Parashat Pekudei: The Story of the Mishkan
Illustration Credit: Chaim File
Pekudei is the last of four parashiyot about building the Mishkan, and also the last parashah in Sefer Shemot. From this point on for almost 500 years, the Mishkan is Benei Yisrael’s headquarters for worshiping God.
What else happens to the Mishkan before it becomes the בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ (Beit HaMikdash, Holy Temple)? In this week’s Devash, we’ll learn the story of the Mishkan!
Ohel Moed אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
The Mishkan has another name: the אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד (Ohel Moed, Tent of Meeting). (For example, see Shemot 40:34 or Bemidbar 2:2.)
But there’s also an Ohel Moed in Parashat Ki Tissa (two weeks ago!), when we read about the חֵטְא הָעֵגֶל (heit ha-eigel, sin of the golden calf):
וּמֹשֶׁה יִקַּח אֶת הָאֹהֶל וְנָטָה לֹו מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה הַרְחֵק מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה וְקָרָא לֹו אֹהֶל מֹועֵד וְהָיָה כׇּל מְבַקֵּשׁ יהוה יֵצֵא אֶל אֹהֶל מֹועֵד אֲשֶׁר מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה׃
And Moshe would take the ohel (tent) and set it up outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it, “Ohel Moed.” Anyone who wanted to seek God would go out to the Ohel Moed that was outside the camp.
This pasuk is surprising because the heit ha-eigel took place before the Mishkan was built! So how is there already an Ohel Moed at this point in the Torah?
Ibn Ezra (Spain, 900 years ago) suggests that this pasuk in Ki Tissa is talking about something that would happen in the future, when the Mishkan would be built. The Torah doesn’t always describe its events in order.
But Rashi thinks this story about a tent is about an Ohel Moed that existed even before the Mishkan:
יִקַּח אֶת הָאֹהֶל—לְשׁוֹן הוֹוֶה הוּא, לוֹקֵחַ אָהֳלוֹ וְנוֹטֵהוּ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה... וְהָיָה קוֹרֵא לוֹ אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, הוּא בֵּית וַעַד לִמְבַקְּשֵׁי תוֹרָה.... אֲפִלּוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת כְּשֶׁהָיוּ שׁוֹאֲלִין מְקוֹם שְׁכִינָה, חֲבֵירֵיהֶם אוֹמְרִים לָהֶם: הֲרֵי הוּא בְּאָהֳלוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה.
“Moshe would take the tent”—It was talking about right then. Moshe would take his own tent and set it up outside the camp… and he would call it the “Ohel Moed,” which is a place to meet for anyone who wanted to learn Torah…. Even for angels, when they were looking for God’s presence, their friends would tell them: God is in Moshe’s tent!
  • Can you find evidence for Rashi in the pasuk?
  • What does Rashi say took place in this Ohel Moed?
  • Why was it so important to have a place to study Torah and find God’s presence even before there was a Mishkan?
  • What can we learn about Moshe from the fact that his own tent became an Ohel Moed? How can you make your own home into a kind of Ohel Moed?
After they built the Mishkan in our parashah, Benei Yisrael traveled with it through the desert for the remainder of the 40 years they were there. Each time they moved, families from the tribe of Levi took apart the Mishkan, carried it, and then set it up again when they stopped to camp (Bemidbar 4).
Mishkan Shiloh מִשְׁכַּן שִׁילֹה
After Benei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, what happened to the Mishkan?
First it spent 14 years in Gilgal (Yehoshua 18:1). Then Benei Yisrael set up the Mishkan in a place called Shiloh, probably with Pinhas, Aharon’s grandson, as כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל (Kohen Gadol, High Priest) (Shoftim 20:28).
The Mishkan stayed in Shiloh for nearly 400 years (Seder Olam Rabbah 11).
  • Why do you think the once-portable Mishkan remained in one place so long after Benei Yisrael settled into their new homes?
The Mishnah (Zevahim 14:6) says that, at Shiloh, they made a permanent building for the Mishkan out of stone. The Gemara (Zevahim 118a) says that it was actually sort of half-tent and half-building.
  • Why do you think they might have tried to build a more permanent building for the Mishkan? Why might they have left it partially in tent form?
  • How would the experience of visiting the Mishkan be different if it was a tent vs. a more permanent building?
Hannah, Eli, and Shmuel חַנָּה, עֵלִי, וּשְׁמוּאֵל
Hundreds of years after Pinhas, the Kohen Gadol at Shiloh was Eli.
According to the beginning of Sefer Shmuel, a man named Elkanah used to come visit the Mishkan in Shiloh with his whole family. Elkanah had two wives, Peninah and Hannah. Peninah had children but Hannah did not, and Peninah teased her about this.
On one family visit to Shiloh, Hannah went to the Mishkan to pray for a child. Eli thought she was drunk because she was praying so quietly—so he tried to kick her out! But when Hannah explained that she was praying for a child, he gave her the berakhah, “Let the God of Yisrael give you what you have asked for” (Shmuel Alef 1:17).
