The previous Parsha, Mishpatim, comes to an end as Moshe enters the cloud, ascends the mountain, and remains there 40 days and nights (Shmot 24:18). Parshat Trumah follows, with a call for donations, and with instructions and a description of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which is to be built. The straightforward reading of the text is uninterrupted, undisturbed. As we read them, the verses seem to flow effortlessly. However, Rashi informs us that this continuity is artificial; this is not the proper sequence of events.

Rashi's comment is not to found locally; it is neither at the end of Mishpatim, nor at the beginning of Trumah. Ironically, his comment is also "out of place", found six chapters later, at the point in the text where Rashi believes the Biblical narrative should have continued after Moshe's ascension to Mount Sinai. Commenting on the last verse of Chapter 31, in Parshat Ki Tisa, Rashi raises the question of Biblical chronology:

He gave to Moshe when He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two Tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God (Shmot 31:18)

"And He gave to Moshe": There is no deliberate sequence to the events in the Torah. The Golden Calf preceded the command to build the Temple by a significant amount of time. For on the 17th of Tammuz the Tablets where broken (as a response to the Golden Calf) and on Yom Kippur (almost three months later) God was placated toward Israel, and the following day they began the collections for the Miskhan which was erected on the first of Nisan. 1

This passage in Rashi raises a whole host of questions, some on the theoretical plane, affecting the entire discipline of Bible Studies, and some of a more limited scope, involving the verses in this Parsha: Why would Rashi "complicate" matters by taking the text further from its straightforward reading? What are the implications of such an understanding of the text in this instance, and more generally for our understanding of Biblical chronology? Is there any evidence from the verses that the sequence of events is not as it appears in the text? And if Rashi is correct, why were the verses (in this instance and in other instances throughout the Biblical narrative) written in this particular order? And finally, why does Rashi not make this comment at the end of Mishpatim, or the beginning of Trumah, where the disruption of chronological order takes place?

A simple solution to all of these questions might be a literary approach to the text: We may say that the text of the Torah is ordered along thematic lines, and not according to chronological sequence. Yet this answer leaves us unsatisfied: when there are lacunae, they must be explained. The Torah's every word, every letter, every punctuation point and cantillation sign, reveal theological and philosophical truths. The reason the text is transmitted in this particular order must be examined, explained and understood.

Reading the text in the sequence Rashi suggests, with the sin of the Golden Calf immediately preceding the instructions for the Miskhan, has theological implications: Were it not for the sin of the Golden Calf, no instructions to build the Miskhan would have been forthcoming. The sin of the Golden Calf was a result of the frustration inherent in worshiping a transcendent God, a God that cannot be touched, embraced, or prostrated to. This can be very demoralizing to man who wants something tangible to worship. The implication is that the Miskhan is a concession to failed, lowly man. In other words, the Miskhan was born of sin, and is illegitimate, a mistake.

This approach can lead to an attitudinal shift regarding most of the following chapters of the Book of Shmot, as well as large parts of the book of Vayikra. All of the sections that pertain to the Miskhan and its ornaments would necessarily be relegated to a diminished status. The conclusion would be that real Judaism, authentic Judaism, Judaism as it was meant to be, knows of no Miskhan, no offerings, no sacrifices, and thus no altar or figurines (kruvim).

The Rambam addresses this philosophical question in the "Guide for the Perplexed," Book 3, Chapter 32:

The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service; comp. "and to serve him with all your heart" (ibid. xi. 13); "and you shall serve the Lord your God" (Shmot 23:25); "and ye shall serve him" (Devarim 13, 5). But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as we have explained. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is accustomed... For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. "And they shall make unto me a sanctuary" (Shmot 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; comp. "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me" (ibid. 20,21); to offer the sacrifices to Him.

This approach, which sees the Miskhan and korbanot (sacrifices) as a concession to human need and a co-optation of pagan practice for service of the Almighty, doesn't ring true in light of numerous verses. For example, when Noach brought an offering, the smell was a "delight and pleasing for God.2 Even before that episode, what pagan influences could have impacted Cain and Hevel? 3 Clearly, there was no "regular" form of worship in those circumstances. Throughout the Book of Bereishit, we see evidence that contradicts the Rambam's formulation: When Yaakov lies down one mysterious and awesome night, he sees angels climbing to heaven, and vows that he will build a house for God. When the Israelites crossed the Sea, which split majestically for them – they broke into song and exclaimed:

You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom you have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation. The people shall hear, and be afraid; sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chiefs of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moav, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they shall be as still as a stone; till Your people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, whom you have made. You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which You have made for You to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.

