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In Parshas Vayakhel, why does the Torah describe the mishkan and keilim in such great detail, given that most of the information was already given in the previous parshiyos? Why didn't the Torah just write, in one verse, "And they made the mishkan and the keilim as HaShem told Moshe"?

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1 Answer 1

Ralbag at the end of Sefer Shemos gives several thoughts as to why the Torah repeats the details of the vessels in the account of the mishkan's construction. The possibilities he considers are:

  1. People at that time told stories like this in a repetitive fashion, and the Torah is merely immitating the expository style of the time.
  2. There are plenty of sections in the Torah that are presented very briefly and require effort to extract all the meaning. When we ask ourselves, "Why is the Torah so brief in this section?" maybe we will conclude that this is merely the style of the Torah and neglect to derive any meaning from the section at all besides for the face-value. To combat this notion, the Torah has to show that its style in general is not brevity necessarily, in order that one conclude that the brief sections are brief for other reasons than matters of style. It does this by being unnecessarily verbose in other sections such as the ones here.
  3. The order in which the things to be made were commanded and the order in which they were actually made differ. One is the proper order regarding the exposition of the items themselves, and the other is proper regarding the chronology of construction. To expose this very fact is the reason why the Torah wishes to elaborate on the process of construction rather than merely saying that it was done as commanded.

Abarbanel extends the third of the Ralbag's reasons in that since the order of construction was changed from the order of commandment (for whatever reason) one may have thought that other details may also have been changed from those given at the time of commandment to build. Because of this, the Torah elaborated on the details of what was constructed to show that they are the same as what was commanded to be constructed.

M. D. Cassuto, responding (as always) to the early Bible critics of his time, brings evidence to support Ralbag's first notion. That is, that in literature of the time period it was not uncommon to repeat the details of actions that have already been previously outlined. (Cassuto is also quoted, I think, by Nechama Leibowitz in her discussion on the topic.)

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