It worked! God gave Hannah a son, and she called him Shmuel. Then, when he grew up a little, she brought him to the Mishkan and told Eli:
אֶל הַנַּעַר הַזֶּה הִתְפַּלָּלְתִּי וַיִּתֵּן יהוה לִי אֶת שְׁאֵלָתִי אֲשֶׁר שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵעִמּוֹ: וְגַם אָנֹכִי הִשְׁאִלְתִּהוּ לַיהוה כׇּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הָיָה הוּא שָׁאוּל לַיהוה וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ שָׁם לַיהוה:
“I prayed for this child, and God gave me what I asked for. So I am lending him to God for as long as he lives.” And she bowed there to God.
  • Why was it so important for Hannah to pray in the Mishkan? What makes a place good for prayer? What are the special places you pray in? What makes them like the Mishkan?
  • The daily Amidah is modeled after Hannah’s prayers in the Mishkan! It has to be said quietly just like her prayer. What can we learn from Hannah about praying to God?
The Destruction of Shiloh חֻרְבַּן שִׁילֹה
Eli’s sons weren’t good kohanim. They would try to steal parts of the קָרְבָּנוֹת (korbanot, sacrifices) that people brought to the Mishkan (Shmuel Alef 2:12-17).
God did not want the Mishkan to be run like this, and promised to make it stop. So the armies of Benei Yisrael lost a battle against the Pelishtim, a neighboring enemy nation. After that, the people say:
נִקְחָה אֵלֵינוּ מִשִּׁלֹה אֶת אֲרוֹן בְּרִית יהוה וְיָבֹא בְקִרְבֵּנוּ וְיֹשִׁעֵנוּ מִכַּף אֹיְבֵינוּ:
“Let us take the aron brit Hashem (the Ark of covenant with God) from Shiloh and bring it with us into battle so that God will save us from our enemies.”
  • Why would the people believe that the presence of the aron would help save them? What does that teach us about the aron?
At first, the Pelishtim were terrified. But then God’s promise came true. Even though the aron was there, Benei Yisrael were defeated, Eli’s sons were killed, and the aron was captured. When Eli heard about the aron, he immediately fell over and died (4:7-18).
The Gemara (Zevahim 118b) says that the Mishkan in Shiloh was destroyed by the Pelishtim after this. The story of this destruction is not really told in Tanakh, but Yirmiyahu refers to it when God says that the Beit HaMikdash (almost 500 years later) would be destroyed for behavior similar to how Eli’s sons acted:
וְעָשִׂיתִי לַבַּיִת אֲשֶׁר נִקְרָא שְׁמִי עָלָיו אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם בֹּטְחִים בּוֹ וְלַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָכֶם וְלַאֲבוֹתֵיכֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְשִׁלוֹ:
God says, “I will do to the Beit HaMikdash—which is called by My name and which you rely on—and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors just like I did to Shiloh.”
  • Why would the Mishkan have to be destroyed? And why didn’t the aron help Benei Yisrael win their battle?
  • What can this teach us about what needs to be done to be worthy of having a Mishkan or to deserve having God’s help?
Nov and Givon נוֹב וְגִבְעוֹן
The aron caused trouble for the Pelishtim! They kept it in Ashdod, in the temple of their God Dagon, as a trophy. One morning, the Pelishtim came into their temple and found that the statue of Dagon had fallen over and broken (5:2-4). This was followed by the people of Ashdod getting sick (5:6). They realized that this must all be because God did not want them to keep the aron, and eventually they sent it to Benei Yisrael (6:3).
The Gemara suggests that, after this, the Mishkan was rebuilt in a couple different places:
אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד שֶׁבְּנוֹב וְגִבְעוֹן חֲמִשִּׁים וְשֶׁבַע... וְתָנָא כְּשֶׁמֵּת עֵלִי הַכֹּהֵן חָרְבָה שִׁילֹה וּבָאוּ לְנוֹב. כְּשֶׁמֵּת שְׁמוּאֵל הָרָמָתִי חָרְבָה נוֹב וּבָאוּ לְגִבְעוֹן.
The Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) was in Nov and Givon for 57 years… A Tanna taught that when Eli the Priest died, Shiloh was destroyed. Then the Ohel Moed came to Nov. When Shmuel died, Nov was destroyed. Then the Mishkan came to Givon.
According to Shmuel Alef 21, Nov was a city that was full of Kohanim dressed in the clothing used to serve in the Mishkan. So it makes a lot of sense that the Mishkan was rebuilt there!
After this, it stayed in a place called Kiryat Ye’arim for 20 years (Shmuel Alef 7:2). During this time, David became king of Israel, and he eventually brought the aron to Yerushalayim.
King David wanted to build a permanent house for God—a בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ (Beit HaMikdash, Holy Temple). But God didn’t want him to.
כִּי לֹא יָשַׁבְתִּי בְּבַיִת לְמִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וָאֶהְיֶה מִתְהַלֵּךְ בְּאֹהֶל וּבְמִשְׁכָּן׃
“For I have not lived in a house from the day I brought Benei Yisrael out of Egypt until today; I have traveled in a tent and a Mishkan.”
So the Mishkan would be a fine place for God for a little while longer. But God did allow David’s son, Shlomo, to build the Beit HaMikdash. You can hear about that in this week’s haftarah!
  • Why do you think God was happy to have a portable and not permanent home for so long? What’s more important to God about that home than the materials it’s made out of?
  • What can we learn from the story of the Mishkan?