains both to the practical aspect – i.e., the actual
construction, and to the metaphysical aspect – i.e., the idea of the Divine
Presence dwelling amongst Israel.
There are a number of places where we could have expected God to mention
this; such as at the burning bush, where there is an exposition of general
destiny and a definition of the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt, but no hint
of the Divine Presence dwelling amongst Israel. Or, in chapter 6 (beginning of Parashat
Va'era), where God again defines the purposes of the Exodus and says,
"I shall take you out… and I shall deliver you… and I shall redeem you…
and I shall take you to be My nation, and I shall be your God… and I shall
bring you to the land…." There is certainly a hint here at the revelation
at Sinai, where God takes Am Yisrael to be His nation and says,
"I am the Lord your God…," just as at the burning bush He said,
"When you take the nation out of Egypt, you shall worship God upon this
mountain." There is also a declaration as to the fulfillment of the promise
to the forefathers, that Bnei Yisrael will return to the land – again,
as foretold at the burning bush: "I shall bring you up from the suffering
of Egypt to a good and wide land, to a land flowing with milk and honey."
But there is not a single word about God's Presence going amongst the nation,
or the construction of a Sanctuary for Him.
places where we find something said in this direction, the crux is missing:
guided, in Your mercy, this nation that You have redeemed; You have led them,
in Your strength, to Your holy dwelling…"
"Bring them and
plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place of Your dwelling that
You have made; the Sanctuary, O God, that Your hands have prepared for
Let us ignore, for the moment, the problem of the text using the past
tense, here, for something that is still destined to happen, and examine the
verses themselves. The "place of God's dwelling" is in the
"mountain of His inheritance" (Jerusalem, obviously); only there will
His Temple be built. There is no hint here at any prior "dwelling"
prior to Am Yisrael reaching God's holy place.
metaphysics that arises from all of the above is as follows:
God is found in His place – Mount Sinai (see, for example, 18:5 -
"To the desert where he encamped, at the mountain of God"). There He
is revealed to Moshe, and it is to there that Moshe is destined to lead them
when they leave Egypt. This is the essence of Moshe's insistence, before
Pharoah, that God's place is at Sinai, and this is the essence of the service
of God at the foot of the mountain and the revelation there – as His place. The
same message arises from God's explicit promise:
"I shall bear
you upon eagles' wings and bring you to Me": "to Me," i.e., to
Mount Sinai, which is My place.
The covenant – i.e., "I shall take you to be My nation, and I shall
be your God" – is destined to be forged at God's place, at Sinai, and
thereafter God will fulfill His promise to bring the nation to the land of
Israel. Since God's place is at Sinai, there is no reason to expect that He
will accompany Bnei Yisrael; He need only ensure that they somehow reach
the land safely.
In the verses of the Song of the Sea and, less explicitly, elsewhere
too, we find expression of the idea that God's place is in the land of Israel,
and therefore God promised it to the forefathers – because it is His place.
This is the simplest significance of Avraham being told to go to the land of
Canaan, which is God's land; God brings Avraham to His place.
Let us ignore, for the moment, the tension that arises between these two
ideas – on the one hand, God's place is at Mount Sinai; on the other – His
place is in the land, in the "mountain of His inheritance." Let us
gather what is common to them: Egypt is not God's place, although He has the
power to act there. God comes to Egypt in order to redeem Israel. God's place
is either at the place of His revelation – at Sinai, or in His land – Israel
(Canaan). The Torah does not describe God as being omnipresent in the sense of
existing in every place, or going to every place. Were this the case, there
would certainly be no point in the revelation to Moshe taking place
specifically and intentionally at Sinai: "When you take the nation out of
Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain."
Even after Sinai, when Moshe is invited to ascend the mountain, there is
no hint that he is going to be commanded concerning the Mishkan: "Ascend
the mountain to Me and be there, and I shall give you the Tablets of stone, and
the teaching and the commandments…." No matter how we interpret them, the
terms "teaching" (Torah) and "commandments" do not –
at least on the literal level – refer to the Mishkan. This is something that is
"given" to the nation. In a future shiur we will interpret
these terms in a positive way. In any event, the omission of any mention of the
Mishkan and of the promise that God will continue to dwell amongst the nation
even when they leave Sinai, is glaring.
which is said and which appears to contradict the idea of the Mishkan:
the section about the angel – as explained above, an angel leads Israel,
rather than God dwelling Himself amongst the camp.
the section about the altar, which follows the Ten Commandments:
"God said to
Moshe: So shall you say to Bnei Yisrael: You saw how I spoke with you
from the heavens. (20) You shall not make gods of silver along with Me, nor
shall you makes gods of gold for yourselves. (21) You shall make Me and earthen
altar, and you shall sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings and your peace
offerings and your flocks and your cattle; in every place where I make My Name
recognized, I shall come to you and I shall bless you. (22) And if you make Me
an altar of stone, do not build them of hewn stone, for you will have waved
your sword over it and desecrated it."
