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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

לע”נ אמי מורתי מרים בת יצחק ורבקה הכ”מ


Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, that they bring me an offering; from every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them; gold, and silver, and bronze, And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, And rams’ skins dyed red, and goats’ skins, and shittim wood, Oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil, and for sweet incense, Onyx stones, and stones to be set on the ephod, and on the breastplate. And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all its utensils, so shall you make it. (Sh’mot 25:1-9)

Rambam (MT Beit haBechirah 1:1), quoting what is arguably the most famous verse in our Parashah, sees in it the Toraic command to construct the Beit haBechirah (Beit haMikdash):

It is a Mitzvat ‘Aseh to build a house for Hashem, constructed to bring offerings; we congregate there for celebration three times a year, as it says: “They will build for Me a Mikdash”. The Mishkan constructed by Mosheh Rabbenu was already explicated in the Torah – and it was only temporary, as it says…

Rambam’s adumbration clearly presents the Mishkan as being the forerunner of the Mikdash. This can be stated in one of two ways:

  1. The Mishkan was the “temporary” Mikdash OR
  2. The Mikdash is the permanent Mishkan.

While there are significant distinctions between these approaches – chiefly, which of the two abodes is seen as the “essential” one – both assessments share a common premise: That the Mishkan and the Mikdash are essentially, functionally and teleologically one and the same. This is, by and large, the conventional understanding, prevalent both in classical Rabbinic writings and more recent homiletic literature.

I would like to suggest that a closer look at the Mishkan and Mikdash, as they are presented in T’nakh, reveal a different relationship between the two, one that, if properly assayed, can help us appreciate the significance of each structure in its own right, as well as clarifying a number of troubling textual and extra-textual difficulties relating to these edifices.

Before continuing, it is prudent to point out that it is not a consensus in the exegetical tradition to interpret our verse as referring to the Beit haMikdash:

Granted that Mikdash is called Mishkan, for it is written: And I will set My Mishkan among you; but whence do we know that Mishkan is called Mikdash? Shall we say, because it is written: And the Kohathites, the bearers of the Mikdash set forward? This refers to the Ark, Well then, from this verse: And let them make me a Mikdash, that I may dwell among them; and it is written: According to all that I show thee the pattern of the Mishkan. (BT Shavuot 16b)

First of all, I’d like to point to several difficulties which the “conventional” approach generates within T’nakh.




The first glaring problem raised by the “Mishkan=Mikdash” approach is one of timing. If the Mishkan is simply the “temporary solution” to the Mikdash, i.e. that until the B’nei Yisra’el are settled in their land, they need a portable “mini-Mikdash”, then why isn’t the Beit haMikdash constructed as soon as they enter the Land. We see that the B’nei Yisra’el began implementing those commands which are Land-dependent (Mitzvot haT’luyot ba’Aretz – see Kiddushin 1:9) immediately, or as soon as it was feasible. For instance, as soon as the B’nei Yisra’el entered the Land, they performed the Pesach (see Yehoshua 5 – see also Sh’mot 12:25). Why, then, did they not construct the Mikdash immediately? Note how long it took:

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the B’nei Yisra’el came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Sh’lomo’s reign over Yisra’el, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of Hashem. (I M’lakhim 6:1)

In other words, it took four hundred and forty years after entering the Land before the Mikdash was built.

The immediate and nearly visceral defense to this challenge is one of specific location – although they had entered the Land, they had not yet arrived at Yerushalayim – thus prolonging the reality adumbrated by Mosheh:

For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which Hashem your God gives you. (D’varim 12:9)

And yet, this defense does not stand up well to the testimony of the text. Among the first wars fought by Yehoshua (perhaps, as I argued in the essay in Parashat Beshalach this year [V’shinantam 3/16], his first real war of conquest), the king of Yerushalayim, who organized the “southern alliance” of five kings, is vanquished. One might counter that even though he was defeated, that doesn’t mean that the city was conquered – but the text is quite clear in the summary of wars (Yehoshua 12):

