Shiurim by Menachem Leibtag
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag


Order in the 'court-yard'? Certainly that's what we'd expect to find when the Torah presents the laws of the Mishkan; and that is exactly what we do find - most of the time.

However, there is one glaring exception - that relates to the placement of the laws of the MIZBACH HA'KTORET at the end of Parshat Tezaveh (instead of at the beginning of Parshat Terumah).

In the following shiur, we will first clarify our question; afterward we will offer an explanation that relates once again to the thematic connection between the Mishkan and Ma'amad Har Sinai.


Recall, from last week's shiur how Parshat Tezaveh forms part of the larger unit (chapters 25 thru 31), which we referred to as TZIVUI HA'MISHKAN [The commandment to build the Mishkan]. This unit contains a complete set of laws in which God explains to Moshe how the Mishkan is to be built and how it will operate.

In that shiur, we discussed the controversy concerning when and why this set of laws was first given to Moshe Rabeinu. In the following shiur, we analyze the internal structure of this unit, to show how (and why) it actually contains two distinct units - that overlap in a very special manner.


Before we begin we must make one general observation concerning why Parshiot Terumah and Tezaveh (i.e. Shmot 25:1->30:10) should be considered a distinct 'sub-unit'. Note how Parshat Terumah begins with God's commandment to Moshe to "speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them..." (25:1) - followed by a lengthy set of instructions that continues all the way until the end of Parshat Tezaveh (i.e. 30:10). To prove this, simply note how the next "dibur" doesn't begin until the opening pasuk of Parshat Ki-tisa (see 30:11).

Therefore, we must first undertake an analysis of this first 'sub-unit' (25:1 thru 30:10). Afterward, we will discuss the six short "parshiot" in Parshat Ki-tisa (30:11 thru 31:18) that complete the larger unit of Tzivui ha'Mishkan.


The following outline summarizes the topic of each "parshia" within this unit of Parshiot Terumah/Tezaveh. Study it carefully, noting how it appears to follow in a rather logical order (at least until the very end). It will clarify our opening question.

[Follow this chart with a Tanach Koren at hand.]

INTRODUCTION - Donation of the MATERIALS (25:1-7)

& the purpose of this project:

"v'asu li Mikdash v'SHACHANTI b'tocham" (25:8-9)

VESSELS IN THE KODESH K'DOSHIM (innermost sanctuary)

ARON - the ark to house the "luchot" (25:10-16)

KAPORET - the special lid for the ark (25:17-22)

VESSELS IN THE KODESH (main sanctuary)

SHULCHAN - the table for the show-bread (25:23-30)

MENORAH - the candelabra (25:31-40)

The OHEL MOED [The tent housing these vessels] (26:1-37)

YER'IOT - The canvas of the tent - from cloth & goatskins

KRASHIM - the wooden beams supporting this tent

PAROCHET - the curtain to partition the Kodesh Kdoshim

The CHATZER [The outer courtyard & its vessels]

MIZBAYACH HA'OLAH (the altar / 27:1-8)

CHATZER - the outer couryard

its curtains and poles (see 27:9-19)


[A priori, we would have expected to find this commandment with the MENORAH. See further iyun.]

The "BIGDEI KEHUNA" - (28:1-43)

Eight "parshiot" describing the priestly garments


OLAT TAMID (29:38-45)

The daily offering on the altar (after its dedication)

The MIZBACH ha'KETORET - the incense altar (30:1-10)

[This seems 'out of place', as we will discuss.']

As you review this outline, note the logical order of its progression. It begins by describing the "aron" - the most sacred object in the Mishkan, situated in the "kodesh kedoshim"; then continues with the vessels located in the "kodesh", followed by the "ohel moed" [Tent of Meeting], which houses these vessels. Afterward we find the "mizbach ha'Olah" and the courtyard ["chatzer"] that surrounds it. This unit concludes with the "bigdei kehuna" - the special garments for the kohanim who will officiate in the Mishkan, followed by the details of its seven-day dedication ceremony (and the daily sacrifice that will be henceforth offered).

However, the final "parshia" describing the "mizbach ha'ketoret" appears to be totally 'out of place'. After all, this golden altar is one of the three vessels situated in Kodesh. Clearly, this "parshia" should have been recorded in chapter 26 together with the laws of the "shulchan" and "menorah" - the other vessels located in the Ohel Moed.

To verify this point, simply note the parallel mention of these vessels in Parshat Va'yakhel (see 35:13-15, 37:10-29, & 39:35-39). There the laws of the "mizbach ketoret" are consistently recorded together with the laws of the Menorah and Shulchan.

Furthermore, this 'displacement' of the "mizbach ha'ketoret" is only half the problem. We will now explain how the psukim that precede this 'parshia' place this golden altar in even greater 'isolation'!


