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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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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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In Sh'mot 25:8 God says, 'asu li mikdash v'shakhanti b'tokham," "build me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among--or within--them." Don't we tend to tell over and over those stories that are most important and meaningful to us? Clearly, the Mishkan is of utmost importance to the spiritual and physical well-being of the Israelites. The repetition of the details of its construction--first the specs and later as it's actually constructed--testify to its importance in maintaining the constancy of contact between God and the people. But it's also instructive to look at the order of events (even though Talmud teaches "ayn mukhdam umukhar ba-torah," there is no before or after in the Torah). Moses receives the specifications for building the Mishkan; then he's called down the mountain to deal with the people's falling into corruption with building of a Golden Calf, at which point the tablets are shattered. Moses then ascends Mt. Sinai once again to receive the second set of tablets, after which the Mishkan is actually erected. Midrash Tanchuma teaches that "the gold of the Mishkan comes to cover for (i.e. atone for) the gold of the Calf." Perhaps through such detailed repetition of the Mishkan specifications, the Torah is demonstrating how a space of receptivity (the space between the two cherubim on the cover of the Holy Ark), not a solid object/idol of gold, must lie at the very heart of our ability to connect with the Holy One. Thus the very order of Torah itself--a description of Mishkan, interrupted by the sin of the Calf (which must be destroyed, ground up, leaving an emptiness where there was once a solidity), followed by a description of Mishkan--mirrors this deep truth.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Diane! Thanks for the answer. – mevaqesh Apr 3 '17 at 20:50
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Mishkan is an eternal dwelling of God. See Shemot 27:20-21, Vaikra 16:32-34, Vaikra 24:2-4, Bemidbar 18:20-24, Bemidbar 18:31. So it was very important to preserve these specifications so we can always rebuild it if it was lost as it is now. Mishkan is needed if we want God to dwell among us. (Shemot 25:8, Vaikra 26:11). Also, second account is for Bezalel, not Moses.

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    I don't see how this answers the question. "So it was very important to preserve these specifications so we can always rebuild it if it was lost as it is now." -- This doesn't explain why being written twice is important. "Also, second account is for Bezalel, not Moses." -- The second account isn't instructions, it's a historical accounting -- they did it like this. – Scimonster Jan 23 '16 at 23:14

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