The Mishkan – Lekatchila or Bedi’eved*
This week’s Parsha deals exclusively with the Mitzvah of the building of the Mishkan and its vessels.
Regarding the Mitzvah of the building of the Mishkan there is a well known dispute amongst the commentators as to when exactly the Mitzvah was given to Moshe and subsequently passed on to Bnei Yisrael.
Rashi is of the opinion that the commandment to build the Mishkan was given after the sin of the golden calf.
He relates to this twice in his commentary:
1. “When He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with the finger of God.” (Shmot 31;18)
“And He gave to Moshe, etc.
There is no “earlier” or “later” in the Torah. [Here, too], the event of the Calf preceded the command regarding the work of the mishkan by many days. For on the seventeenth of Tammuz the tablets were broken and on Yom Kippur G-d was reconciled to the Israelites. On the following day they began contributing towards the mishkan which was erected on the first of Nissan.” (Rashi ibid.)
2. “Then the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man would speak to his companion, and he would return to the camp, but his attendant, Joshua, the son of Nun, a lad, would not depart from the tent.”(Shmot 33;11)
“He returned to the camp—
after [G-d’s] conversing with him Moshe would return to the encampment and teach the elders what he had learned. Moshe acted in this way from Yom Kippur until the mishkan was erected but not longer. For on the 17th of Tammuz the tablets were broken and on the 18th he burned the Calf and judged the sinners and on the nineteenth he went up [the mountain], as it says: “The next day Moshe said to the people, etc.” and spent forty days there and asked for mercy [for the B’nei Yisrael], as it is said: “And I threw myself before G-d, etc.” And on Rosh Chodesh Elul he was told: “and in the morning go up to Mount Sinai” to receive the Second Tablets, and [again] spend forty days there, about which it is said: “I stayed on the mountain the same as the first days, etc.” [signifying:] just as the first days were with good will so were the last days with good will. Derive from this that the middle ones were with anger. On the 10th of Tishri (Yom Kippur) G-d became reconciled with the Israelites joyfully and whole heartedly and said to Moshe, “I have forgiven, as you ask, and gave him the Second Tablets and he (Moshe) came down. He began instructing him regarding the works of the mishkan and they constructed it until the 1st of Nissan.” (Rashi ibid.)
The Sforno as well agrees with Rashi and elaborates on this issue in his commentary on Shmot 24;18 and Shmot 31;18.
The Raman on the other hand strongly opposed this approach and insists that the Mitzvah of the Mishkan is absolutely independent of the sin of the golden calf. (See Ramban, Shmot 35;1, and Vayikra 8;1)
Apparently the Makhloket Rishonim (and there are congruousMidrashim as well) seems to be revolving around the question whether the concept of the Mishkan is a “Lekatchila” or “Be’dieved” situation, ie: – Ideal First Choice or After-the-Fact. If there would not have been a sin of the golden calf, would there have been a Mishkan?
For a comprehensive overview and discussion of this makhloket see Nechamah Leibowitz’s article in Iyunim Chadashim Besefer Shmot Pg. 337.
There seems to be however, a major difficulty with Rashi’s and the Sforno’s interpretation of the sequence of events. Why does the Torah relate them out of order? If indeed the commandment to build the Mishkan was given as a result of sin of the golden calf, why does the Torah relate it beforehand?
The Sforno on Shmot 31;18 answers this question and explains that the Torah first relates what ultimately the final outcome of Matan Torah was – the commandment to build the Mishkan -, and afterwards goes on to explain retroactively why the outcome does not match up with what was originally stated at Matan Totah itself – that a Mishkan would not be necessary, rather “An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall slaughter beside it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your cattle. Wherever I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.” (Shmot 20 ’21).
It seems, according to the Sforno, that it is merely an issue of style rather than an issue of essence as to why the order is not chronological.
Rabbeinu Bechaye suggests that the Torah who “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” first relates the “remedy before the illness” to inform us that it is Hashem’scharacteristic feature to prepare the atonement even before the sin is committed.
Perhaps it is possible to suggest an alternative explanation to this peculiarity, i.e.: why the commandment of the Mishkan is mentioned before the sin of the golden calf if in fact it occurred only afterwards.
The gemara in Masechet Yoma states:
“Resh Lakish says: Teshuvah is great: even the sins that have been done intentionally (zdonot) are considered as if they had been done unintentionally (shgagot). As it is written [Hoshea 14. 2]: “For thou hast stumbled in thy iniquity.” Iniquity is intentional, and yet it is called “stumbling.” This is not so? Did not Resh Lakish himself say: Teshuvah is great, so that intentional sins come to be considered as merits (zechuyot), as it is written [Yechezkel. 33. 19]: “And when the wicked returns from his wickedness, and executes justice and righteousness, he shall surely live for them”? It presents no difficulty. One is from love, and the other from fear.” (Yoma 86b)
The above Gemara expresses the unbelievable power of Teshuvah as having the ability not only to cancel out bad deeds but, if done out of Ahavat Hashem, to even turn around bad deeds into good ones.
The obvious question is, how does Teshuvah accomplish such a thing? Granted a person regrets wholeheartedly a wrongdoing, but how can that same deed be rendered a positive one as a result of Teshuvah?