This is a parasha that presents a completely different perception
of God's Presence and of His service than the one embodied in the Mishkan. It
is possible to fashion an altar of earth or of unhewn stone; apparently, it is
even possible to fashion many such altars, as many as we wish "in every
place," and God promises that He will come and bless us in every place
where we serve Him. There is not the slightest hint here to the copper altar
which we will later be told is "God's altar," such that it is
forbidden to slaughter a sacrifice in any other place (Vayikra 17).
There is no indication either or the material from which the altar is to be
made, nor of the idea of worship being restricted to one place. The metaphysics
that arises from this is that God is not with us: we have seen that He is in
the heavens, not on earth, therefore there is no place that is special; God
chooses of His will the place where He will bless us, and it may be any place
at all. Obviously, there is no mention of the connection between the altar and
the house of God's service; in other words, the text is not speaking of the
altar of the Mishkan.
To complete the picture, and to balance it, it must be stated that
although there is no mention of the idea of the Mishkan, it would seem that
there is more than a hint at the idea of a House of God in Eretz Yisrael. We
refer especially to two sources:
a. We have already mentioned above the
verse from the Song of the Sea: "In the mountain of Your inheritance, the
place of Your dwelling that You have made; the Sanctuary, O God, that Your
hands have prepared for You."
b. In a section towards the end of Parashat
Mishpatim, dealing with the three pilgrim festivals (Shemot 23),
we read: "They shall not appear before Me empty-handed," and also:
"Three times in the year all of your males shall appear before the Lord
God." Appearing before God obviously means that there is a place where it
is possible to come to Him and to "be seen" by God, not just to offer
a sacrifice. This explanation gains further support in light of the following
well-known verse: "The first fruits of your land you shall bring to the
House of the Lord your God." Here the text is speaking of a real House of
God; this means that God has one "House" where He is to be served.
Both of the above sources, rather than helping to clarify the picture,
actually create further difficulty, because the idea of the House of God is
mentioned by the by, not as an explicit destiny but rather either in the
framework of prayer (as in the Song of the Sea) or incidentally within the
framework of a set of laws. Since the Torah is speaking of the three pilgrim
festivals, it must mention presenting oneself before God and the bringing of
first fruits to His House. But the crux of it – the idea of God's Presence
moving from Mount Sinai to the midst of the Israelite camp – is still absent.
The Other "Angel" Promise
Before seeking an answer to all of the questions that we have raised
above, let us consider the second promise as to the guidance of the angel,
located at the climax of the episode of the Golden Calf:
(Shemot 32:32) "Now, if You will forgive their sin – and if
not, please erase me from Your book which You have written.
(33) Then God said to Moshe, Whoever has sinned against Me – him I shall
erase from My book.
(34) And now, go down; lead the nation to where I spoke of to you;
BEHOLD, MY ANGEL SHALL GO BEFORE YOU, and on the day of My visiting I shall
visit their sin upon them.
(35) And God struck the nation for having made the calf, which Aharon
(33:1) And God said to Moshe: Go, arise from here, you and the nation
that you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land which I promised to
Avraham, to Yitzhak and to Yaakov, saying – to your seed I shall give it.
(2) I SHALL SEND AN ANGEL BEFORE YOU, AND I SHALL DRIVE OUT the
Canaanites, the Emorites, the Chittites, the Perizzites, the Chivvites and the
(3) To a land flowing with milk and honey, FOR I SHALL NOT GO UP IN YOUR
MIDST - for you are a stiff-necked nation – lest I consume you on the way.
(4) When the nation heard this evil thing they mourned, and no man
placed his ornaments upon himself.