The words of the Song of the Sea should be re-examined in our present discussion: The entire nation experienced prophecy at the Splitting of the Sea, and the words and phrases with which they express their joy and gratitude unmistakably describe the content of their vision. They saw the Canaanites fleeing before them in fear; they saw their own future in the Promised Land. Regarding our topic of inquiry, they saw a "Holy habitation", a "mountain of inheritance" – they saw a "Sanctuary." All this, as they passed through the sea; all this was expressed in rapturous song when they emerged safely on the other side. They sang about God's Sanctuary, the Mikdash, long before there was a Golden Calf. At the Splitting of the Sea, the Israelites had an epiphany of the Beit HaMikdash standing in all its glory in Jerusalem.

The Ramban differs sharply with the Rambam. The Ramban believes that the Miskhan is holy and sublime.4 In his view, the purpose of the Miskhan is to continue the Revelation begun at Sinai.5 This may be traced in the parallel language utilized to describe the completed Miskhan and the language employed to describe Mount Sinai during the Revelation:

And Moshe went up to the Mount, and a cloud covered the Mount. And the Glory of God abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the Glory of God was like devouring fire on the top of the Mount in the eyes of the People of Israel. And Moshe went into the midst of the cloud, and went up to the Mount; and Moshe was on the Mount forty days and forty nights. (Shmot 24:15-18)

Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of Good filled the Miskhan. And Moshe was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the Glory of God filled the Miskhan. And when the cloud was taken up from over the Miskhan, the Children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of God was upon the Miskhan by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the House of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Shmot 40:34-38)

In a word, the holiness of Sinai is transferred to the Miskhan. 6 In the Ramban's view, this was always part of the plan; the sequence of events was as it is recorded. Rashi's claim that the sequence of the text is convoluted, would be forcibly rejected by the Ramban, and we are left to attempt to decipher Rashi's motivation for changing the sequence, and to deal with the philosophical "fallout" of such a reading of the text as it effects the status and stature of the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Miskhan and the Beit HaMikdash.

The implications of Rashi's reading of the sequence of events seem somehow counter-intuitive: How can an institution so central in significance to Jewish experience, service, and prayer for the next millennium have such inauspicious origins?

We should note that Rashi himself never expressly states that there would not have been a Miskhan had the Israelites not sinned with the Golden Calf; this conclusion was implied. Even if we are correct in deducing this conclusion from Rashi's comment, further clarification is required. Let us consider the evidence: Neither the Song of the Sea nor Yaakov's vow point to a Miskhan. Both of these earlier references point to the building of a Beit HaMikdash, a permanent structure in the Land of Israel, at a specific location. Why did we need a Miskhan? The answer seems obvious: Hundreds of years would elapse between the Revelation at Sinai and the building of the Beit HaMikdash. Our question should be, was this part of the original plan?

We can reconcile Rashi's comments here regarding the status of the Miskhan and the context in which it was designed, with comments elsewhere regarding the wanderings of the Jews in the desert. While conventional wisdom would have it that the Jews wandered for forty years as a punishment for the sin of the spies, Rashi explains that this punishment was not directly or exclusively the result of the slanderous report of the spies or of the Israelites' reaction. In Rashi's view, the sin of the Golden Calf was an equal factor in the sentence decreed upon the Israelites. When the Children of Israel worshipped the Golden Calf they made at the foot of Mount Sinai, they received a "suspended sentence" of 40 years of wandering. When the spies returned with their slanderous and disheartening report, and the Children of Israel cast aside their faith in God and adopted the report of the spies, the "suspended sentence" was actualized. Rashi reaches this conclusion through a simple mathematical calculation.

According to the number of the days in which you spied the land, forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.