And these are the kings of the country whom Yehoshua and the B’nei Yisra’el struck on this side of the Yarden on the west, from Ba’al-Gad in the valley of L’vanon to the Mount Halak, that ascends to Se’ir; which Yehoshua gave to the tribes of Yisra’el for a possession according to their divisions…The king of Jerusalem… (Yehoshua 12:7,10)

Yerushalayim was in Yisra’eli hands as early as the first all-out war fought in the Land – and it remained a Yisra’eli town throughout the period, as indicated by the verse at the beginning of Shoftim:

And the sons of Binyamin did not drive out the Yevusi who inhabited Yerushalayim; but the Yevusi live with the sons of Binyamin in Yerushalayim to this day. (Shof’tim 1:21)

The next counter-argument is that since Yerushalayim was not totally under Yisra’eli control – and rid of any foreign citizens – the Beit haMikdash could not yet be built. This argument rests on three questionable premises:

1) The situation changed in the times of David or Sh’lomo; i.e. that David drove the Yevusi out of the city such that it was a totally Judean city. Every indication of the text, up to and including the purchase of Aravnah the Yevusi’s granary (the future site of the Mikdash) by David (II Sh’mu’el 24:24) points to a continued Yevusi presence in the city.

2) Absolute control of the city is necessary in order to build the Mikdash. Again, the testimony of the text clearly refutes this. We need go no further than the rebuilding of the Mikdash by Zerubavel and Yehoshua (c. 518 BCE), when the city itself, inhabited by Cutean enemies and controlled by the Persian empire, was still a valid location for construction of the Mikdash. Even if one were to posit that this is only true once the first Mikdash was constructed (following the argument that the first sanctity was eternal – see MT Beit haBechirah 6:15-16), we still come back to the presence of the Yevusi, as a significant population in the city, during the times of David.

3) Yerushalayim was always destined as the place of the Mikdash. This is the conventional way of explaining the oft-repeated reference to “The place that I will choose to place My Name”, which is nearly anthemic in Sefer D’varim (12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 26:2; 31:11). It is generally understood as a veiled reference to Yerushalayim. For instance, Sifri identifies The place which Hashem will choose (12:18) as “Yerushalayim”. This is consistent with the Rabbinic interpretation of a key verse which appears in the earliest context of “the place that I will choose”:

For you are not as yet come to the Menuchah (rest) and to the Nachalah (inheritance) (D’varim 12:9) – Our Rabbis taught: Menuchah alludes to Shiloh (the site of the Mishkan from Yehoshua’s time until the end of the period of the Shof’tim); Nachalah, to Yerushalayim. (BT Zevahim 119a)

Haza”l understand that the presence of the Mishkan in Shiloh was merely a “rest”; whereas the arrival in Yerushalayim was the “inheritance” i.e. final settlement. It is prudent to note that there are four opinions regarding the interpretation of these two terms, only one of which is quoted by Rashi (and thus is the “famous” one):

a) R. Yehudah: Menuchah = Shiloh; Nachalah = Yerushalayim

b) R. Shim’on: Menuchah = Yerushalayim; Nachalah = Shiloh

c) The school of R. Yishma’el: Menuchah = Shiloh; Nachalah = Shiloh

d) R. Shim’on b. Yohai: Menuchah = Yerushalayim; Nachalah = Yerushalayim

However we may wish to understand these four divergent interpretations, one thing seems clear and unanimous: that Yerushalayim is the proper understanding of “the place that I will choose”. I would like to suggest that this is not necessarily the case – that these Midrashim reflect the historical reality that Yerushalayim was chosen as the site of the Mikdash. In other words, instead of reading these Midrashim as “the place that I will choose means Yerushalayim”, we should understand them as “the place that I will choose turns out to be Yerushalayim”. This idea will be explicated further down.

In any case, the argument that the Mikdash could not be built immediately after Yehoshua’s conquest due to the “foreign” presence in the city of Yerushalayim is a difficult one.