Review the above outline once again, noting how the "parshia" of the "olat tamid" forms what should have been the conclusion of this unit. Let's take a closer look at this parshia, noting how if forms a beautiful summary for this entire unit:

"Olat tamid for all generations, in front of the Ohel Moed - the place where we will meet to speak to you from there."

[See 29:42-43, note how this pasuk 'matches' 25:22!]

And I will sanctify the OHEL MOED (& its vessels),

the MIZBAYACH (i.e. the "CHATZER"),

and the KOHANIM (Ii.e. their garments & dedication)

(see 29:44)

[As you review these psukim, compare the words in CAPS to the primary topics in the above outline!]

Then, note how the next pasuk forms a perfect 'bookend' for this entire unit. Recall how this unit began in Parshat Terumah with the general commandment of:

"v'asu li Mikdash "v'SHACHANTI b'tocham." (see 25:8)

now concludes with the expected result:

"v'SHACHANTI b'toch BNEI YISRAEL..." (see 29:45)

This parshia concludes with its 'grand finale' - relating not only to the purpose of the Mishkan, but also to the very purpose of the entire process of Yetziat Mitzraim:

"And they shall know that I am their God who took them out of Egypt - l'SHOCHNI b'tocham - IN ORDER to dwell among them; I am the Lord their God." (see 29:42-46)

Thus, chapters 25 thru 29 form a clearly defined unit with 'matching bookends'. Hence, when we find the laws of MIZBACH HA'KTORET in the next 'parshia', it is not only 'out of place' - it is totally isolated - outside this "shechina" unit!

This total isolation of the "mizbach ha'ketoret" forces us conclude that its location after the closure of the "shechina" unit must be intentional, and hence thematically significant.


To suggest an answer to this question, let's return once again to conceptual parallel between the Mishkan and Har Sinai, as explicated by Ramban:

"... the hidden purpose ["sod"] of the Mishkan is for God's GLORY which dwelled ("shachan") on HAR SINAI to dwell upon it..." (Ramban on 25:1, see TSC shiur on Terumah)

According to Ramban, the very purpose of the Mishkan was to serve as a vehicle that could perpetuate the Sinai experience! This purpose is reflected in the numerous parallels that exist between Ma'amad Har Sinai and the Mishkan. For example:

* The ARON:

contains the LUCHOT HA'EIDUT (25:21), the everlasting testimony of the covenant forged between God and Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai (see 24:3-12).


situated above the KAPORET (on top of the ARON), serve as the site from where God will continue to speak to Moshe. There, Moshe will receive the remaining mitzvot, just as he had received the Dibrot from God on Har Sinai.


where Bnei Yisrael will offer their OLOT & SHLAMIM, is similar to the MIZBAYACH that Bnei Yisrael built at the foot of Har Sinai, upon which they offered OLOT & SHLAMIM (see 24:4-8).

Following this train of thought, we should expect to find a parallel as well between the "mizbach ha'ketoret" and Ma'amad Har Sinai - a parallel that may shed light on why the Torah places the "mizbach ha'ketoret" after the "shechina" unit of the Mishkan was completed. To find it, we must first consider a more general parallel between Har Sinai and the Mishkan.


One of the most striking parallels between the Mishkan and Har Sinai relates to the concept of MECHITZOT - boundaries. At Har Sinai, the PEOPLE are instructed to remain at the FOOT of the mountain while the KOHANIM are permitted to come a bit closer (see 24:1-2). Only MOSHE is granted access to the TOP of the mountain (see 19:20-24 & 24:2,12).

We find an interesting similarity in regard to the Mishkan. The PEOPLE are permitted to proceed only as far as the outer courtyard of the Mishkan (where the MIZBACH HA'OLAH is located). The KOHANIM are allowed into the KODESH (where the SHULCHAN & MENORAH are located), and only Moshe (and Aharon) enters the KODESH HA'KDOSHIM (where the ARON & KERUVIM are located).

[Additionally, Bnei Yisrael may enter the courtyard only after first purifying themselves, just as a purification process was required in preparation for Ma'amad Har Sinai.]

The following table summarizes this parallel:


MOSHE -top of mountain Kodesh K'doshim DIBUR

KOHANIM -mid-mountain Kodesh (ohel moed) meeting

PEOPLE -foot of mountain Chatzer (courtyard) KORBANOT

How does the MIZBACH HA'KTORET fit into all this?

