In this week’s parsha we read an extremely detailed description of each and every one of the various vessels in the Mishkan. The exact dimensions are given and minute details of both the materials used and how they should be combined are explained. Indeed, for most of us, when we reach these parsheoit we quickly reach for the “picture books” to help us visualize the vast intricacies in the Torah.
In this shiur I would like to take a step back and look at the issue from a legal- technical point of view, which I think will help add meaning to the very notion of the Mishkan.
In his “Sefer Hamitzvot” the Rambam begins a series of Mikdash related mitzvoth from mitzvah number 20 and onwards. (The division of the mitzvoth in this book has been a subject of much discussion. The Rambam groups different mitzvoth together without telling us why one group precedes another or why certain mitzvoth are recorded in the group in which they appear. The Rambam’s method of classification should be compared to his own categories in the Moreh Nevuchim where as well he delineates similar lines and his most complete work of classification, the Mishne Torah, where the Rambam was revolutionary in many ways, his categorization being just one of them).
” Mitzvah 20 is to build a place of worship “avodah”, in which sacrifices will be offered, the fire will burn constantly, and all will gather there during the “regalim”; this is mentioned in the pasuk “ve’asuu le mikdash””.
The Rambam goes on to explain that this mitzvah includes various components such as the menorah, shulchan and mizbeach and that he does not think that each vessel should be listed its own. This principle is explained in detail in the 11th shoresh that the Rambam wrote as an introduction to the sefer hamitzvot where he sets down the criteria for counting an action as a mitzvah. He explains that in many cases the Torah mandates a mitzvah with several components and they are to be counted as only one mitzvah. This point is fairly obvious when all components are needed in order to fulfill the mitzvah, as is the case of the four species on sukkot. If we do not have all four we cannot fulfill our obligation and therefore it is natural to assume that they are in principle one mitzvah. The Rambam extends this idea to cases where one element can be used without the other, nevertheless when both are present only one mitzvah is counted. The classic example is the techelet- blue and white threads in tzitzit, one can fulfill the mitzvah with only one type and yet if both are present the Rambam counts this as only one mitzvah.
In our case the Rambam is telling us that the Mishkan was to be seen as one integrated unit, including the vessels within.
The Ramban (I’ll use Nachmanadies in order to avoid confusion), takes issue with the Rambam in his comments on mitzvah 33. He state that the “vessels are not part of the building, rather they are two mitzvoth as we can use the Mishkan even if we would be lacking these vessels”. Nachmanadies claim is that, as opposed to the Rambam, if we can get “away” with out one of the components this is indicative of it being an independent mitzvah and as such the Mishkan and the vessels are not related.
Despite this argument Nachmanadies himself felt that the construction of the vessels should not be counted separately for another reason entirely. He writes that the manufacturing of the vessels was simply a preparatory stage to the real mitzvah- the use of the vessels. The making of the menorah was not a mitzvah but simply a preparation for lighting it, which is the mitzvah. The making of the shulchan was not a mitzvah but simply a preperation for placing the bread upon it, which is the mitzvah. When it comes to the Aron he argues that its construction, including the placement of the luchot inside, is indeed the mitzvah itself and not simply a preparatory stage.
Some of you may be asking yourselves, “What difference does it make?” In the calculations of precisely which elements to count as independent mitzvoth and which not to count we are concerned not only with “the cosmic score board” and how much credit we deserve. The inventory of mitzvoth can indicate to us important messages as to the relationship between different mitzvoth.
In our case we can note that the Rambam sees the Mishkan as an integrated unit, none of the vessels has its own personality and therefore all work together to create the complex unit known as the place of worship “avodah” as we have quoted earlier. The Mishkan in the grand plan is a multifaceted institution in which all parts are meant to facilitate an atmosphere of avodat Hashem.
Nachmanadies on the other hand has a very different view. There is one issue concerning the construction of the Mishkan itself, which is not directly related to the subsequent use of the place by means of korbanot. The Mishkan is meant to be a “home” for Hashem, as he explains in his comments on the Torah that the purpose of the Mishkan is to continue the experience at Sinai in a more permanent fashion. In order to accomplish this we are told to create a place, and once again, in theory, it would be possible that this has nothing to do with korbanot.
The manufacturing of the vessels according to Nachmanadies is not a goal by itself. The focus is the final function of the vessel. In order to fully understand the nature of the vessels we must enter the realm of korbanot which we will leave for a few weeks.