Rashi explains:

Even though it preceded the sending of the spies, for making the Calf this punishment arose in thought, but (God) waited for them to complete (their iniquity), and this is the meaning of the verse (Shmot 32:34) ...And on the day that I punish them (for the sin of the spies), I will remember their sin (of the Golden Calf)' Here, too (i.e., at the Golden Calf), it says... "And you will pay for your sins". Not "for your sin," but for two sins, the (Golden) Calf and the complaints (after the spies returned). (Rashi on Bamidbar 14:33)

The sin of the spies took place in the second year after leaving Egypt, and the Israelites wandered the desert for another 39 years.7 Thus, Rashi calculates the fortieth year, or to be more precise, the first year, as the year between the first sin, the Golden Calf, and the second sin, the sin of the spies. The year they had already spent in the desert was calculated within the forty year sentence as "time served."

From the more positive side of the coin, we might look at this issue slightly differently: After the Revelation at Sinai, the Jews should have marched triumphantly and directly into Israel and claimed their national inheritance. At that juncture, their vision at the Sea would have been realized: The Canaanites and the other nations who stood in their way would have scattered. Had they not sinned with the Golden Calf, had they marched directly from Sinai into Israel, they never would have needed a Miskhan. They would have built the Beit HaMikdash on the Holy Mountain without any interruption.

In other words, both the Rambam's view and Rashi's view are correct, but each reflects a different strand of our development. The text, as it has been transmitted, reflects the organic connection of the terumah to the Revelation at Sinai, a seamless transference of the Revelation to the House of God, the march from Sinai to Israel and the immediate building of the Beit HaMikdash as a means of establishing ongoing revelation. This is how the Ramban reads the text. Rashi's comment, in which the sin of the Golden Calf interrupts the narrative and colors the building of the Miskhan, reflects the developments, not as they should have been but as they were: The course of history, the choices made by human beings, caused a shift. The Miskhan, and not the Beit HaMikdash, was built; the desert, and not Mount Moriah, was the venue. Yet the theological truth remains unchanged: The Beit HaMikdash, and by default, the Miskhan, enable us to bring the Revelation into our daily existence. The text is written in proper sequence, on the philosophical level, and out of sequence on the chronological level.

With this insight we can return to the beginning of Parshat Trumah. Mishpatim ended with Moshe entering the cloud on his way up the mountain. This week's Parsha begins with the instructions to collect materials:

Speak to the People of Israel, that they bring Me an offering; from every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering... And let them make Me a Mikdash (Sanctuary), that I may dwell among them. (Shmot 25:2,8)

The word "li" ("me") is difficult in both of these verses. Take "me" teruma, make "me" a Mikdash. The linguistic difficulties in the text continue: "I will dwell within them," rather than dwelling within "it" (the Mikdash). This difficulty is repeated further in the text of Chapter 29: We are told that the Tent of Meeting will be sanctified, the Altar hallowed, Aharon and his children will be sanctified to serve God, and the purpose of all this is revealed:

And I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the Altar and I will sanctify Aharon and his sons to serve me. And I will dwell within the Children of Israel and be for them a God. And they will know I am the Eternal their God who took them out from the land of Egypt to dwell within them, I am the Eternal God.

The message is clear and unmistakable: The reason for the Exodus is so that God can dwell within the Jewish People. In fact, this plan was already revealed at the Burning Bush.8 In fact, according to Chazal9 the Burning Bush is called sneh to connect it linguistically with Sinai. It is here, on the mountain that Moshe sought (or found), the "Mountain of God" called Horev, which is of course another name for Sinai, it is at the Revelation of the Burning Bush that God reveals His plan to Moshe:

And Moshe shepherded the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock far into the desert, and came to the Mountain of God, to Horev... And He said, 'Certainly I will be with you; and this shall be a sign to you, that I have sent you; When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain. (Shmot 3:1,12)

The Ibn Ezra points to this pronouncement as the defining principle of the Exodus: the purpose of the Exodus is that the people would build a Miskhan, and that God could dwell within them.

"And they will know": This means that they will then know that I took them out of Egypt only so that they will make for me a Miskhan and I will dwell among (or within) them. And that is (what is meant by the verse) "and you will worship God on this mountain."

The objective of the Exodus is not merely geographical – neither to "merely" leave Egypt, nor to "simply" go to Israel. No, the objective is to serve God. And this service is specific: They were meant, from the very start, to build a Miskhan, to bring offerings, to have God dwell within them. The language used at the Burning Bush to describe the future service of God on that same spot is avoda – sacrificial service of God. The connotation of the avoda involves bringing sacrificial offerings.