(5) And God said to Moshe: Say to Bnei Yisrael, You are a
stiff-necked nation; IN ONE INSTANT I SHALL GO UP IN YOUR MIDST AND ANNIHILATE
Moshe prays for forgiveness, after God has already accepted his first
prayer that the entire nation not be wiped out and after he has already taken
action to slay the sinners through the agency of the Levites, so that God will
not continue to plague the nation. His request here appears not to be accepted
– at least not completely – for God tells him that He will erase the sinners
from His Book. Moreover – and this is of significance for our discussion – God
commands Moshe to set off on the journey, and repeats the promise that He will
send an angel before the nation. But this time the reason that is given for the
angel leading the nation rather than God Himself going up in the midst of the
Israelite camp is because the nation is stiff-necked, and if God Himself were
to dwell in its midst, His attribute of strict justice would strike them
This is very difficult to understand: in the section about the angel in Parashat
Mishpatim, with which our discussion began, Bnei Yisrael are warned
not to disobey the angel, because he will not bear their sin "Since My
Name is within him." What, then, is the benefit of sending an angel while
God Himself refrains from journeying in the midst of the camp of Israel? Even
more perplexing is the fact that the promise of the angel appears here to be
the tragic conclusion drawn from the Sin of the Golden Calf – but we cannot say
this, for God promised that an angel would lead the nation long before the Sin
of the Golden Calf was perpetuated. This being the case, what is it that Bnei
Yisrael are regretting so deeply? Why are they mourning, if this is exactly
what was promised to them in advance?
Let us briefly review what the commentators have to say about these
problems. The Ibn Ezra explains:
"'I shall send
before you an angel' – to help you; God does not refer here to the angel who is
known to have God's Name within him" (Ibid. 2).
In other words, this is talking about a different angel from the one
that was promised to Bnei Yisrael prior to the Sin of the Golden Calf.
The name of the first one is the Name of God, and he indeed will not bear sin.
The angel here is sent to help Israel, and God's Name is not within him;
therefore, despite his help, he does not endanger Israel if they sin.
A similar explanation is offered by the Netziv:
"'I shall send
before you an angel' – this is a special angel, to look out for Israel's needs.
But it is not meant in the way that it is written in Parashat Mishpatim,
'Behold, I send an angel before you….' For there God's grace goes before them,
and the angel with them, and therefore it was forbidden to ask anything of the
angel; only from God. And this was difficult for the nation, therefore God said
that there should be a special angel such that the Divine Presence should not
be within him" (Ha-Emek Davar, ad loc.)
According to the Netziv, the text refers here to a regular angel, while
in Parashat Mishpatim the reference was to an angel that walked with God
– as, for example, in God's revelation to Avraham through the angels. To his
view, of course, in Parashat Mishpatim, too, the assumption is
that God journeys, i.e., He dwells in the midst of the camp, but there the text
was talking about an angel there to help, going before the camp. It is
difficult to understand, on the basis of his explanation, what the words above
– "For My Name is within him – are supposed to mean, and why all that the
Netziv says is not mentioned explicitly in the text.
Rashi (Shemot 23:20) offers a surprising interpretation:
"'Behold, I am
sending an angel' – here they are being told that they are destined to sin, and
the Divine Presence tells them (Shemot 33), 'I shall not ascend in your
In other words, according to Rashi, this is the same angel – and
therefore the announcement about the angel in the context of the Sin of the
Golden Calf must be regarded as the central reading in this regard. Rashi's
conclusion is that the angel that is spoken about in Parashat Mishpatim
is a result of the sin, and the text is merely anticipating here what is due to
follow. Obviously, this interpretation brings its own difficulties: there is no
hint in the text that this announcement comes post facto. Why, then,
should God command something here because of something that has not yet
The Ramban raises a further question. The promise about the angel,
uttered in the context of the Sin of the Golden Calf, was ultimately not
fulfilled, because Moshe asked: "Let the Lord them go in our midst" –
and God answered him in the affirmative. When, then, were these verses actually
realized? He answers:
according to this approach, is that that decree was not fulfilled during
Moshe's lifetime, as it is written (further on, in 33:16), 'So shall we be set
aside, I and Your nation,' and it says (Ibid. 17), 'For you have found
favor in My eyes and I have known you by name,' and it is further written
(Ibid. 34:10), 'All the nation will see that You are in its midst.' But after
Moshe's death, [God] sent them an angel, and this is as it is written (Yehoshua
5:13-14), 'And it was, when Yehoshua was in Yericho, that he lifted his eyes
and saw, and behold – a man stood in front of him with his sword drawn in his
hand, and he said to him: Are you with us or with our enemies? And he said, No,
for I am the captain of God's Host, now I have come.'"
