This essay is a combination of two online lectures by R. Menachem Liebtag of the
Tanach Study Center. The lectures are from Parshat Behar and Parshat Vayakhel.
Even a cursory reading of the book of Exodus will detect that the details of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) are repeated. They appear once in chapters 25-31 and again in chapters 35-40. The obvious question is why this extraordinary amount of detail is given twice.
It has been suggested that when Moshe sewed together the scrolls of the Torah he accidentally sewed in the same scroll twice. This is supposed to explain the repetition of the Mishkan passages. This suggestion, however, is not acceptable. First of all, Moshe was not a clumsy fool, which is what someone would have to be to do that. Even if he did sew in two copies of the same scroll, would he not have noticed it later and removed it? If he had two copies, he must have needed the second for some reason, probably for another Torah. He would certainly have realized that he was missing the passages of the Mishkan for the second Torah and realized that there were two in the first Torah. Also, when reading through the first Torah he would have noticed the repetition as well. Besides this, the two passages are not exactly the same. As we will see later, there are significant differences that explain the repetition.
Additionally, this approach fails to notice that there are many passages that are repeated in the Torah. Particularly, in the books of Exodus and Leviticus we see many commandments twice. Sometimes, we find details in one section that is a lengthier explanation of commandments from a different section. This could lead to the conclusion that the passage was removed from its proper place and put in a different book. What we will now do is look a little closer at some of these repetitions and come to a very different conclusion. We will see an amazing pattern that will forcefully demonstrate that these two books are a complete unit and could not have been written by different authors and hastily combined by an editor. The passages were separated and repeated intentionally.
Let us look towards the end of Leviticus and observe some of the topics discussed.
Menorah and Shulchan
Leviticus 24:1-4 describes the commandment to light the menorah in the Mishkan and is almost exactly the same as Exodus 27:20-21. Leviticus 24:5-9 discussed how to offer the lechem hapanim (show bread) on the table in the Mishkan. This is a repetition, with more detail, of Exodus 25:30.
Leviticus 24:10-13 begins with the story of the blasphemer but then discusses civil laws and capital punishment. Verses 17-22 are almost identical with Exodus 21:12, 23-25.
Shmita and Yovel
Leviticus 25:1-54 discusses the laws of shmita and yovel. As verse 1 points out, these laws were given on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 21-24 is a long list of laws that were also given at Mt. Sinai (see Rashi to 21:1). Additionally, Exodus 23:10-11 discusses shmita. It seems like the laws in Leviticus 25 should really have been included in the long list of laws in Exodus 21-24.
Leviticus 25:55-26:2 seems to repeat three of the ten commandments. Reading it, one can see the clear reference to the first, second, and fourth commandments that were already stated in Exodus 20.
We will keep going, but notice how the later portions of Leviticus seem to correspond to earlier parts of Exodus. As we go forward in Leviticus, we find matching passaging going backwards in Exodus. This continues.
Leviticus 26:3-46 contains the Tochacha (Rebuke), as it is commonly called, which has specific rewards for following G-d's commandments and punishments for disobeying them. This seems to basically compare to the covenant that occured at Mt. Sinai. Specifically, Leviticus 26:3, 12, and 23 match very closely with Exodus 19:5-6.
Working from Leviticus 24-26, we have found the following sections (in backwards order):
(B) Ten Commandments
(C) Shmita and Yovel
(D) The Blasphemer
(E) Menorah and Shulchan
Continuing working backwards from Leviticus 23, we find the following.
(F) Shabbat and Holidays
The section in Leviticus 23:1-44 on Shabbat and the holidays corresponds to the discussion of Shabbat in Exodus 35:2-3.
(G) Animals That Cannot Be Sacrificed
Skipping the repetition of the Mishkan, which we will discuss later, we find ourselves at the beginning of Leviticus. Note how Leviticus 22:17-33 discusses animals that cannot be sacrificed, a topic that seems to be wholly appropriate for Leviticus 1.
(H) The Holiness Of Kohanim
Leviticus 21:1-22:16 discuss when a kohen, priest, can become ritually impure and when not. Generally, a kohen is forbidden to become ritually impure because he must serve in the Mishkan. This section corresponds to Leviticus 6-8 which tells us that the kohanim are the ones who serve in the Mishkan.
Using the letters noted above, let us show the corresponding passages from Leviticus and Exodus.
Leviticus Exodus (A) Tochacha 26 19 (B) Ten Commandments 25 20 (C) Shmita and Yovel 25 23 (D) The Blasphemer 24 23 (E) Menorah and Shulchan 24 25 (F) Shabbat and Holidays 23 35 (G) Animals That Cannot Be Sacrificed 27 Lev 1 (H) The Holiness Of Kohanim 21 Lev 6
What we have found is a literary structure called a chiasmus. It is a literary tool that shows unity of theme and emphasizes a central point. It generally follows the pattern of A-B-C-B-A. In other words, first saying A, then B, then C, then repeating B and then repeating A. This serves to emphasize the central point of C.