We should not be surprised that the Ramban concurs with the Ibn Ezra's reading:

But Rabbi Avraham (Ibn Ezra) said that "I took them out of Egypt only so that they will make for me a Miskhan and I will dwell among (or within) them. And that is (what is meant by the verse) "and you will worship God on this mountain." This is well-stated; and this being so, there is herein a great mystical secret, because the straightforward meaning of this is that the dwelling of the Shekhina in Israel is a human need and not a Divine need (literally, a higher need), but this is as the Scripture states, (Yeshayahu 49:3) "O Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

The Ramban's comment adds one additional piece of information which requires very careful attention: At the Burning Bush, a mystical secret was revealed to Moshe that links that earlier revelation with the building of the Miskhan. Our understanding of the role of the Miskhan, to allow God to dwell among us, satisfies a human need. We seek knowledge of the Divine, we desire intimate contact with God, and the Miskhan is the vehicle for this intimacy. God's presence, the Shekhina, abides in the Miskhan, and our human need for a physical manifestation of God's Presence is satisfied. On the other hand, Judaism believes that God has no needs. God is perfect, and suffers no lack of any kind. The concept that the Ramban mentions, the idea of a "Divine need", seems at first glance to be an oxymoron. Midrashic sources allude to this "mystical secret" as a complex process that requires examination and elucidation.

"That they take for me an offering"(Shmot 25:2): It is written, 'For I give you good doctrine; forsake ye not my teaching.' (Mishlei 4:2). Do not forsake the article I have transferred to your possession.

This Midrash links the Giving of the Torah with the building of the Miskhan – the end of Parshat Mishpatim with the beginning of Parshat Trumah. The Midrash then continues to describe the relationship:

'I have sold you My Torah, but with it, as it were, I also have been sold,' as it says, "That they take me for an offering." It can be compared to the only daughter of a king whom another king married. When he wished to return to his country and take his wife with him, he [the father] said to him: 'My daughter, whose hand I have given you, is my only child. I cannot part with her, neither can I say to you: "Do not take her," for she is now your wife. This favor, however, I would request of you; wherever you go to live, have a chamber ready for me that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter.' Thus God said to Israel: 'I have given you a Torah from which I cannot part, and I also cannot tell you not to take it; but this I would request: wherever you go make for Me a house wherein I may sojourn,' as it says, 'And let them make Me a sanctuary' (ib. 25:8).

By acquiring the Torah, the Jews made an acquisition in God Himself (as it were). This explains the unique use of the word li, noted above: The li of the terumah and the Mikdash are connected. By accepting the Torah, we have also accepted God, and we need to build a place for God to dwell. But there is a much deeper aspect of this connection, deeper than the linguistic parallel, and intimated by the Midrash. The direct connection between the Torah and the Mikdash goes much further. Elsewhere,10 the Midrash teaches that when Moshe ascended to the heavens to receive the Torah, he saw a glorious vision. This is only hinted at in the verses in our Parsha that give building instructions for the Miskhan:

And see that you make them after their pattern, which was shown to you on the Mount. (Shmot 25:40)

And you shall erect the Miskhan according to its fashion, which was shown to you on the Mount. (Shmot 26:30)

Hollow with boards shall you make it; as it was shown to you on the Mount, so shall they make it. (Shmot 27:8)

Moshe is given verbal instructions to build the Miskhan, but abstract descriptions are difficult to translate into precise, concrete terms. The verses intimate that God did more than dictate instructions to Moshe, he showed him images as well. 11

But what was Moshe shown? Did he see models, isolated elements of what was to be constructed by the people, or was he shown something far more complete?

There is a concept know as the Heavenly Temple – the Beit HaMikdash shel Maala. 12 The Midrash teaches that when the Ten Commandments were uttered by God, they were projected out of this Heavenly Temple.13

The Peskita teaches that when Moshe ascended into the heavens, he saw the Temple above, completely built. It is to this Beit HaMikdash shel Maala that God refers time and again in the verses in our Parsha, with the phrase "as you saw on the Mount." 14

The human "need" is to transform the mundane objects of our world into something spiritual. The "Divine need" is to "compress" spirituality and enable it to be contained within the physical world. One method of accomplishing the latter is giving man the Torah. The creation of the Miskhan, and of the earthly, physical Beit HaMikdash shel Matah, reflects both the human and the Divine "need", allowing the spiritual, Divine Beit HaMikdash to descend to earth, and allowing the People of Israel to collect their physical, mundane materials and elevate them, turn them into a vessel for spirituality. We accepted the Torah, and were given this spiritual place of meeting with the Divine.

