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Parshat Teruma - abstract

Did the Golden Calf Precede the Mishkan?

Last week, Parshat Mishpatim concluded as Moshe ascended Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights. Hence, when Parashat Teruma begins with a lengthy set of laws concerning the Mishkan, it would only be logical to assume that these laws recorded in Parshat Teruma were indeed given to Moshe during these forty days. However, for some reason, Rashi claims that these laws concerning the Mishkan were given at a later time, i.e. after the events of the sin of the Golden Calf, and to atone for that sin!

In contrast to Rashi, Ramban prefers to undestand these laws in there chronological order, and hence explain that the Mishakn serves to perpetuate the experience of Matan Torah. Hence, these are the first set of laws that Moshe receives on Har Sinai, for through the presence of the Shechina in the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael will be able to relive, to some extent, the Revelation at Sinai.

One may wish to conclude that Rashi and Ramban argue whether the entire concept of a mikdash [Temple] represents an ideal or a compromise. Ramban would maintain that a mikdash was necessary even before the calf, while Rashi would hold that this sin itself necessitated a physical representation of God in order to avoid future blunders of this type. If the nation had never fashioned a calf, it would have never needed a mikdash.

However, Biblical references to a mikdash before the incident of the calf preclude such a notion. Benei Yisrael sung about the mikdash at Yam Suf (Shemot 15:17) and God earlier mentioned the obligation of bringing first fruits to the "House of God" (23:19). Clearly, a mikdash was planned even before the calf. But if so, how can Rashi claim that the mishkan came to atone for golden calf? Wouldn't it have existed regardless?

The answer is that a 'permanent' mikdash would have existed even had Bnei Yisrael not sinned (with "chet ha'egel"); even though the 'temporary' mishkan would not have been necessary. .As Bnei Yisrael were due to enter the Promised Land and build a mikdash immediately upon conquest of the land, no temporary structure was necessary. However, as a result of the golden calf, the "Shechina" left the nation (see, for example, 33:7). This situation had to be rectified, through the construction of a mishkan, before Bnei Yisrael could enter the land. Ramban, by contrast, maintains that after the Shechina's descent upon Mount Sinai, Bnei Yisrael immediately needed a vehicle to "carry" it with them as they made their way towards the land. They therefore needed a mishkan even before the incident of the calf. [Additionally, Ramban here follows his general aversion towards rearranging Biblical chronology. He generally maintains that the sections of the Torah follow chronological sequence unless explicitly stated otherwise.]

One final issue remains regarding Rashi's approach: why did the Torah record the laws of the mishkan before they were actually given? Ironically enough, the answer brings us back to Ramban's approach. This arrangement of the parshiyot highlights the inherent relationship between the Revelation and the mishkan. The Torah intentionally placed the laws of the mishkan after the account of the Revelation to underscore the point that the mishkan serves primarily to perpetuate the Sinai experience, as explained by Ramban. Thus, Rashi and Ramban arenít so different after all!

Abstracts by David Silverberg