One final argument might be mustered to explain the delay in building the Mikdash.

The Halakhah clearly states that the B’nei Yisra’el were given three commands which took effect upon their entry into the Land:

R. Yose said: Three commandments were given to Yisra’el when they entered the land;

  1. to appoint a king;
  2. to cut off the seed of Amalek;
  3. and to build themselves the chosen house [i.e. the Temple]

and I do not know which of them has priority. But, when it is said: The hand upon the throne of Y-H, Hashem will have war with Amalek from generation to generation, we must infer that they had first to set up a king, for throne implies a king, as it is written, Then Sh’lomo sat on the throne of Hashem as king. (BT Sanhedrin 20b)

Since they could not (or perhaps were not obligated to) build the Mikdash until a king was anointed, the delay is now understandable – but is it?

First of all, this Halakhah itself begs the question – especially if we accept the underlying premise that the Mikdash is the “permanent Mishkan”. Why would the Mitzvah of building a Mikdash be dependent on the prior anointing of a king? We do not find that other “Land-dependent” Mitzvot require a monarch and his throne to activate obligation or allow fulfillment – why does making the temporary Mishkan a permanent edifice have this prerequisite?

We have already addressed the second question raised by this Halakhah – why it took so long for the B’nei Yisra’el to appoint a king (see V’shinantam 1/27).

If we are to understand the role of the Mikdash, we must also find a solution to this “Halakhic sequencing” – something we will endeavor to do in this essay.

In sum, the first set of problems we have encountered if we accept that the principle of identity applies to the Mishkan and the Mikdash is the lengthy delay in building that great building.


It is abundantly clear that the Aron (ark), which houses the Edut (testimony – the tablets of the covenant) is the central “vessel” in the Mishkan. It is the first item listed in the order of building (Sh’mot 25:10-16) and, more significantly, it is the base of the Keruvim, from where God will communicate with Mosheh:

And there I will meet with you, and I will talk with you from above the cover, from between the two Keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the people of Yisra’el. (25:22)

In addition, the Aron (with attendant Kapporet and Keruvim) is the only vessel which sits in the Kodesh Kodashim, that most intimate and holy of locations.

If the Mikdash serves the same function as the Mishkan and is its permanent housing, we would expect the Aron to play a similarly central and significant role in the Mikdash. The text is quite clear on this point – the significance of the Aron changes dramatically (yet subtly) and its role is diminished once the Mikdash is constructed. This can be most easily seen from Rambam’s description of the building of the Mikdash and its appurtenances (MT Beit haBechirah 1-4). Whereas Rambam lists the Shulchan (table), Menorah, incense altar, copper (outer) altar etc., there is no mention of the Aron. Rather, Rambam relegates the Aron to a somewhat historical presentation:

There was a rock in the west of the Kodesh Kodashim upon which the Aron rested. In front of it stood the vessel with the Mahn (see Sh’mot 16:32-34) and Aharon’s staff (see Bamidbar 17:25). When Sh’lomo built the House and he knew that it would ultimately be destroyed, he built a place to hide the Aron, underneath in a deep and crooked hiding place and Yoshiyahu the king commanded and hid it in the place that Sh’lomo built as it says: And he said to the L’vi’im who taught all Yisra’el, who were holy to Hashem, Put the holy ark in the house which Sh’lomo the son of David king of Yisra’el built; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders; serve now Hashem your God, (II Divrei haYamim 35:3) Along with it, Aharon’s staff, the vessel which held the Mahn and oil of anointment were hidden – and they were never retrieved for the second (rebuilt) House… (MT Beit haBechirah 4:1)

Why was the Aron hidden? We understand Sh’lomo’s concern – that when the Mikdash would be plundered, the Aron would not fall into enemy hands. Yet the practical implementation of this is difficult – how could a king (or anyone else) take it upon himself to remove (or pre-arrange for the removal of, as in Sh’lomo’s case) the central vessel of the Mikdash? Aren’t we commanded to maintain a proper Mikdash – and if God allows the enemy to plunder, so be it? How can we remove the central vessel from its place?

