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The Torah portions for this week and next week discuss the various components of the Mishkan. Hashem commands Moshe to build an Aron, a Shulchan, a Menorah, coverings, curtains, etc. There are two noticeable deviations in the commands. The first is regarding the “beams” that form the outer wall structure of the Mishkan, and the second is the outer Mizbe’ach, the altar for offering animal sacrifices. For these, when Hashem commands Moshe, He does not say “build beams” and “build a Mizbe’ach” as with the other components, but rather “build the beams” (HaKerashim) and “build the Mizbe’ach” (HaMizbe’ach), using the definite article.

This specificity can be understood in connection with the Mizbe’ach, because there are in fact two different altars, the one for offering animal sacrifices (Mizbe’ach HaOlah) and the one for offering incense (Mizbe’ach HaKetoret). By adding the definite article, a distinction is made between the two. Moreover, the verse adds significance to this outer Mizbe’ach, which is one of the most central features of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is likened to a neck that has two pipes for bidirectional flow. Similarly, in the Mishkan there is a bidirectional flow – blessings coming down from Heaven and sacrifices and prayers going up. The Mizbe’ach HaOlah is the primary “upward” pipe.


It is more difficult to understand why the definite article is used with the beams, however. Many of the commentaries pick up on this (Rashi, R’ Bachye, etc.), explaining that the beams were not made from random wood that Am Yisrael took with them from Egypt but were beams from cedar trees that Yaakov Avinu planted when he descended to Egypt.

The verse tells us (Bereishit 46:1) that before Yaakov took his entire family down to Egypt, he made a detour via Beer Sheva. Our Sages tell us that he did so in order to take cuttings/seeds from the eshel, the special tree outside Avraham Avinu’s tent, so that he could plant them in Egypt. When Am Yisrael left Egypt during the Exodus, they cut down the trees that Yaakov had planted, and the beams for the Mishkan were made from their wood. Hence the use of the definite article, HaKerashim.

Why was it necessary to use specific wood from specific cedar trees? The other raw materials used in building the Mishkan were simply from the spoils that Am Yisrael took with them from Egypt – gold, silver, wool, linen, etc. Why did the Aron HaBrit not have to be built using special “heirloom” gold that was used by Avraham Avinu or Yaakov? Only the beams had to be “heirloom” cedar.

Firstly, these were not regular beams. There was one beam, for example, called the Bariach HaTichon, the central beam that was threaded through the other beams and held the whole structure together. The length of this beam was 70 amot long, about 38 yards. That is like the height of a 14-story building. It’s not exactly a giant sequoia, but it is still pretty tall. More importantly, this beam had miraculous properties: It could bend round corners. This central beam had to be threaded through the other individual upright beams and when it reached the first corner, it had to bend 90 degrees, and again at the second corner (Rashi, Tractate Shabbat 98b). The Mishkan was erected and dismantled many times in the desert and each time this beam became supple like a snake, and after it was threaded or removed, resumed its rigid form.

Sefer Meir Panim says that this special cedar tree originated in Gan Eden and had a special name – Eitz HaChayim, the Tree of Life. According to Meir Panim, this was a cedar tree.

When Adam was expelled from Gan Eden, he took with him seeds of the different trees, including this special cedar. These seeds were used by Noach to plant “idolatry-free” cedars from which to build the Ark. (The generation of Noach used cedar trees as part of their idol worship.) Seeds from these trees were passed down to Avraham, and he planted them outside his tent. The was the famous eshel, a miraculous tree. It could sense if someone sitting under it was an idol worshipper. If it detected an idol worshipper, the branches moved and did not provide shade. Yaakov journeyed down to Beer Sheva to collect seeds from this tree to plant in Egypt for Am Yisrael to build the beams of the Mishkan.

A structure to house Hashem’s presence, like the Mishkan, has to follow the blueprint of the original Mishkan – Gan Eden. For example, the two trees alongside each other in Gan Eden – the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge – were paralleled in the Mishkan by the Menorah and the Shulchan (Meir Panim, pg. 178). Similarly, the outer structure made up of interconnecting beams, had to originate in Gan Eden – literally.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: The verse (Shemot 25:29) lists the vessels of the Shulchan. Which components of the Shulchan are the Kesavot and the Menakiyot?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: The verse (Shemot 21:24) says, “An eye for an eye.” What is the punishment for someone who blinds another? The Gemara (Bava Kama 84a) says that this verse is not to be taken literally. If someone blinds someone in one eye, their punishment is not that they too must be blinded in one eye. Rather, the offending party must pay money damages in the value of the eye. There is a hint to this in the word ayin (eye). If you take each letter following the letters that make up the word ayin (ayin-yud- nun), you get the letters peh-kaf-samech, which form the Hebrew word kesef (money).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.