Still, this explanation is somewhat forced. It is difficult to imagine
that an announcement speaking of an angel "to guard you on the way"
actually refers exclusively to what is going to happen later on, in the land.
Moreover, the Mishkan was not abolished when they reached the land, such that
there was a need for a new form of guidance.
The Ramban proposes a different explanation, and according to his
proposal what the text means here is not that an angel will lead them, but
rather that God Himself goes before the camp, and the title "angel"
here is not meant to replace the revelation and guidance of God, but rather to
teach us something about this certain manner of revelation.
We shall now try to get at the essence of what is going on, in light of
the questions that we posed above.
From an Angel to "I shall dwell in their midst"
In order to award thorough consideration to the questions that we have
raised, we must now raise one of the most central and most famous questions
arising from the second part of Sefer Shemot. In chapter 25 the
Torah starts speaking about the Mishkan. Despite this, Rashi maintains (Shemot
31:18) that God did not command Moshe to build the Mishkan until he descended
from the mountain, the day after Yom Kippur. The command concerning the
Mishkan, to Rashi's view, comes after the sin of the golden calf and resulted
"'And He gave
to Moshe' – The Torah does not follow chronological order. The sin of the calf
preceded the command to build the Mishkan by a long time: on the 17th
of Tammuz the Tablets were broken and on Yom Kippur God was appeased towards
Israel, and the next day they began contributing towards the Mishkan, which was
established on the 1st of Nissan.
'To speak with him'
– the statutes and the judgments in Parashat Mishpatim."
To Rashi's view, only the material covered in Parashat Mishpatim
was conveyed to Moshe on the mountain prior to the Sin of the Golden Calf,
since the command concerning the Mishkan came after the sin . If we accept
Rashi's approach then we are forced to assume that the structure of the entire
second half of Sefer Shemot is not chronological, and all the verses of Teruma
and Tetzaveh are not in their proper place. It is also difficult to
understand the meaning of the expression, "Which You were shown on the
mountain" and the suchlike, which appear in the commands concerning the
Mishkan, unless we assume that there was another ascent by Moshe which is
omitted from the narrative. The feeling here is one of after the fact, of the
Mishkan as a place of prayer and atonement; a need that became apparent mainly
as a result of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Moreover, the need for a place, a
tangible experience, also appears to have become apparent through the sin, such
that the Mishkan comes about to give it legitimate expression. Chazal
adopt Rashi's approach and teach:
"These are the
accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony – Testimony to all the people
of the world that they [Israel] had been forgiven for the sin of the calf. To
what may this be compared? To a king who married a woman and loved her; then he
became angry at her and left. Her neighbors would tell her, 'Your husband will
not come back.' Eventually he returned and came; he stood in the palace and ate
and drank with her, yet her neighbors would still not believe that he was
reconciled with her. But when they saw fragrant scent rising from the palace,
everyone knew that he had been reconciled with her. Similarly, God loved Israel
and gave them the Torah and called them a 'kingdom of priests and a holy
nation.' After forty days they became abhorrent; the nations said, 'He will not
return to you.' Moshe stood and pleaded for mercy, and [God] told him, 'I have
forgiven, according to your word' (Bamidbar 14). Moshe said, 'Who will
inform the nations?' God said, 'Let them make Me a Sanctuary….' When the
nations of the world saw the fragrance of the incense rising up from the
Mishkan, they knew that God had been reconciled with them" (Tanchuma
The message is even more explicit in the following Midrash:
"When was Moshe
told to make the Mishkan? On Yom Kippur. Because Moshe ascended the mountain
three times and spent [a total of] a hundred and twenty days there – from the 6th
of Sivan, when he ascended, until Yom Kippur, which is the 10th of
Tishrei. And on that day we are told (Shemot 32), 'God was comforted for
the sin of the calf.' On that day He told [Moshe], 'I have forgiven, according
to your word.' And on that same day [Moshe] was told, 'Let them make Me a
Sanctuary' (Ibid. 28), and on the same day [Moshe] said to [God],
'Forgive our sin and our iniquity, and take us as Your inheritance' (Ibid.
34): This day bequeathed to us forgiveness for all generations. And on that
same day God said to him, 'For on this day there shall be atonement for you' (Vayikra
16), 'And they make the Mishkan eagerly and joyfully'" (Ibid. 11).