Our second question relates, then, to the Aron and its role. If the Mikdash is the “settled” Mishkan, why doesn’t the Aron play the same prominent and central role in Yerushalayim as it did in the desert – and in Shiloh?


The key passage relating to the initiative to build the Mikdash is found in Sefer Sh’mu’el:

And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and Hashem had given him rest from all his enemies; That the king said to Nathan the prophet, See now, I live in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in your heart; for Hashem is with you. And it came to pass that night, that the word of Hashem came to Nathan, saying, Go and tell My servant David, Thus said Hashem, Shall you build Me a house for Me to dwell in? Because I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the people of Yisra’el out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places where I have walked with all the people of Yisra’el spoke I a word with any of the tribes of Yisra’el, whom I commanded to feed my people Yisra’el, saying, Why do you not build Me a house of cedar? And therefore so shall you say to My servant David, Thus said Hashem of hosts, I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Yisra’el; And I was with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from your sight, and have made you a great name, like the names of the great men who are in the earth. And I have appointed a place for my people Yisra’el, and have planted them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; nor shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as formerly, From the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Yisra’el, and have caused you to rest from all your enemies. Also Hashem tells you that He will make you a house. And when your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall issue from your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with such plagues as befall the sons of men; But My mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Sha’ul, whom I put away before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you; your throne shall be established forever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak to David. (II Sh’mu’el 7:1-17)

This selection raises a number of difficulties:

1) At the beginning of Nathan’s prophecy, God seems to reject the notion of a dwelling place – “spoke I a word…saying, Why do you not build Me a house of cedar?” Yet, further on, God acceded to David’s request. Does the Mikdash have Divine approval or not?

2) When God approves of David’s initiative, He promises that the house will be built – by David’s son. Why isn’t David allowed to build it himself? Keep in mind that this prophecy occurs during the early part of David’s career as “full monarch” (post-Sha’ul) – a career which spans 40.5 years. The commonly assumed reason for this generational delay is found in a passage in Divrei haYamim:

And David said to Sh’lomo, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of Hashem my God; And the word of Hashem came to me, saying, You have shed abundant blood, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house to My Name, because you have shed much blood upon the earth in My sight. (I Divrei haYamim 22:7-8)

This is, however, not found anywhere in the contemporary texts (Sh’mu’el/M’lakhim) and reflects the overall perspective of Divrei haYamim (composed during the Second Temple era – see BT Bava Batra 14a), which heightens the “spiritual/religious” nature of the Yisra’eli monarchy. If this is a piece of the reason for prohibiting David from building, it is certainly not the whole story – for, if it were, why would it not be mentioned either by Nathan, by David (to Sh’lomo – see I M’lakhim 2) or by Sh’lomo (in his words to Hiram [I M’lakhim 5:17, 19] and to the nation [ibid. 8:17-19])

Why is David prevented from building the house himself?


An ancillary question, one which does not – at first blush – seem relevant to our discussion, revolves around the role of the Kohanic breastplate – the Hoshen – more commonly and directly known as the Urim veTumim.

Through the first post-Mosaic eras, the Urim veTumim played a central role in leading the nation – whenever the leader (be he Kohen, Navi or Melekh) had to resolve a crucial military or political matter, he would turn directly to God through the office of the Urim veTumim. (Indeed, it was the lack of response from the Urim veTumim [I Sh’mu’el 28:6] that drove Sha’ul to go- incognito – to the sorceress at Ein-Dor).

Here are a few examples of the use of this direct form of Divine guidance through the early political and military history of settlement:

1) The apportionment of the Land by Yehoshua and Elazar was accomplished through the breastplate (Bava Batra 122a, interpeting “Al Pi Hashem” in Yehoshua 19:50).