In our case, we have a super chiasmus with 9 instead of 3 points. It begins with the approach to Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 and continues through the commandments that were told at Mt. Sinai until Leviticus 26:46. The central point, in our case (I), can be found in Leviticus 8-17.
(I) The Shechina On The Mishkan
Leviticus 8-10 has the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan. Chapters 11-15 contains the laws governing proper entry into the Mishkan. 16-17 have the annual rededication of the Mishkan on Yom Kippur. Chapters 18-20 contain laws about maintaining the holiness of the people, including the famous verse of Leviticus 19:2 "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your G-d am holy."
The following chart illustrates this chiasmus that reflects the joint structures of Exodus and Leviticus:
| (B) Ten Commandments
| | (C) Commandments Between Man And G-d
| | | (D) Civil Laws
| | | | (E) Commandment Of Mishkan
| | | | | (F) Shabbat
| | | | | | (G) Animals That Can Be Sacrificed
| | | | | | | (H) How Kohanim Offer Sacrifices
| | | | | | | | / * Shechina On Mishkan
| | | | | | | | (I) Mishkan's Dedication And Proper Entry
| | | | | | | | \ * Shechina in the Camp /Land
| | | | | | | | proper behavior (or else!)
| | | | | | | (H) Kohanim - Who Cannot Officiate
| | | | | | (G) Animals That Cannot Be Sacrificed
| | | | | (F) Shabbat And Holidays
| | | | (E) Menorah And Shulchan
| | | (D) Laws In Aftermath Of The Blasphemer Incident
| | (C) Laws At Mt. Sinai, Shmita And Yovel
| (B) Ten Commandments
(A) Covenant - Tochacha
The above chart shows a fascinating chiastic structure that unites the commandments in the second half of Exodus with those in the book of Leviticus, all of which were given at Mt. Sinai (as repeatedly stated in the text). These two books are thematically unified.
In the middle of this chiasmus, at its center of emphasis, is the central theme of Leviticus - the Shechina in and out of the Mishkan. The entire structure of Exodus and Leviticus points out the importance of holiness and the impact that the Mishkan had on the nation's holiness. This is, indeed, how the chiasmus begins in Exodus 19. The Covenant spoken of there tells us (19:5-6) "And if you listen to Me and keep my covenant... you shall be for Me, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." By observing the commandments listed within this chiastic structure we fulfill the opening statements of being a holy nation, as described in the center of the structure.
The above explained why many of the commandments that could have been joined into one passage were separated and written as two passages. However, the analysis only dealt with commandments and when they were told. It skipped over narrative sections, particularly the narrative of the building of the Mishkan which was the starting point of this essay.
In order to answer this, we turn to the Ramban's introduction to the book of Exodus.The book of Exodus discusses the exile [i.e. the slavery in Egypt]... and Bnei Yisrael's redemption from that exile... for the descent of the children of Yaakov to Egypt marked the beginning of that exile... and that exile does not end until they return to the spiritual level of their forefathers... Even though Bnei Yisrael had left Egypt [i.e. physical redemption], they are not yet considered redeemed... [However,] when they reach Har Sinai and build the Mishkan, and G-d returns His Shechina to dwell among them, then they have returned to the spiritual level of their forefathers [spiritual redemption]... Therefore, the book of Exodus concludes with the topic of the Mishkan and the constant dwelling of G-d's Glory upon it [for this marks the completion of the Redemption process].
According to Ramban, the book of Exodus concludes with the story of the Mishkan bcause its construction marks the completion of Bnei Yisrael's redemption. His explanation can help us understand the manner in which the Torah repeats the details of the Mishkan.
As Ramban explained, the 'spiritual level' that Israel had achieved at Mt. Sinai was lost as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. Consequently, G-d had removed His Shechina from Israel (see Exodus 33:1-7), effectively thwarting the redemption process that began with the exodus from Egypt.
Moshe's intervention on Israel's behalf (see 32:11-14) after the Golden Calf incident certainly saved them from destruction and secured their atonement (see 32:30, 34:9). However, that prayer alone could not restore Iisrael to the spiritual level achieved at Mt. Sinai. The Shechina, which was to have resided in their midst, instead remained outside the camp (see 33:7, read carefully!).
Moshe interceded once again (see 33:12-16), whereupon G-d declared his thirteen 'attributes of mercy' (33:17-34:8), thus allowing Israel a 'second chance'. Nonetheless, the Shechina did not occur automatically. To bring the Shechina back, it would be necessary for Israel to do something; they must actively and collectively involve themselves in the process of building the Mishkan.
