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  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Sefer Shmot

golden calf


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Adar 24, 5781
Did Hashem give the instructions for the Mishkan before the golden calf event?
Shalom U'vracha, This is an excellent question. The midrashim and commentators disagreed about this issue. Disagreement between the Midrashim and between the commentators: In Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Teruma, siman 8) it is explained that the commandment to establish the Tabernacle (Mishkan) was given after the sin of the Golden Calf. Rashi followed this explanation (Rashi in Shemot, 31:18) and the Seforno as well. (Shemot, 24,18). Others hold that the commandment to erect the Tabernacle was given to the Jewish people before the sin of the calf. This is what the Ramban wrote (Exodus, 35:1, and also in Leviticus, 8: 2). It is also the opinion of Ibn Ezra (Exodus 25: 1). Some commentators quote the Zohar who also holds that the commandment to build the Tabernacle was before the golden calf. In the Midrash Pesikta Rabati , 18, it is brought down that the entire purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was so Israel should make a Tabernacle, so God will dwell among them. Interpretive aspect: This controversy has an interpretive aspect. In short, from the order of the parshiot it seems that the commandment to establish the tabernacle was before the sin of the calf since the order of the parshiot is Teruma, Tezaveh, and then Ki Tisa. Rashi explains that “the Torah is not necessarily written in chronological order” (אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה). The Ramban (Nachmanides) disagrees and holds that the Torah, is in fact, written in chronological order. He claims that there are some rare exceptions where the pesukim themselves explain that they are not in order. (see Ramban Bamidbar (16:1)). Hashkafa aspect: This controversy also has a hashkafic aspect in regards to the Mishkan. Did the Tabernacle come first or does it only seem this way in retrospect? The Seforno (ibid.) writes that if there had not been the sin of the calf there would have been no need for a Tabernacle or Priests and Levites. The Shechinah, could have dwelled anywhere. In the book ‘Shem Mishmuel’ (written in 1902) the author discusses this at length and concludes that the two different hashkafot are both true. Without the sin of the caf the tabernacle would have been on a much higher spiritual level. See an extension on this issue in the book 'New Studies in the Book of Exodus', by Nehama Leibowitz (p. 337).
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