As we discussed in our shiur on Parshat Yitro, a certain dialectic characterized the encounter between God and Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai. Ideally, Bnei Yisrael should have heard the commandments directly from God ['PANIM b'PANIM']. However, as mortal man is incapable of withstanding God's Presence (see Devarim 5:4-5, 20-25), God found it necessary to 'buffer' this encounter. For this reason, God found it necessary to cover Har Sinai with a CLOUD before revealing himself:

"Behold I am coming to you b'AV ha'ANAN - in the THICKNESS of a CLOUD - in order that they can hear as I speak to you..." (see 19:9)

"... And Har Sinai was full of SMOKE ["ashan"], for God had come down upon it with fire... "

(see 19:16-18 and the TSC shiur on Parshat Yitro)

In this manner, the ANAN (cloud) on Har Sinai effectively served as a BUFFER between:

- Bnei Yisrael at the FOOT of the mountain, and

- God's revelation at the TOP of the mountain.

One could suggest that the MIZBACH HA'KTORET serves a similar function. Situated in the KODESH, it creates a cloud of smoke, which arises when the KTORET is offered on its smoldering coals (see Vayikra 16:13). This cloud buffers between Bnei Yisrael, who stand in the CHATZER - and God, whose presence dwells in the KODESH ha'KODASHIM.

THE AXIS: -ARON -- Mizbach KTORET -- Mizbach HA'OLAH

This interpretation is supported by two key psukim that describe the relationship between the MIZBACH HA'OLAH, MIZBACH HA'KTORET, and the KODESH KDOSHIM.

The first pasuk stresses the connection between the MIZBACH HA'OLAH and the OHEL MOED:

" [The daily offering on the MIZBACH HA'OLAH constitutes an] OLAT TAMID for all generations, at the entrance of the OHEL MOED... from where I will meet you and SPEAK to you..." (see 29:42)

In the second pasuk we find explicit instructions to place the MIZBACH HA'KTORET in between those two foci, i.e. along this very same AXIS that connects the MIZBACH HA'OLAH with the KODESH KDOSHIM:

"And you shall PLACE it in front of the PAROCHET, which is over the ARON HA'EIDUT, in front of the KAPORET upon the EIDUT - from where I will meet with you..." (30:6)


These psukim reflect the nature of the 'covenantal encounter' that takes place in the Mishkan, corresponding to the parallel encounter at Har Sinai. God 'comes down' from the heavens, as it were, to the KODESH KDOSHIM; while Bnei Yisrael come from their camp, to stand before God in the CHATZER of the Mishkan.

Hence, the main section of the OHEL MOED serves as a buffer between God and Bnei Yisrael. There, the KETORET must be offered each time the KOHEN enters to perform his service, which creates an ANAN [cloud of smoke] to 'protect' the KOHEN when he enters the KODESH:

"And Aharon shall offer the KTORET daily, in the morning before tending to the MENORAH, and when lighting the MENORAH in the evening..." (30:7-8)

[Note also Vayikra 16:2, where Aharon must also offer ketoret to create a similar cloud of smoke to protect himself before entering the "kodesh ha'kodeshim" on Yom Kippur!]

One could suggest that by placing the commandment to build the MIZBACH HA'KTORET after the summary psukim at the very end of this unit, the Torah alludes to its unique function as a 'buffer' in this covenantal encounter. As 'realistically' Bnei Yisrael may not be worthy of this encounter, the Torah commands Bnei Yisrael to place the MIZBACH KTORET in the kodesh to serve as a buffer.

[Note the similarity between the nature of this 'protected encounter' in the Mishkan and what we referred to in our shiur on Parshat Yitro as 'PLAN A,' by which God speaks to Moshe while 'covered by a cloud' so that the people can only overhear their conversation. See Shmot 19:9! See also Devarim 5:5.]

Furthermore, the dialectic nature of this encounter is highlighted by the placement of the laws of the "mizbach ha'ketoret" outside this "shechina" unit, yet within the same "dibur"!


Up until this point, we have treated Parshiot Terumah/Tezaveh as one, integrated unit, as indicated by the single DIBUR that introduces these two Parshiot. Now we must consider the remaining "parshiot" (in Parshat Ki-tisa) that form the final six paragraphs of the greater TZIVUI HA'MISHKAN unit.

Take a minute to review the beginning of Ki-Tisa (i.e. 30:11-31:17), noting how it describes several other mitzvot concerning the Mishkan that were also 'left out' of the 'SHCHINA' unit.

When we list these parshiot in order, we find once again a set of 'bookends':

30:1-10 MIZBACH HA'KTORET (* bookend 1 *)

(as explained above)


money collected to fund the OHEL MOED

30:17-21 The KI'YOR

the faucet for the Kohanim to wash their hands


special oil to anoint the Mishkan's accessories and the Kohanim

30:34-38 The K'TORET (* bookend 2 *)

the incense for the MIZBACH KTORET

[At this point, the LAWS concerning the Mishkan end. Chapter 31 discusses the appointment of Bezallel to build the Mishkan and the prohibition to work on SHABBAT (to preclude the possible, mistaken notion the work for the Mishkan on shabbat is permissible). Whereas these do not involve laws directly relating to the construction of the Mishkan and its accessories, we have omitted them from this table.]