In other words, Israel required what we might call 'spiritual rehabilitation.' Their collective participation in the construction of the Mishkan helped repair the strain in their relationship with G-d brought about by the sin of the Golden Calf. Or, using more 'kabalistic' terminology, the construction of the Mishkan functioned as a "tikun" for the Golden Calf.
A closer examination of the passages supports this interpretation and can answer our original question, i.e. the Torah's need to repeat all the details of the Mishkan.
For example, note the Torah's use of the word "Vayakhel - And he gathered" at the beginning of the latter passage (Exodus 35:1). This immediately brings to mind the opening line of the Golden Calf narrative: "Vayikahel ha'am al Aharon - and the nation gathered against Aharon..." (32:1).
This new 'gathering' of the people, for the purpose of building the Mishkan, serves as a "tikun" for that original gathering to build the Golden Calf. As opposed to that earlier assembly, Israel now gather to build the proper symbol of G-d's presence.
Similarly, the commandment for the people to donate their gold and other belongings for this project (see 35:5) can be viewed as a "tikun" for Aharon's solicitation of the people's gold for the Calf (32:2-3).
However, the strongest proof is the glaring repetition of the phrase: -
"ka'asher tzivah Hashem et Moshe" - "as G-d commanded Moshe". This phrase not only appears in both the opening commandment (35:1 & 35:4) and the finale (39:32 & 39:43), but it is repeated like a chorus over twenty times throughout the latter passage, at every key point of the construction process. [See 35:29; 36:1; 36:5; 39:1,5,7,21,26,29,31,32,42,43; and especially in 40:16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32, as each part of the Mishkan is put into its proper place.]
Clearly, the Torah's repetition of this phrase is intentional, and may very well point to the Mishkan's function as a "tikun" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Let's explain why:
It must be understood that the people's initial intention with the Golden Calf was to make a physical representation of their perception of G-d. Despite the innocence of such aspirations per se, a man-made representation, no matter how pure its intention, may lead to idol worship (see Exodus 20:20). This does not mean, however, that G-d cannot ever be represented by a physical symbol. When G-d Himself chooses the symbol, it is not only permitted, but it becomes a mitzvah. That is basically what the Mishkan/Mikdash is all about. [See Exodus 23:17,19; 34:24; Deuteronomy 12:5,11 & 16:16.]
The Torah therefore stresses that Israel has now 'learned its lesson.' They construct the Mishkan precisely 'as G-d commanded Moshe,' down to the very last detail, understanding that there is no room for human innovation when choosing a symbol for His Divine Presence.
An Appropriate Finale
This concept of "tikun" for the Golden Calf finds further support in the very conclusion of the book of Exodus.
Although the aspect of Shechina (a central feature in the earlier passage of the Mishkan) is mentioned nowhere throughout the latter detail of the Mishkan's construction, it makes a sudden reappearance at the very end of the book. After each component of the Mishkan is put into place on the first of Nissan (see 40:1-33), this entire process reaches its dramatic climax:When Moshe had finished his work, the cloud covered the tent of gathering and G-d's glory filled the Mishkan. (Exodus 40:34)
This verse describes the dwelling of the Shechina on the Mishkan in the exact same terms used to depict the dwelling of the Shechina on Mt. Sinai:"When Moshe ascended the mountain [to receive the first tablets], the cloud covered the mountain, and G-d's glory dwelled upon Mt. Sinai..." (Exodus 24:15-16)
Clearly, the Torah intentionally parallels, thereby associating, the descent of the Shechina onto Mt. Sinai with the dwelling of the Shechina on the Mishkan. Only after Israel meticulously completes the construction of the Mishkan - precisely 'as G-d commanded Moshe' - does the Shechina return to Israel and dwell therein (Exodus 40:34), just as it had dwelled on Mt. Sinai.
Thus, the end of the book of Exodus marks the completion of the "tikun" for Golden Calf. Accordingly, as Ramban posits, the entire 'redemption process' - the theme of Exodus - has also reached its culmination.
What we have seen is that there is much intentional repetition in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. This repetition serves much thematic purpose and is integral to the structure and message of the books. Indeed, what originally looked like a sloppy repetition of the Mishkan passages turned out to be the sign of an important stage in the progression of the nation of Israel. The former slaves had reached the holiest of levels at Mt. Sinai only to lose it with the sin of the Golden Calf. The building of the Mishkan demonstrated their having earned this status on their own, thereby maturing away from the status of escaped slaves into the status of deserving, holy people.
Contributor(s): Gil Student (based on lectures from R. Menachem Liebtag; see above for links)
Last revised: 12/03/01
© Aishdas 2001