In this Midrash, the Mishkan is perceived as a place where the
possibility of forgiveness was bestowed for all generations, and from this
point of view it is the continuation of the principle of forgiveness that has
its source in God's revelation following the Sin of the Golden Calf and the
conveying of the Thirteen Attributes. God shows Israel not only the manner of
prayer for asking forgiveness for their sins, but also the format for Divine
service. Indeed, the altar that is spoken about after the giving of the Torah
is used only for burnt offerings and peace offerings, as the verse stipulates.
In the Mishkan, on the other hand, it was possible to offer sin and guilt
offerings, and there was incense, and it was possible to be reconciled with
God. This is the essence of the innovation represented by the Mishkan.
The approach of Rashi and Chazal, as expressed above, receives
significant support from the questions we posed above. We demonstrated above
that throughout the process of the Exodus, up until Moshe's ascent to receive
the Tablets (end of chapter 24), not a word is said about the fact that a
Mishkan is destined to be built. In fact, there are expressions that stand in
contradiction to the idea of a Mishkan. And Rashi indeed proposes that the
Mishkan was a later idea that came about as a result of the manifestation of
sin. Originally there was no need for a Mishkan; it had no role. Apparently,
according to Rashi, God's original intention was that He would lead the nation
without any physical structure in which they could perform His service. It was
only after the Sin of the Golden Calf that God commanded Moshe to build it.
It is still difficult to understand why, to Rashi's view, the parashyiot
appear in the order that they do, with the command concerning the Mishkan
preceding the Sin of the Golden Calf – while the Torah contains no hint that
the sin preceded the construction of the Mishkan, both chronologically and
conceptually. Admittedly, Rashi maintains that there is no chronological order
throughout the Torah, and his interpretation rests on this assumption. But here
we are not speaking of an isolated section, or a deviation from the chronology
for which some local, specific explanation can be found. Rather, we are
speaking of half of Sefer Shemot. Indeed, the Ramban – who differs with
Rashi even on the methodological level and insists that the Torah is written in
chronological order – proposes a different way of understanding the development
"When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel, face to face,
instructing them – via Moshe – in a few commandments which are categories
(prototypes), as it were, of the commandments of the Torah, as our Rabbis used
to teach proselytes who wished to learn Judaism, and Israel accepted upon
themselves to do all that they had been commanded by Moshe and God forged a
covenant with them concerning all of this, they now became His nation and He
was their God – as He had laid down the condition originally: 'And now, if you
will listen diligently to Me and observe My covenant, then you shall be chosen
for Me' (19:5), and He said, 'You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a
holy nation' (Ibid. 6). NOW THEY WERE HOLY AND WORTHY OF HAVING A
SANCTUARY IN THEIR MIDST, THAT GOD COULD REST HIS PRESENCE AMONG TEM, AND
THEREFORE HE FIRST COMMANDED THE BUILDING OF THE MISHKAN, THAT HE MIGHT HAVE A
HOUSE IN THEIR MIDST, SANCTIFIED FOR HIS NAME, AND THERE HE WOULD SPEAK WITH MOSHE
AND COMMAND BNEI YISRAEL. THE CRUX OF THE PURPOSE OF THE MISHKAN WAS THAT THERE
BE A PLACE FOR THE DIVINE PRESENCE TO REST – THIS WAS THE ARK, AS IT IS WRITTEN
(25:22), 'I SHALL MEET WITH YOU THERE AND I SHALL SPEAK WITH YOU FROM UPON THE
COVERING….' And the essence of the Mishkan was that the Divine glory which had
rested upon Mount Sinai would rest upon it, in a concealed fashion. As we
are told there (24:16), 'God's glory rested upon Mount Sinai,' and it is
written (Devarim 5:21), 'The Lord our God showed us His glory and His
greatness,' so it is written concerning the Mishkan, 'God's glory filled the
Mishkan' (40:34). And twice it is mentioned that God's glory filled the
Mishkan, corresponding to 'His glory and His greatness' [referring to Sinai].