2) And it came to pass, after the death of Yehoshua, that the people of Yisra’el asked Hashem, saying, Who shall go up for us against the K’na’ani first, to fight against them? And Hashem said, Yehudah shall go up; behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. (Shof’tim 1:1-2 – see Ralbag and Rabbenu Yeshaya ad loc.)

3) And Sha’ul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the P’lish’tim? Will you deliver them into the hand of Yisra’el? (I Sh’mu’el 14:37)

4) And he inquired of Hashem for him, and gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine. (I Sh’mu’el 22:10 – see, however, the animadversion of R. Yeshaya ad loc.)

5) Therefore David inquired of Hashem, saying, Shall I go and strike these P’lish’tim? And Hashem said to David, Go, and strike the P’lish’tim, and save Keilah. (I Sh’mu’el 23:2)

6) And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of Hashem, saying, Shall I go up to any of the cities of Yehudah? And Hashem said to him, Go up. And David said, Where shall I go up? And He said, To Hebron. (II Sh’mu’el 2:1)

Curiously, the Urim veTumim – or any direct address to God for this type of guidance – disappears during David’s career.

Our final question, then, seems to be unrelated to the analysis of the relationship between the Mishkan and Mikdash: Why are the Urim veTumim “put to rest” during David’s career?

It should be noted that Haza”l maintain the continued use of the Urim veTumim throughout the First Commonwealth (see, inter alia, Sotah 9:12 and Shavu’ot 2:2 and the Bavli ad loc.), nonetheless, they were used in a different fashion than earlier. Whereas in the pre-Davidic and Davidic examples noted above, the individual leader approached God via the Urim veTumim on his own, the Rabbinic description of the use of Urim veTumim necessitates the participation of the king and the Beit Din haGadol (Sanhedrin).

Regardless, the T’nakh makes no mention of their use after this period – and this certainly is a sea change in the relationship with God and in His direct leadership of His people. How can we understand this change?


This, again, is a question which may not seem to relate to our question but its resolution is most certainly a piece of this puzzle.

In the beautiful T’fillah offered by Sh’lomo at the dedication of the Mikdash (I M’lakhim 8), Sh’lomo describes the apparent futility of attempting to “house God”. He goes on to (apparently) describe the future function of the Mikdash, pointing out how His people will face His house in prayer when in need, at war etc. What is curiously missing from this T’fillah is any mention of offerings (Korbanot) – although that is certainly a most central and critical function of the Mishkan. How can we explain this omission?



We noted that conventional wisdom holds that the Mishkan was the temporary forerunner to the Mikdash – or that the Mikdash was the permanent version of the Mishkan. Although these two formulations are not identical and reflect distinct understandings of the focal point of the Mishkan/Mikdash, they share a perspective which raises difficulties in several passages in T’nakh.

We asked why there was such a delay (nearly half a millenium) between entering the Land and the construction of the Mikdash – and that Yerushalayim, the eventual site of the Mikdash, was already in Yisra’eli hands during the early parts of Yehoshua’s career. We also questioned whether Yerushalayim was the pre-determined location of the Mikdash, a topic we will expand upon next week, and pointed out that there was never a requirement of absolute Yisra’eli control over the town in order to build the Mikdash.

We then noted that the Aron seems to lose its role as the centerpiece of the Sanctuary within the context of the Mikdash – a role which is unquestioned and clear in the Mishkan.

We further pointed out the difficulties arising from David’s request to build the Mikdash – and God’s response through the prophet Nathan. It is unclear whether the “House of God” is even a desideratum, and once God agrees to David’s request, he delays the construction until David’s son will ascend the throne.

We concluded our questions with two apparently unrelated issues in T’nakh – the dramatic shift in the use of the Urim veTumim after the Davidic period and the omission of offerings from Sh’lomo’s prayer at the dedication of the Mikdash.

In next week’s essay, we will analyze the distinct functions of the Mishkan and the Mikdash, clarifying each and thereby responding to these difficulties.

Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.