The above table shows how (1) the MIZBACH KTORET and (2) the mitzvah to make the KTORET delineate a second unit, which contains several peripheral commandments regarding the Mishkan.


As your review these 'parshiot', note how a rather amazing parallel structure emerges; pointing to the direct connection between this 'KTORET' unit and the previous 'SHCHINA' unit. Note how each of these peripheral commandments in the KTORET unit corresponds (in the same order!) to a related topic in the SHCHINA unit!

The following table illustrates this parallel:



in the Mishkan SHULCHAN, MENORAH


l'avodat Ohel Moed



7 day MILUIM (to anoint the kohanim)


OFFERING on Mizbach haOlah on Mizbach Ktoret

The mitzvot found in the SHCHINA unit, which focus on God's "hitgalut" in the Mishkan, are complemented by the mitzvot in the KTORET unit, which focus on the need to protect Bnei Yisrael in this special encounter.

Note as well how all of the mitzvot in the "ketoret" unit emphasize either "kapara" (see shiur on Yom Kippur, where we explained how "kapara" involves protection from God's "hitgalut") or warn of impending death if not performed properly (see 30:10; 30:12; 30:21; 30:33; 30:38; relate to Devarim 5:21-23!). Protection is required from the potential punishment enacted should man not prepare himself properly for this encounter with God in the Mishkan.

In this manner, the laws of the "mizbach ketoret" can serve as an eternal reminder of how man must not only value his ability to enjoy a relationship with God, but also remain aware of the natural limits of this encounter.

shabbat shalom,




A. Be sure to see Ramban on 30:1, where he explains why the Mizbach ha'ktoret is at the end of the unit. See also Seforno & Chizkuni. Relate these approaches to our analysis of this unit in the above shiur.

B. In our discussion of the overall structure, we noted that (B) comprises the complete unit of TZIVUI HA'MISHKAN. Note that this complete unit includes SEVEN "dibur"s. [A 'dibur' is each time the Torah introduces God's speech to Moshe with, "Vaydaber Hashem el Moshe lay'mor" or "va'yomer ...", etc.

[See 25:1, 30:11, 30:17, 30:22, 30:34, 31:1, and 31:12.]

One could view these "dibur"s as allusions to the seven days of creation. The first DIBUR, covering the entire SHCHINA unit, may reflect the concept of God's creation of LIGHT /SHCHINA (see Rashi on Breishit 1:3). The next four deal with other mitzvot of the Mishkan. [Admittedly, they don't work out as good as the rest.] The sixth DIBUR describes the appointment of Bezallel to build the Mishkan. This may parallel God's creation of man on the sixth day. Just as man in Creation [PEREK ALEPH] was to master the material world and utilize his God-given talents towards a divine purpose, so must Bezallel organize the materials collected and use his God-given talents to oversee the construction of the Mishkan. To do so, he requires "ruach Elokim" (31:3/ relate to the creation of man "b'tzelem Elokim").

The seventh DIBUR is the mitzvah to keep SHABBAT! (See 31:15.) This may serve as the basis for the many Midrashim that describe the Mishkan as the pinnacle of the creation process. This reflects, once again, the biblical theme that the natural world needs to be directed towards a divine purpose. This is the duty of man not only in the Mishkan, but also throughout his daily life, as well.


Recall from our original outline how the first two psukim of Parshat Tezaveh (i.e. the mitzvah to light the Menorah /see 27:20-21) also appears out of place. If we follow the logic of the structure of the SHCHINA unit, it should have been recorded together with the mitzvah to build the Menorah (just as the mitzvah to offer the LECHEM HA'PANIM is included with the mitzvah to build the SHULCHAN / see 25:30).

Nevertheless, the Torah transfers these psukim from chapter 26 and juxtaposes them with the mitzvah to make the BIGDEI KEHUNA (in chapter 28). Why?

One could suggest that in doing so, the Torah alludes to a more important role of the KOHANIM. Aside from the honor and glory of their position, as reflected by their special garments, their primary job is to 'spread the light' of Torah - the message of Mishkan, as represented by the ARON HA'EIDUT at its focal point - to Bnei Yisrael.

It is this mitzvah of the KOHANIM, to disseminate the Torah, which may explain why it referred to as a "chukat olam l'doroteichem" - an everlasting law for all generations" (see 27:31). Even when the Mikdash lay in ruins, this mitzvah forever remains the obligation of our religious leaders.