Thus, in the Mishkan, the Divine glory that had appeared to them at Mount Sinai
was always with Am Yisrael, and when Moshe came God spoke with
him as He had spoken with him at Mount Sinai. And as we are told concerning the
giving of the Torah (Devarim 4:36), 'From the heavens He let you hear
His voice, that He might instruct you, and upon the earth He showed you His
great fire,' so concerning the Mishkan it is written (Devarim 7:89), 'He
heard the Voice speaking to him from above the covering, from between the two
keruvim, and He spoke to him,' the expression 'He spoke to him' is repeated, to
convey what is taught in our tradition – that the Voice would emerge from the
heavens to Moshe, from above the covering, and from there He would speak with
him…" (Ramban, beginning of chapter 25).
To the Ramban's view, God commands the building of the Mishkan only at
the stage where the relationship between Israel and God is formalized and
institutionalized, such that the nation is worthy of having God's Presence in its
midst. From the Ramban's explanation it arises that the intention that a
Mishkan would be built existed all along, but there could be no instruction to
build it before the nation met certain essential conditions and experienced
certain critical stages:
a. acceptance of the commandments
b. forging of the covenant: "I
shall take you as My nation, and I shall be your God"
c. Am Yisrael, as a
nation entering into a covenant with God, is holy: "You shall be for Me a
kingdom of priests and a holy nation"
d. Then the representatives of the
nation merited a revelation of the Divine Presence upon the mountain
("They saw God").
Now, at this stage, Bnei Yisrael were ready, as a holy nation
with God as their King, that God would lead them from within their midst – in
other words, that the Divine Presence which had rested upon Mount Sinai and
with which they had entered into a covenant, would continue to accompany the
nation on its journey. Therefore it is at this point that the command to build
the Mishkan is uttered.
If this is the obvious continuation – and, in fact, the purpose - of the
process of the Exodus, as originally planned, then why does the Torah speak
about the guidance of an angel rather than the guidance of God? And why does
the Torah speak about making an altar at any place (the section about the
"earthen altar"), rather than about the altar of the Mishkan? These
questions are difficult to answer if we adopt the Ramban's approach; he severs
the verses from their literal meaning in both regards.
Concerning the angel, he proposes either that either the parasha
is to be understood as referring to the future, and as a result of the
punishment in the Sin of the Golden Calf, and as Rashi understands it, and
accordingly the original intention was for God to lead the nation with His
Presence in their midst (unlike Rashi's understanding). Or, that the angel
mentioned here does not cancel God's Presence; as he explains it according to
our tradition – that God Himself would lead the nation, through the institution
of the Mishkan, and the reference here is simply to a certain type of Divine
With regard to the earthen altar, the Ramban explains:
altar you shall make for Me' – according to our Rabbis (Mekhilta ad loc.),
in the matter of altars, which are the ones that were made in the Mishkan and
in the Temple, the commandment of altars made of earth and of stone are
mentioned here to teach that these altars, too, should be made only for God,
and there the burnt offerings and peace offerings should be sacrificed; not to
spirits all over the fields. And in every place where His Name would be
mentioned, He would come in His glory upon them and cause His Presence to rest
among them and bless them… And the reason for the expression, 'And if,' in a
command which is an obligation, is to teach that if the time will come when you
merit to inherit the land and to build Me an altar of stone, in the Temple,
take care that you do not build it of hewn stone – which you might think to do
in consideration of the glory of the edifice. And the Ibn Ezra maintains that
the command concerns the altar of the Testimony in Parashat Mishpatim
(24:4) as in his commentary (Ramban 20:21-23).
The Ramban is aware of the difficulty inherent in the teaching of Chazal,
who explain that the altar referred to here is the one in the Mishkan and in
the Temple. The text here would appear to be speaking of an altar that is built
voluntarily, that may be built one way or a different way, while the altar for
burnt offerings in the Mishkan is an obligation!
Nevertheless, Ramban agrees to accept Chazal's forced
interpretation, or alternatively proposes the approach of the Ibn Ezra – that
the text is referring to the Altar of Testimony described in chapter 24, which
was a one-time occurrence, for afterwards they were commanded to build the
Mishkan. All of these accommodations are meant to solve the fundamental problem
inherent in the Ramban's approach: that if the text is giving general guidance
about building altars anywhere, this does not sit well with his contention that
the Mishkan was planned in advance, and in fact represents the fulfillment of
the purpose of the Exodus and its climax. Thus we conclude that the Ramban makes
two uncomfortable accommodations in his interpretation in order to fit this in
with his principle that the Mishkan is, conceptually, a direct and consistent
continuation of the Exodus and its "religious" plan.
