Parshat Ki Tisa תשע"ו – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In memory of Chaim Tubali of blessed memory


In our parsha we will read a second time the Divine command to commission Betzalel to build the Mishkan: "The Tent and the Ark of the Testimony and the cover which is on it… And the Table and its utensils and the pure Menorah and all its utensils and the incense altar. And the burnt-offering altar and all its utensils and the laver and its pedestal." (Shemot 31:7-9) The order here is building the Mishkan and afterwards its contents. Among the sacred vessels is the Ark of the Testimony, before the rest of the vessels. Is this order intentional? In parshat Terumah the order is opposite: first the Ark and the sacred vessels (Shemot 25:10) and afterwards the Mishkan (Shemot 26:1).
According to our Sages, there indeed is great importance in the order of construction. Indeed Moshe Rabbenu commanded in parshat Terumah to make the sacred vessels first, but Betzalel wondered at the order that Moshe Rabbenu commanded him, and reasoned that the Mishkan should be built before the vessels. He proved to be correct, and that was the order that G-d commanded him: "Betzalel was given his name because of his wisdom. When G-d said to Moshe: Tell Betzalel to make me the Mishkan, the Ark and the sacred vessels, Moshe reversed the order, and said to him: Make an Ark and sacred vessels and the Mishkan. He answered: Moshe Rabbenu, the way of the world is first to build a house and afterwards to bring in furniture, and you say: Make me an Ark and sacred vessels and the Mishkan! The vessels that I will make - where will I put them? Perhaps G-d said to you: Make the Mishkan, the Ark and the sacred vessels. (Moshe) said to him: Perhaps you were in the shadow of G-d (betzel El) and you knew!" (Brachot 55a)
Rashi (there) connects the discussion between Betzalel and Moshe Rabbenu to the difference in the order between parshat Terumah and our parsha: "Go tell Betzalel: make the Mishkan, the Ark and the sacred vessels – since this is the way they were ordered in parshat Ki Tisa: ‘See, I called by name Betzalel… the Tent of Meeting and the Ark of the Testimony’ and all the rest. And Moshe said to him: Make an Ark and sacred vessels, like the Table and the Menorah and afterwards the Mishkan, as Rabbi Yochanan said that Moshe commanded Betzalel according to the order of parshat Terumah."
This discussion raises the question: The Mishkan is intended for the service of the sacrifices and for the indwelling of the Divine Presence, and it has to be built according to the Divine plan. So isn't the important thing the accurate "result" of the building process, and not the order in which it was done?
Similarly, why does the Torah stress the importance of the "order" of the service in the Temple and the offering of the sacrifices, as we see explicitly in Sefer Vayikra, the Mishnayot of Seder Kodeshim and Seder Ha'avodah of Yom Kippur? And also the exact thought and intention when the sacrifice is being offered? (Rambam P'sulei Hamukdashim 13,1) And what is the reason that the Torah details the exact arrangement of the camp of Israel in the desert (with the Mishkan at the heart of the camp), and the order of the journeys and encampments of the Tribes and the Mishkan? (Sefer Hamidbar)
Regarding the sacrifices, Sefer HaKuzari explains: "The intention of this mitzvah is to arrange the order necessary for the King to dwell in the Mikdash – not in the sense of dwelling in a restricted place, but rather spiritual, elevating indwelling.” (Kuzari 2:26) Also: “Divinity does not apply itself on a man except according to the man's preparation – whether very little or very much." (Kuzari 2:24)
The indwelling of the Divine Presence is the outcome of an exact order of action. Therefore, there is also importance in the order of the building of the Mishkan, which is intended for the indwelling of the Divine Presence.
The special arrangement of the encampment is also intended for the indwelling of the Divine Presence: "And I will dwell"- this tells how the (Divine) honor dwells within Bnei Israel when they set up the banners (arrange the tribes). (Even Ezra, Shemot 29:45)
In other spiritual areas as well, we find that exact order has central importance. Examples are: the Siddur (from the word seder, “order”) which encompasses the order of the prayers, having a regular nusach (custom of prayer), the Pesach Seder, etc.
Underlying everything, we must ask whether spiritual inspiration must come spontaneously or through a specific order of acts. (At the time of the controversy over Hassidism, there were opposing views on this issue.) On one hand, a predetermined, precise order is liable to turn Avodat HaShem (observance) into technical, ritual acts devoid of any soul or spiritual elevation. And on the on the other hand, an expectation of spontaneous inspiration of elevation of the soul, which will spark processes of spiritual action, puts it into question. What will happen when the inspiration doesn't come by itself? And also, how will spiritual action synchronize with the other aspects of life, which do work according to timetables?
The parsha of the Mishkan, the sacrifices and the arrangement of the encampment demonstrate that the proper way to achieve inspiration and uplifting of the soul is by performing the practical deeds of the mitzvot in a procedural, ordered and accurate way, which is accompanied by deep intention. These generate and give birth to inspiration and elevation of the spirit.

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