Sunday, February 17, 2019

Parashat Tessaveh: Man-Made

Thoughts on Tessaveh 2019
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The Hakhamim detected many similarities between the construction of the Mishkan and creation of the World. Understanding the verse “God, I love the habitation of Your House and the place where Your glory dwells” (Tehillim 26:8) as a reference to this connection, they pointed to several common themes between each day of creation and the Mishkan.[1]

Indeed, the Torah paralleled Creation to the Mishkan by using several similar words and themes. “And God saw all that He had done, and behold, it was very good” (Bereshit 1:31) took place as creation ended, in the way that the Mishkan’s building drew to a close with, “And Moshe saw all the work, and behold, they had done it – as God had commanded, so they had done” (Shemot 39:43). The Torah then summarized creation, “The heavens and the earth and all of their host were completed, and God completed on the seventh day His workmanship which He had done” (Bereshit 2:1-2), much as it did with the Mishkan, “All the labor of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting, was completed…and Moshe completed the workmanship” (Shemot 39:32, 40:33). And both events ended with a blessing: “God blessed the seventh day” (Bereshit 2:3); “And Moshe blessed them” (Shemot 39:43). Commentators have long noted these (and several other) similarities, suggesting that they hint at a connection between Creation and the Mishkan.[2]

Beyond the linguistic parallels between Creation of the World and the construction of the Mishkan, however, the Torah connected the initial description of Adam and Hava in Gan Eden to the structure and functioning of the Mishkan. Thus, for example, both the Garden and Mishkan are oriented eastward (Bereshit 3:24, Shemot 27:16). R. Samson Raphael Hirsch furthermore noted the unique appearance of “keruvim” as guardians of the way to the Tree of Life (Bereshit 3:24) and atop the wooden ark which housed the figurative Tree of Life – luhot (Shemot 25:17-22).[3]  Adam, as well, was tasked to “work and guard” the Garden (Bereshit 2:15), which was identical to the levi’im’s role in the Mishkan (Bemidbar 7:8). And the description of the menorah bears an uncanny “tree-like” character – with seven “branches” adorned with petals, almond blossoms and other botanical elements (Shemot 25:31-40).[4]

The Torah’s message seems clear: construction of the Mishkan represented a recreation of the World and a return to Gan Eden.

Taken in this context, then, the Torah’s repeated warnings to the kohanim regarding bodily exposure in the Mishkan and the elaborate details of their clothing is somewhat surprising. The final verse in Parashat Yitro warned: “And you shall not go up by steps upon My altar, that you may not expose your nakedness upon it” (Shemot 20:23). And Moshe was later instructed: “And make them linen breeches to cover their naked flesh, from the hips to the thighs they shall be” (28:42). The command of dignified attire for the kohanim is understandable. Repeated warnings about indecent exposure, however, is more difficult to comprehend.

Envisioning the Mishkan’s recreation of Gan Eden, this matter is further perplexing. The Torah succinctly described the lives of Adam and Hava prior to sin and banishment: “The two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not ashamed” (Bereshit 2:25). The concepts of shameful nakedness and clothing were only conceived after eating from the ess ha-da’at and meriting banishment from the Garden – “And the eyes of the two were opened…and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (3:7). Why, then, would the construction of a sanctuary built to “restore life in Eden” focus on the negativity of nakedness – the very concept that distinguished life after the Garden from that beforehand?

Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in a better understanding of the very sin that brought forth Adam and Hava’s discovery of their shameful nakedness – eating from ess ha-da’at. Prior to eating from that tree, they inhabited a world that was created for them, yet not by them. Their sole task was the maintenance and upkeep of the Garden. But the desire to eat from the tree – to “become as gods knowing good and evil” (Bereshit 3:6) – was their will to create on their own.

Eating from the Tree, then, introduced the concepts of process and procedure to the life of mankind. The world no longer rested in wait of their immediate utility and consumption, but rather necessitated the arduous journey toward self-creation. Whereas Hava was informed of future birth pangs and the pain of bearing children (3:16), Adam learned that the ground’s essence would change, “Thorn and thistle shall it sprout for you” (3:18), bearing bread only “by the sweat of his brow” (3:19).[5]

Adam and Hava’s introduction to their new reality came by means of understanding their nakedness. They now realized that full exposure would negatively bypass the mode of process that they sought, and that nakedness would circumvent the necessary steps to revealing the hidden. In the world of process and creation which they had then commenced, Adam and Hava were ashamed of their nakedness, and “they sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (3:7).

Constructing the Mishkan as a physical space for God’s dwelling took place within mankind’s world of self-creation. Contrary to Gan Eden, which was a place created by God, the Mishkan was now created by man. Indeed, whereas the verb “a-s-h” (עשה) is used seven times to describe God’s actions in Creation, it is used over two hundred times in context of the people’s actions in constructing the Mishkan.

It is no wonder, then, that as God detailed the plans for building the Mishkan, he forbade nakedness there and instructed the crafting of fine clothing. Cognizant of the historical significance of clothing, Moshe then understood that the various garments which the kohen would now don symbolically marked the unique reality of a man-made sanctuary for God.

[1] Midrash Tanhuma: Pekudei 2: “On the first day [of Creation] we are told, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Bererhit 1:1) and it is written, “He spreads the heavens like a curtain (ka-yeria)” (Tehillim 104:2). Concerning the Mishkan, what does it say? “You shall make curtains of goat skins (yeri’ot izzim)” (Shemot 26:7). On the second day, we find, “Let there be a firmament,” and the concept of division appears, as it is written, “Let it divide water from water” (Bereshit 1:6); concerning the Mishkan it is written, “And the parokhet will divide for you” (Shemot 26:33)…”
[2] See, e.g., R. Amnon Bazak’s “A Return to the Garden of Eden” <>.
[3] Commentary of R. Samson R. Hirsch to Bereshit 3:24).
[4] For some recent analyses of the many parallels between Gan Eden and the Mishkan, see, e.g., R. Bazak’s “A Return to the Garden of Eden,” Lifsa Schachter’s “The Garden of Eden as God’s First Sanctuary” in Jewish Bible Quarterly 41:2 (2013), pg. 73-7, and R. Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah vol. 1 (Philadelphia, PA, 2017), pg. 189-93.
[5] For a related description of this concept, see our thoughts for Sukkot 2018, “Process.”