Temporary Summary and Stock-Taking
We have presented the approaches of Rashi and the Ramban, and examined
the advantages and disadvantages of each.
I believe that the Ramban's approach is fundamentally preferable in
terms of the order of the texts and their developmental logic. But we are left
with a most disturbing jump from Parashat Mishpatim, lacking any mention
or hint of the idea of the Divine Presence resting amidst the camp, to Parashat
Teruma, where the Mishkan is treated as something clear and obvious. We
have the sense of a "missing link," as it were, which we need to find
in order to answer our question. How can we bridge this conceptual gap between
the Parashiyot of Yitro and Mishpatim on one hand, with
their assumption that God is revealed at Sinai and thereafter oversees, or
blesses, the nation but is not present in their midst, and Parashat Teruma,
whose most central message is the Divine Presence resting amongst the nation?
In order to answer this question we must first address another one: does
an examination of the internal order of events in the Parashiyot of Yitro
and Mishpatim (i.e., the giving of the Torah, the conveying of the
commandments, and the forging of the covenant) give rise to a sense of some
significant omission that is not connected to the Mishkan?
I believe that the answer to this question is in the affirmative, and we
shall conclude this shiur with a presentation of this point.
We may present the general order of the revelation at Sinai as follows:
a. God speaks to Moshe, proposing that
the nation enter a covenant with Him by listening to God
b. Acceptance of the proposal.
c. God's announcement that He is
going to reveal Himself and to speak in order that the nation will believe in
Moshe as His prophet.
d. Preparations for revelation.
e. Revelation and the Ten
commandments (see last week's shiur)
f. Call to Moshe to come to the
mountain, and conveying of the commandments (earthen altar) and judgments to
him alone, up to the section about the pilgrim festivals.
g. Promise to Moshe concerning
fulfillment of the promise that the nation will be brought to the land by an
h. Moshe descends and conveys what he
received on the mountain to the nation.
i. Writing of the Book of the Covenant and the
record of the covenant, including a renewed agreement by the nation.
What we have here is a clear structure in which the framework speaks
about the covenant – first the proposal of the covenant and ultimately the
sealing of the covenant itself, while the internal part concerns the revelation
and the command itself.
There is a fixed relationship between the first part and the second
part: the first part is preparation, while the second part is realization. At
first God proposes to the nation that they enter into a covenant with Him by
committing themselves to obeying Him, and the nation agrees – without knowing
the substance of the commandments. In the second part they enter into the
covenant willingly, after hearing what is declared in the Book of Testimony by
The revelation in the first part is aimed at verifying the prophecy of
Moshe ("they shall believe in you, too, forever"). Thus the ground is
prepared for the second part, in which Moshe alone receives the substance of
the covenant (the commandments and judgments) atop the mountain, after the
nation already has faith in him.
This structure is complete and perfect from every point of view – except
that one element is missing; one that is most critical to the covenant. We have
a complete model of a covenant in Sefer Devarim. The description there
contains all that we have here (minus the revelation, since the two sides now
rely on the covenant of Chorev), with the addition of one fundamental element:
blessings and curses. In other words, a covenant – along with the actual
obligations ("If you will diligently listen to Me") – must contain
consequences. If you will listen, then such-and-such. And if, heaven forefend,
you do not – then: a list of punishments. HERE ALL OF THIS IS MISSING. The
section about the angel, which is – of course – a promise of good, does not
arise as a result of the covenant, as a promise that is conditional upon its
fulfillment. It is promised unconditionally. In other words, the element of
reward and punishment – so fundamental to any covenant, and which exists in
every other covenant in the Torah – is absent here.
Let us summarize: we have seen that, in terms of the development of the
religious idea of the Exodus, an important link connecting to the command to
build the Mishkan, is missing.
We have also seen that a fundamental element is also missing from the
giving of the Torah and the forging of the covenant at Sinai: the element of
reward and punishment (the results of the covenant).
Is there a connection between these two missing elements? Is it perhaps
the same element that is absent in both cases?
We shall leave this question unanswered, with the intention of returning
to it, hopefully, in future shiurim.
 See the shiurim
on Teruma and Tetzaveh, concerning the "kaporet"
(covering of the Ark).
 This requires
further clarification, since Parashat Mishpatim had already been
conveyed to the nation and recorded in the Book of the Covenant over which the
covenant was forged at the foot of the mountain, earlier on in chapter 34.
Translated by Kaeren