It is more than a coincidence that the Midrash which contains this great mystical secret chose to teach us through the symbolism of marriage. The terminology of terumah is very particular, but is glossed over in translation:

V'yikchu is the word used to describe the method of donation. This word means "to bring" or "to take," and its usage bears a connotation of legal acquisition.

Speak to the People of Israel, that they bring me an offering; from every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering.

When the Torah describes marriage, this same terminology is used:

When a man takes a wife...( Dvarim 22:13)

Marriage is called kidushin, derived from the word kedusha, holiness. The process of building the Miskhan is similar to the process of kidushin; both result in a sanctified relationship. Both allow the elevation of the physical to a level of spirituality that would have been thought impossible in our world of flesh and blood, stone and wood, silver and gold. The building of the Miskhan is the culmination of the marriage that took place between God and the Jewish people at Sinai. The Mishna at the end of Taanit teaches:

Likewise it says (Shir haShirim 3), "Go forth, o ye daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, even upon the crown wherewith his mother hath crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart." 'On the day of his espousals' refers to the day of the Giving of the Torah. 'And on the day of the gladness of his heart' refers to the building of the Beit HaMikdash; may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Marriage is legally actuated with a transfer of a valuable possession, most commonly a ring, but the completion of the marriage ceremony is with yichud, when husband and wife come together, alone at last, in a symbolic home. On the national level, the act of acquisition was in God's giving and our accepting the Torah. The completion of this wedding, our yichud with God, is in the Miskhan.

This was the "Divine need": to complete the marriage. Once we accepted the Torah, declaring our dedication to God and to Him alone, the process of marriage began. The building of the Miskhan is the necessary final step. The building of the Miskhan must follow the Giving of the Torah just as yichud follows the act of kinyan kidushin.

Although we now suffer the pain of estrangement, we look forward to the day when the Jewish People renew their vows with God by accepting the Torah completely. On that day, the Third Temple, the place where we consummate our intimacy with God, will descend,15 fully built, from heaven.16

  1. A comment in some editions of Rashi includes an interpolation which offers an alternative explanation. The Torah indeed follows the proper sequence, and Rashi's chronology is correct, except for one consideration: The instructions for the Temple contained in Parshat Trumah were part of what God said to Moshe while he was on Mount Sinai, and not what Moshe said to the people when he descended.
  2. Bereishit 8:20-21: And Noah built an altar to God; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And God smelled the pleasing odor; and God said in his heart, 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing, as I have done.'
  3. Bereishit 4:3-4: And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord. And Hevel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it. And God had respect for Hevel and for his offering...
  4. See Ramban's introduction to Shmot.
  5. See Ramban Shmot 25:1.
  6. See the previous two footnotes and citations, also see Ramban on Shmot 40:34.
  7. See Dvarim 1:2: There are eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.
  8. According to the Ramban and Ibn Ezra.
  9. See Sifra beginning of Vayikra, and Ramban Dvarim 33:16.
  10. Pisikta Rabati Parsha 20.
  11. The tense of the word "shown" is very difficult to decipher; is this present or past tense? Is Moshe still on the Mountain when these words are spoken, which would coincide with our hypothesis at the outset of this discussion, or has come down? This question is significant for our discussion of the sequence of events of these Parshiot. Presumably, Rashi would say that this is past tense, and perhaps refers to the second time Moshe went up after the golden Calf debacle. However, see Shmot 25:16, where the implication, based on the tense for the verb "I will give" is that the Tablets were not yet given to Moshe. In fact, the narrative would fly in the face of this understanding, making it impossible to decipher the actual meaning of the tense.
  12. See Rabenu Bachya on Shmot 25:8.
  13. Midrash Tehilim 30.
  14. Pesikta Rabati Parsha 20.
  15. The Ben Yehodaya says that this Third Temple, destined to descend from heaven, is what the Jews saw when the Sea was split. Also see the Beit Halevi on Bereishit 25:25, and the Meschech Chochma on Shmot 15:16.
  16. See Rashi, Talmud Bavli Sukkah 41a SV Ey Nami, Rabbenu Bachya on Bereishit 28:17.