Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayakhel-Pekude 5764

Comma or Construct?

Starting with parashat Tetzaveh we learn all about the instructions for building the Tabernacle. Ki Tisa continues the instructions, with a brief diversion for the story of the golden calf. We pick up with the story of the Tabernacle again in Vayakhel, in which we read of the actual construction according to Gd's instructions. Again, the thread is continued in Pekudei, ending with Moshe assembling the pieces.

Before we get to the part where Moses himself assembles the Tabernacle (and I have written of that in previous musings) we run into an interesting twist.

First in verse 39:22 and then again in 40:2 we heard the structure referred to by a combined name which has not been used before: Mishkan Ohel Moed.

Before commenting on this, we need to look at the history of how the Tabernacle has been named.

The term "mishkan" (tabernacle) first appears in parashat T'rumah (25:9.) In parashat Tetzaveh, we first hear of the Ohel Moed, the "tent of meeting." (27:21) In parashat Ki Tisa, 33:7 the name Ohel Moed is explained as the place where people who go to "seek the Lrd." In parashat Vayakhel, the mishkan gets an additional name, mishkan ha-eidut, the "tabernacle of the pact."

But not until parashat Pekudei, at 39:32, do we see the two names linked: mishkan ohel moed.

You find it translated differently in various chumashim and other sources. Some use "the tabernacle of the tent of meeting." Others, "the tabernacle, the tent of meeting."

Biblical Hebrew is, of course, the culprit. We do not know really know if the work Mishkan is mean to stand alone, followed, as it were, by a comma, or if "Mishkan is meant to be in the construct-state, modifying "ohel moed" and thus reading "the tabernacle OF the tent of meeting." The Masoretes give a bit of a hand with the cantillation (trope) markings. The tropes are, respectively: tipcha, munach, etnachta. Clearly, the munach-etnachta of "ohel moed" show that those words are part of one thing. The tipcha of mishkan can generally be thought of as a separating trope, but it is not as strong a separator as certain other tropes which might, more commonly, signify our idea of a comma (like katon.) So while there's some evidence for the translation of "the mishkan, the tent of meeting" thus indicating they are merely two different names for the same thing, is preferred, it's not all that weighty. The translation "the tabernacle of the tent of meeting" seems equally probable.

I'm going to ask us all to assume, for the moment, that the "tabernacle of the tent of meeting" is the proper meaning. If so, we have an interesting combination here, that I think we can learn from.

The word mishkan comes from the roots that means to sleep (or sometimes dwell,) and the mishkan is thus intended to be the place where Gd's presence "rests" or "dwells." The rabbis caution us to not take this literally, and even go so far as to suggest that the mishkan was more for human need than Gd. Gd does not literally dwell in the mishkan, but it becomes a place of connection, where perhaps what latter came to be know as the shehchina, or Gd's indwelling presence on earth, was manifest. Nevertheless, the mishkan represents the presence of Gd to the people.

The ohel moed is a place of meeting between Gd and the Israelites. We must go to the ohel moed in order to meet with Gd. Must Gd also come to the ohel to meet with us? Is not Gd always with us, everywhere?

I'd like to think of the mishkan and the ohel moed as sides of the same coin. Both are necessary for the coin to exist! If we come to the ohel moed, and Gd is not present in the mishkan, then somehow the connection between human and divine is missing. Yet the rabbis tell us not to worry about the idea of Gd's presence in the mishkan. It is perhaps okay to accept it as somewhat of a metaphorical presence.

It sounds nice, and opens up the possibility of some very positive thoughts. We need not worry is Gd is present when we come to our ohel moed, our modern places of meeting with Gd, be they synagogue or elsewhere. "Don't worry, Gd is there," they say. I'd sure like to make that my personal philosophy,. It would make my life much simpler.

But alas, my life isn't that simple. I feel compelled to think and ask about the Gd side of the equation. I somehow feel that Gd needs to make some effort to be present in whatever passes for our modern mishkan. Look at me, insisting that Gd make some effort, when I barely make the effort myself to follow Gd's commandments and walk in the ways of Gd's teaching, the Torah. I can just feel Gd smirking and snickering in the background.

But this is a covenantal relationship, albeit a communal one. Do we, Am Yisrael, have any right, no matter how stiff-necked and stubborn we remain, with only a small percentage of us truly making a serious efforts to follow our understanding of what Gd expects from us in this bargain, to insist that Gd also make some effort? ("Aha!," I hear some cry. How do we know that Gd isn't already doing quite a bit of keeping Gd's end of the covenant? We're still here? The sun rises and sets, the planet exists despite our best efforts to ruin and despoil it. It's a good point. I'm not sure I can dispute it.

Well, if I can't insist on Gd meeting us (or me) halfway, maybe I can at least wish for something else. Like Gd telling us which vowels really go in the Torah, and using other apparatus to make things clearer. Sort of "Gd explains it all." Then again, I should be careful what I wish for. I might get it, and then the joke would be on us. No more "lo bashamayim hi."

So I guess I'll live with not knowing if it's "the tabernacle, the tent of meeting" or "the tabernacle of the tent of meeting" because the price of knowing for sure may be too high. Vive l'obfuscation.

Somehow, I hope this coming Shabbat will provide me a time to garner some clarification. Or at least more opportunity to revel in the not knowing. Goodness, I can't even decide which I want. It's going to be an interesting Shabbat. May you all have an interesting Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on this parasha

Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Pekude 5763-Redux 5760-Pronouns


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