When Moshe gathers the people to command them to make the Tabernacle, there’s one odd item in his list:
What are בגדי השרד? They have come up once before, in last week’s parasha, but there’s so much to talk about in that parasha that we skim over it:
And they are mentioned next week when the משכן is built:
Notice that there is no explicit command to make them and no description of how they are made or what they are.
What does שרד even mean? Onkelos is not much help; he translates every verb in the pasuk as שִׁמּוּשׁ:
The root שרד doesn’t have that meaning anywhere else in תנ״ך, but it was adopted in modern Hebrew to mean “official”:
In תנ״ך, the root שרד means remnant:
So the gemara has a midrashic explanation for the בגדי השרד: it is another term for the בגדי כהונה. They would read our pasuk as את בגדי השרד לשרת בקדש: את בגדי הקדש לאהרן הכהן ואת בגדי בניו לכהן, meaning “the בגדי השרד, which are the holy vestments of Aharon and his sons”.
The Ramban takes this admittedly midrashic reading and says that it fundamentally is the פשט:
But even though he tries to address them, the problems with Ramban seem insurmountable, not only the ו in ואת and the absence of שש that he mentions, but the absence of זהב that was used in the priestly vestments, for which he can’t say כי איננו חשוב, and the wording in שמות לט:א: עשו בגדי שרד לשרת בקדש; ויעשו את בגדי הקדש אשר לאהרן .
So the מפרשים look for something else that might be called בגדי השרד that are used לשרת בקדש. Rav Ariel, the founder of the Temple Institute, thinks it refers to the uniforms of the leviim (and the Kohanim when not doing the עבודה):
But everyone else looks at the pasuk מן התכלת והארגמן ותולעת השני עשו בגדי שרד and notes that there is a place where those materials, and only those materials, are used:
The midrash translates שרד literally, as “remnant”. The בגדי השרד were the covers of the כלי המשכן, made of the leftovers from building the משכן itself:
Rashi assumes שרד is cognate with the Aramaic סרד, ”lace“ or “meshwork”:
Both approaches, Rashi’s understanding of the בגדי השרד as the travel tarps for the כלי המשכן, and Ramban’s understanding of them as a synonym for the בגדי כהונה, have problems. But the פשט certainly seems to be with Rashi. I would propose that Ramban insists on his interpretation because of his understanding of the meaning and purpose of the משכן itself:
The משכן is the מקדש. Building the משכן was fulfilling one of the 613 מצוות, to build a בית המקדש. It was important to build it at הר סיני, to keep the inspiration of מעמד הר סיני then move it to its permanent home in ארץ ישראל. Rashi on the other hand, says the commandment to build the משכן came only after חטא העגל:
But even Rashi agrees that the בית המקדש is part of the 613 מצוות, given to Moshe before חטא העגל:
So I would interpret the argument between Rashi and Ramban to be based on the fundamental question, are the tarps for traveling בגדי שרת or not? Is traveling with the משכן an עבודה? Rashi would say that the purpose of the משכן was to carry בני ישראל the transition to ארץ ישראל, since they proved they could not handle even a short time without a physical focus of their עבודת ה׳. The משכן traveling with בני ישראל is what the משכן is for, and the covers are part of the מלאכת המשכן.
Ramban would say there is no קדושה in the luggage for moving the משכן. The משכן simply needs to be brought to its true destination, המקום אשר יבחר ה׳. Fundamental to Ramban’s worldview is that ה׳ can only be served in ארץ ישראל:
And the משכן that they built is the way to bring the experience of הר סיני to the place that is מכוון כנגד בית המקדש של מעלה.