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In Shemos 38:24, we’re told that:

כָּל־הַזָּהָ֗ב הֶֽעָשׂוּי֙ לַמְּלָאכָ֔ה בְּכֹ֖ל מְלֶ֣אכֶת הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ וַיְהִ֣י ׀ זְהַ֣ב הַתְּנוּפָ֗ה תֵּ֤שַׁע וְעֶשְׂרִים֙ כִּכָּ֔ר וּשְׁבַ֨ע מֵא֧וֹת וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֛ים שֶׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֥קֶל הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ׃

All the gold that was used for the work [in the Mishkan], in all the work of the sanctuary—the elevation offering of gold—came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight.

Rashi defines a “talent”:

ככר. שִׁשִּׁים מָנֶה, וּמָנֶה שֶׁל קֹדֶשׁ כָּפוּל הָיָה, הֲרֵי הַכִּכָּר ק"כ מָנֶה, וְהַמָּנֶה כ"ה סְלָעִים, הֲרֵי כִּכָּר שֶׁל קֹדֶשׁ שְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים שְׁקָלִים

”A talent” - 60 [common] Maneh. The Maneh of the Sanctuary was doubled; thus a talent is 120 [common] Maneh. A Maneh is 25 Sela [the Talmudic equivalent to a Biblical Shekel], thus a Sanctuary talent was 3000 Shekalim.

Kiddushin 12a states that there are 1536 Perutos in two Sela, or 768 Perutos in one Sela. A Perutah is 0.025g according to the Shulchan Aruch (CM 88:1), or 0.018g according to Rashi (Bechoros 49b), leading to a Sela being 19.2g according to the Shulchan Aruch or 13.824g according to Rashi.

The total gold in the Mishkan, then, was either 1,684.416kg according to the Shulchan Aruch or 1,212.77952kg according to Rashi.

Now, my ballpark estimate of just the gold in the Aron yields at minimum 3,565.97kg, over double the Shulchan Aruch’s number for the total gold in the Mishkan, and close to triple Rashi’s number!

I see that this issue was raised by the Ralbag.

Does anyone reconcile these numbers?

  • Maybe the Aron was metaphysical in the sense that it didn't take up any space in the mishkan so the the gold content could have been zero it's just that Hashem commanded that there should be some gold used to make the Aron seem physical as the miracle's are usually displayed through natural phenomena. Alternatively the oil of the woman through the miracle of Elisha started of from a drop and became many barrels maybe the gold expanded. – yosefkorn Feb 21 at 23:20
  • @yosefkorn I’d rather not say “it’s a miracle” because it just begs the question of why the miracle was necessary. Its immense mass required נושא את נושאיו, so this one miracle necessitated many more. Why not just let the Aron be smaller, and no miracles are necessary? – DonielF Feb 21 at 23:22
  • Is it likely that the answer to this question is based on its premises being wrong? – Dr. Shmuel Feb 22 at 2:01
  • @Dr.Shmuel It's possible. But there's only so much refining (so to speak) of the numbers you can do, and then you've got the rest of the Mishkan to deal with: the Shulchan, the Menorah, the Mizbeiach HaZahav, parts of the Mishkan building itself... – DonielF Feb 22 at 2:02
  • 3
    @AlBerko What do you have against decimals and trop? If it’s just an aesthetic choice, I like it better with them. – DonielF Feb 22 at 14:05
5

By way of prefatory remarks I will include this Ibn Ezra on the verse mentioned as a precursor to any information below, and by doing so we can then remain level-headed.

ומי יוכל לשער כמה זהב צפוי כל כלי המשכן

We cannot really properly assess the gold in the Mishkan.

Additionally, in the Ralbag cited, he proceeds those statements by saying that we do not know the golden ark thicknesses [at all].

ועובי ארונות הזהב לא נודע


The Living Torah (ch. 38) breaks down the gold distributions in the Mishkan:

Since a talent is 3000 shekels, this was a total of 87,730 shekels, 1/7 shekel for each person counted. It was a total of 4386 1/2 pounds of gold. According to Saadia Gaon (quoted in Ibn Ezra, Perush HaKitzur):

  • 1/2 talent was used to plate each of the 48 beams of the Tabernacle, accounting for 24 talents.
  • Another 2 talents was used for the four pillars holding the cloth partition.
  • 1 talent for the menorah.
  • 1 talent for the ark and its cover.
  • 1 talent for the table and golden altar.

This accounts for the 29 talents. The additional 730 shekels (36.5 pounds) were used for such items as the fasteners and clothing.

