By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Moshe erected the Mishkan. He placed its sockets and inserted its planks and put on its bars and erected its pillars.
What is this Mishkan that Moshe assembled? It cannot be planks, sockets, bars, or pillars—since all these are mentioned separately. Neither can it be the tent over the Mishkan, as that is mentioned in the next verse. So what is the Mishkan?
“‘Moshe erected the Mishkan.’—The ten curtains of woven design, which are called ‘Mishkan,’ were erected before the planks were erected. Either people held them up, or it was by miracle, as Chazal say. In this order it was made and brought to Moshe. Indeed, these ten curtains were the main structure of the Mishkan. Everything else that went into the structure—the sockets, planks, bars, pillars, and tent—were all to hold up the Mishkan and to cover it” (Seforno).
We see that the stately planks of acacia wood, plated with gold, are not the main part. It is the bottommost yeri’os, the curtains that form the Mishkan’s ceiling and which drape down over the planks to form the Mishkan’s sides. They are the Mishkan. All the other parts are auxiliary. They either help to hold up the curtains or they protect the curtains from above.
Thus, the Mishkan was essentially a tent. And it had a frame, as all tents do. But is this a universally accepted way to pitch a tent?
“Regarding a temporary tent . . . Chazal forbade it only when one makes it in order: first the walls and then the cover. That way it somewhat resembles a permanent tent. But if one makes it the other way around, Chazal did not forbid it” (Mishnah Berurah 315:17).
We see that, in halachah, to first put up the ceiling and then the sides is considered a highly unusual way of making a tent. On Shabbos it is permitted to erect a temporary tent in such a manner! Accordingly, Moshe did not construct the Mishkan in the normal way. How are we to understand this?
I would propose that this inverted way of constructing the Mishkan represented the fact that it atoned for the cheit ha’eigel. As we explained in Parashas Ki-Sissa, the high spiritual level of na’aseh v’nishma was lost through the cheit ha’eigel. This is because the cheit ha’eigel is the antithesis of na’aseh v’nishma. Na’aseh v’nishma means that we accept upon ourselves to do Hashem’s commands before we understand them. Understanding why we are doing something naturally makes it easier to do it. We feel more comfortable putting our energy into something that makes sense to us and seems logical. We find it easier to accept commands such as “Do not steal” because they embody a sense of justice that is intellectually and emotionally pleasing.
Thus, our human understanding is the “support,” so to speak, to hold up what Hashem commanded. Our understanding is like the “walls” that support the “ceiling.” This is the normal way to construct a tent: from the bottom up. But the building of the Mishkan came to atone for the cheit ha’eigel. It came to restore the level of na’aseh v’nishma. To represent this, it was constructed from the top down. Before it had physical support from below, it stood up from the sheer spiritual power of na’aseh v’nishma.
There is yet another possible answer to why the Mishkan was constructed this way. The Midrash, in numerous places, expresses the idea that the construction of the Mishkan, amongst other things, paralleled the creation of the universe. This is why the same activities that were needed to build the Mishkan were the very ones that Hashem rested from on Shabbos.
We find that the pesukim describe the creation of the world in the following order: “In the beginning the Al‑mighty created the heavens and the earth” (Bereishis 1:1) . . . “Who has stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth” (Yeshayahu 51:13).
It would appear that the creation of the universe was in a specific order: first heaven, then earth. Similarly, the Mishkan was also created in the very same order, first the roof and then its support. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Sh’mos, and Vayikra.