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In this week’s parsha we learn about the construction and assembly of the mishkan. The details of the mishkan were taught previously in parshas terumah and tetzaveh. The difference between terumah-tetzaveh and our parsha, vayakhel-pekudei is that in terumah-tetzaveh the Torah records Hashem’s command to construct the mishkan, whereas in parshas vayakhel-pekudei the Torah records the actual construction and assembly of the mishkan.
The details of the construction of the mishkan here in parshas vayakhel-pekudei are almost identical to their counterpart in parshas terumah-tetzaveh. However, there are a few exceptions. Let us focus on two noteworthy discrepancies.
The mishkan was divided between the “holy” and the “holy of holies.” In the “holy of holies” stood the Ark. Outside, in the “holy” stood the menorah, shulchan and incense altar. At the entrance to the “holy” stood five pillars. Attached to these pillars was a partition called the “curtain of the tent.”
The Torah in parshas terumah provides a detailed description as to exactly how these five pillars were to be made.
You shall make for the curtain five pillars of shittim wood and cover them with gold and their hooks shall be gold and you shall cast for them five copper sockets (Shemos 26:37).
The Torah commands that that the pillars be covered with gold. A three dimensional object has six sides which include the top and bottom surfaces of the object. The commentators interpret the command to cover the pillars to include only the four basic sides not including the top and bottom surfaces. However when the Torah records how Betzalel fashioned the pillars in parshas vayakhel the posuk says:
And its five pillars with their hooks and he covered their heads and their belts with gold and their five copper sockets. (Shemos 36:38)
The Torah records that Betzalel covered the heads of the pillars with gold. Nowhere do we find a command to cover the heads of the pillars with gold. From where then did Betzalel derive this requirement?
Parenthetically we may also note two other discrepancies. 1) In parshas terumah the Torah commands that the pillars be covered with gold yet in parshas vayakhel there is no mention that they were covered at all. 2) In parshas terumah the Torah does not command that the pillars have belts yet in vayakhel the Torah mentions that they were belted with gold. For the purpose of this article we will focus only on the discrepancy concerning the covering of the heads of the pillars.
A similar discrepancy is found regarding the pillars of the courtyard. These pillars surrounded the outside of the mishkan, the copper altar and laver. In parshas terumah with regard to the command to build the courtyard the posuk says:
All the pillars of the courtyard all around belted with silver; their hooks of silver and their sockets of copper. (Shemos 27:17)
However, in parshas vayakhel with regard to the construction of the pillars the posuk says:
The sockets of the pillars of copper, the hooks of the pillars and their bands of silver and the covering of their heads of silver they were belted with silver all the pillars of the courtyard (Shemos 38:17)
Here again the Torah informs us that Betzalel covered the heads of the pillars with silver. Nowhere do we find a command to do so. Where then did Betzalel derive this requirement?
Many commentators have taken note of the aforementioned discrepancies and offer various answers. Most interesting is the opinion of the Chizkuni (Shemos 36:38) who says simply that Betzalel added his own embellishments to the Mishkan although he was not commanded to do so. Why did Betzalel decide to cover the heads of the pillars of the tent and the heads of the pillars of the courtyard?
Chazal teach us that any person who possesses Torah knowledge but does not possess fear of heaven is like a custodian who was entrusted with the keys to the inner chamber but not the keys to the outer chamber. (Shabbos 31b). Such a custodian is denied access even to the chamber for which he has the key to.
We may suggest that the tent of courtyard is symbolic of fear of heaven. This is because the outer courtyard is an outer chamber relative to the mishkan that serves here as an inner chamber. Similarly the pillars of the tent are also symbolic of fear of heaven, for they too serve as an outer chamber relative to the “holy of holies” that serve here as the inner chamber.
Chazal tell us that covering the head inspires fear of heaven. The Gemarah records that the mother of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak told her child to cover his head so that the fear of heaven shall be upon him (Shabbos 156b). This passage of the Gemarah is the source of why all observant male Jews wear head covering at all times or at least when praying and reciting blessings. “Covering the head” is symbolic of fear of heaven.
We may now offer a homiletic interpretation as to why Betzalel covered the heads of pillars. The covering of the head is a symbolic act that reminds us of fear of heaven. The entrance to an outer chamber is also symbolic of fear of heaven. Betzalel covered the heads of this part of the edifice to serve as a symbol and reminder that the key to enter the house of Hashem and partake of its holiness is fear of heaven.
Chazal tells us that all is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven (Berachos 33b). Indeed the Torah says “What does Hashem your G-d ask of you but to fear Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 10:12). Man’s fate is predetermined. Man’s contribution to this world is how his fear of heaven influences the way he exercises his free will.
Fear of heaven is something that man must exercise on his own. It is not something that one can receive instruction from Hashem. It is something that Hashem leaves for man. We may now understand why Hashem did not instruct Betzalel to cover the tops of the pillars. This part of the design is symbolic of fear of heaven. With regard to fear of heaven, Hashem leaves room for man to express his own creativity.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004