[Since 1/2 talent was used for each pillar, which was 10 cubits high, and 1 1/2 cubits wide, it can easily be calculated that the thickness of the gold on the pillars was approximately 1/100 inch. If it is assumed that the same thickness was used all around the incense altar, it can be calculated that the top of the altar had a gold layer around 1/4 inch thick.]

Earlier, too, he presented (25:17) similar contradictory information you find yourself with regarding the ark cover:

3' 9' x 2' 3', like the dimensions of the ark (Exodus 25:10). The Talmud states that the ark cover was one handbreadth (3 inches) thick (Sukkah 5a). It can easily be calculated that if it were solid gold, it would weigh (without the cherubs), some 2500 pounds, or 17 talents (see note on Exodus 25:39). Some sources thus state that the ark cover was considerably thinner (Tur), since we find that the ark had to be light enough to be carried easily (Baaley Tosafoth on Exodus 25:11). One source states that the ark-cover weighed one talent (150 pounds), just like the menorah (Exodus 25:39; Saadia Gaon, quoted in Ibn Ezra on Exodus 38:24). The ark cover would therefore have been around 3/16 inch thick, or, if the cherubs are taken into account, more likely around 1/8 inch thick. It may have been made like an inverted open box, so that its sides were one handbreadth thick on the outside.

The most lenient opinion cited would still be too large to fall under the 1 talent prescribed for both the ark and ark cover.

An answer can be found with the Ibn Ezra cited, expounded and explained by 'Mishenh Lezra'. An additional problem he cites is regarding the leftover 730 shekels - how can that small amount of gold, a little more than 1/5 talent, provide for all rest of the odds and ends in the Mishkan (from clothe items to structural items, see link for full list)?

He answers that in counting the total amounts of gold and silver, the Torah did not go into specifics regarding what the gold was used for because the gold was donated. As apposed to the silver which was mandatory. The numbers of the gold were not as relevant, especially compared to the silver which doubled as a census device.

It thus comes out that we cannot necessarily know what the measurements of the gold were, and, if desired the Ibn Ezra presents an opinion the fits the ark into one talent, which removes the question at hand who places it at many talents.

[It is also probably likely that more attempted calulations of other gold parts of the Mishkan may lead to a number exceeding 29 talents, as well.]

2

Warning: this is a chiddush.

I would like to suggest that the amount of gold in Pekudei did not count towards the gold in Pekudei. The pesukim don't say what the gold mentioned there was used for, so there's no explicit contradiction. There's also a precedent for this: the kiyor isn't mentioned in the copper section, and Rashi says the copper mirrors used to make it don't count towards that number.

I have two pieces of evidence that this may be the case. The first is the Rambam in Beis Habechira 1:6, who lists the seven vessels that we are supposed to make for the Beis Hamikdash: copper mizbeach, its ramp, kiyor, its base, gold mizbeach, menorah, and shulchan. The aron is missing. In the next few perakim he gives the halachos for constructing these vessels, and again, he doesn't give any details of the aron. The closest he comes is 4:1, where he describes the history of how the aron was lost, but doesn't say how it's supposed to be made.

The Frankel Rambam gives a long list of acharonim who discuss whether the aron is part of the mitzvah of ועשו לי מקדש according to the Rambam. I have not yet had a chance to pursue this further yet. However, if it's a separate, one-shot mitzvah (analagous to the miluim and to Har Gerizim and Har Eival), that's a good reason for its gold to be counted separately.

My other evidence is from the mishnah in Shekalim 6:5, which describes the 13 donation boxes in the Beis Hamikdash. One of them is called זהב לכפורת. There's a machlokes what this actually meansץ Rashi, Bartenura, and others relate it to a pasuk in Ezra and say that it means for general klei shareis. The Rambam says it's for the kapores and kodesh hakodashim. (R' Kapach says in the footnotes of the Mosad Harav Kook edition that what he actually means is בית הכפורת, i.e. the kodesh hakodashim. We know that gold plating was added to the walls and floor on a fairly regular basis. Based on the translations I have the Rambam's language seems redundant according to this explanation, but I don't speak Arabic so I can't really comment.)

It's possible that the phrasing of זהב לכפורת was originally used for the actual donation of gold to construct the aron, and then when that wasn't needed anymore they kept the category but switched the purpose to something closely related. This works best according to the Rambam's explanation, but is also possible according to Rashi. In either case, it explains why the language of כפורת is used to label the box rather than a word that more directly describes what the money was used for.

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