The widely accepted explanation of this idea is that it stems from the “Chesed Hagadol” emanating from Hashem that is bestowed on a person who does true Teshuva. The consequence of this Chesed is the closeness the Ba’al Teshuva feels to Hashem and actions which were sins are no longer considered as such.
Rav Kook however seemed to understand the Gemara quite literally.
“…so that repentance can be a force effecting for virtue, actually transforming all intentionally evil acts into meritorious acts.” (Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuva 9;5)
“… and intentionally evil deeds are transformed into deeds of actualmerit” (ibid, 9;8)
Rav Kook uses the Hebrew word “mamash” which indicates a very literal understanding of the ability of Teshuvah to actually elevate the evil actions to meritorious ones.
How does this happen?
The answer can be found based on another Gemara in Masechet Yoma.
“And [they] cried with a great [loud] voice unto the Lord, their God. What did they cry? — Woe, woe, it is he (the yetzer to do avodah zarah) who has destroyed the Sanctuary, burnt the Temple, killed all the righteous, driven all Israel into exile, and is still dancing around among us! Thou hast surely given him to us so that we may receive reward through him. We want neither him, nor reward through him! … They ordered a fast of three days and three nights, whereupon he was surrendered to them.
He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a young fiery lion. Thereupon the Prophet said to Israel: This is the evil desire of idolatry…
They said: Since this is a time of Grace, let us pray for mercy for the Tempter to evil. They prayed for mercy, and he was handed over to them. He said to them: Realize that if you kill him, the world goes down. They imprisoned him for three days, then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it. Thereupon they said: What shall we do now? Shall we kill him? The world would then go down. Shall we beg for half-mercy? They do not grant ‘halves’ in heaven. They put out his eyes and let him go. It helped inasmuch as he no more entices men to commit incest.” (Yoma 69b)
We learn from this Gemara that evil actions that are performed are the results of different energies, inclinations and desires in the human being. These “kochot’ in themselves are not good or bad, they are part of the human make-up. The way they express themselves depend on the way one decides to use them and give them expression.
That is why the yetzer of avodah zarah “came forth from the Holy of Holies like a young fiery lion”. That same yetzer that was responsible for avodah zarah was the same yetzer that is found in the most holy of all places! Likewise with the yetzer of arayot. The same yetzer that causes adultery and related sins is at the same time responsible for reproduction and continuity in the world – then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it!
Interesting to note as well that the Gemara doesn’t call them yetzer hara, merely yetzer.
The diminishing of these yetzarim not only eradicated the sins they caused, but also effected in a negative way Avodat Hashem and Ahavat Hachayim. (See Rav Kook, Eder Hayakar Pgs 30-31; Igrot Harav Kook Vol.2 pgs 43, 51-52) )
Whenever one performs an aveirah, it stems from an awakening of forces in a person’s being. When one does Teshuvah for the aveirah, Teshuvah Mi’yirah (fear) shows regret and remorse for the consequences, and they can be considered unintentional. Teshuva Mi’ahava (love) however has the ability of not only regretting the results but at the same time taking note and appreciation of the energies and forces aroused. This is how teshuva Mi’ahava in fact turns the sins into merits.
In the words of Rav Kook:
“When preoccupied with repentance, it is particularly necessary to define clearly between the nature of good and evil, so that the remorse and agitation of will from affirmation to negation will take effect only upon evil and not upon virtue; even more, there must be a clarification and strengthening of the virtue to be found in the depth of evil – with that very power by means of which man flees from evil , so that repentance can be a force effecting for virtue, actually transforming all intentionally evil acts into meritorious acts.” (Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuva 9;5)
“There is a fault in the character of the lower level repentance, in that it weakens the will of man and thereby causes defect in his personality. This fault is corrected when the thought of repentance comes to its fullest development. For it then is united with exalted repentance, whose primary intent is not the weakening of will and the breaking of the personal character of man, but rather the strengthening of his will and the enhancement of the worth of his personality. Thereby are intentionally evil acts transformed into acts of merit? (Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuva 9;7)
“Those very inclinations of evil become purified within him; the powerful will that shatters all barriers, the will that caused sin, becomes a vital force effecting great and exalted achievements for virtue and blessing.” (Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuva 12;1)
Back to the Mishkan.
Perhaps the reason why the Torah first relates the Mitzva of the Mishkan before the sin of the golden calf even though it was given afterwards is because what started as a sin, after Teshuva Mi’ahava, became a merit.
When Bnei Yisrael sinned with the golden calf, besides the sin itself, surfaced as well a yearning and passionate desire for closeness to the Divine. This unfortunately expressed itself in Avodah zarah. However after the long process of true repentance, which culminated on Yom Kippur, Bnei Yisrael succeeded in removing the bad expression of those forces, but retained and purified the passion and desire for closeness to Hashem.
That yearning could then find its expression in the Mitzvot of the Mishkan.
The Torah relates the commandment of the Mishkan prior to the sin of the golden calf because it had been elevated to a level of “first best” subsequent to the Teshuva of Bnei Yisrael.
The Pasuk says:
“For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.” (Mishley 24;16) This is usually understood as meaning that the Tzaddik, even though he falls, will be able to rise up. However many Chasidic Rabbi’s explained that only when the Tzaddik falls, can he rise to the next level! (See Pri Tzaddik; Netzavim 1)
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