This week’s parasha centers on the commandment to build a מקדש; specifically the temporary מקדש that accompanied בני ישראל through the wilderness:
Last week’s parasha ended with Moshe going up Mount Sinai:
Then we have seven נבואות and 3107 words about building the משכן:
And halfway through כי תשא Moshe is done:
Sounds straightforward: Moshe goes up, gets the instruction manual for the משכן and comes down. But Rashi doesn’t read it this way:
The problem is obvious: what is Rashi talking about? His “proof” is about when Moshe told all this to the Jews; it has nothing to do with when G-d told it to Moshe. Some editions of Rashi even have a parenthetical comment by an anonymous editor appended to the text of Rashi itself:
(We’ll get to the Zohar later)
First, let’s look at some other approaches. The Ramban explicitly disagrees, and says the משכן was commanded immediately after מעמד הר סיני as a way of continuing the experience of סיני:
The commandment is written before מעשה העגל because it was given before מעשה העגל.
Sforno has the opposite opinion. As we said last week, Sforno holds that the details of the commandments depended on the spiritual level of בני ישראל, and ה׳ changed the mitzvot whenever they sinned:
So he reads the initial commandments, given right after מעמד הר סיני, as the ideal state of בני ישראל:
But, says Sforno, things changed with the עגל and they needed to build a structure of gold and silver (our parasha). Then the Torah gives the backstory of what happened to cause the change:
The Zohar that we mentioned before tries to split the difference: the commandment was given before מעשה העגל, but it was changed afterward:
##Problem 1: A New Mitzvah?
Unlike Sforno, Rashi holds that all the mitzvot were given at Sinai, that they did not change:
This is not a problem if we assume that Rashi held like the Rambam, that only מצות שנוהגות לדורות ”count“ in the תרי״ג מצות, that were given as a unitary whole:
There are only 3 “mitzvot” in this week’s parasha; the first refers to the permanent מקדש, not the temporary משכן:
##Problem 2: What Was the Purpose of the משכן?
Rashi agrees with Ramban that there is a mitzvah to build a מקדש in ארץ ישראל to enable the presence of the שחינה among בני ישראל (see Rabbi Leibtag’s discussion). However, he feels that the משכן was only a response to חטא העגל, as an atonement for their sin:
This is based on the Midrash Tanchuma:
##Problem 3: Why Not Read the Parasha Chronologically?
But still, there should be some reason inherent in the text to invoke אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה. What difficulty forces Rashi to reject Ramban’s understanding? Rabbi Leibtag suggests that, if all had gone according to plan, there just wouldn’t be enough time to build a משכן:
There’s no point in spending a year building a משכן for a 3-day journey; they should have entered ארץ ישראל immediately and built the real בית המקדש.
##Problem 4: So Why Write it “Out of Place”?
Rabbi Leibtag suggests that the commandment (that was given after the עגל) was retconned back into the story of מעמד הר סיני once building the משכן became necessary. The Torah wanted to make clear to us, the readers, the connection between מקדש and סיני. The story of חטא העגל is, as Sforno says, a different story to be told at a later time.