Was Moses Unwilling or Unable to Enter the Tabernacle? – 5782 Pekudei Aliyah by Aliyah

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There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.

Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.

It’s time to explore Torah Portion Pekudei, aliyah by aliyah.

Pekudei Exodus 38:21-40:38

Aliyah 1 – Exodus 38:21-39:1

Exodus 38:21

These are the accounts of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, recorded, as Moshe ordered, by the L’vi’im under the direction of Itamar the son of Aharon, the cohen.

EXO 38:22

Is this the first we have heard of Itamar? Perhaps he was mentioned early on in Exodus, but he has been mostly a silent figure until now. It sounds like Itamar kept track of the construction of the Mishkan.

Exodus 38:24-29 Recounts the 1,930 pounds of gold, 6,650 pounds of silver and 4,680 pounds of bronze used for the construction of the Mishkan

EXO 38:24-29

I am surprised so much silver was used as opposed to bronze

Exodus 38:26 This was a beka per person, that is, half a shekel [one-fifth of an ounce], using the sanctuary shekel, for everyone twenty years old or older counted in the census, 603,550 men.

EXO 38:26

It has been said that around 600,000 men came out of Egypt and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. This census affirms that.

EXO 38:27-28

Say that the exact amount of silver brought in by the census was entirely used for the silver that furnished the Mishkan. That is not a coincidence. That is a bold claim of sovereignty and might from the Most High!

Aliyah 2 – Exodus 39:2-21

Exodus 39:21 Then they bound the breastplate by its rings to the rings of the vest with a blue cord, so that it could be on the vest’s decorated belt, and so that the breastplate would not swing loose from the vest — as HaShem had ordered Moshe.

EXO 39:21

I love the detail that the breastplate should not swing loose as the Cohen Gadol is moving around. That really struck me this year and I am not sure why. It is orderly and measured, which is good. I suppose the foresight and the acknowledgement that nothing can really stand on its own without support is appealing to me. I think most people who know me would say I favor realism and a bit of unguarded rawness, so the Torah openly highlighting that the breastplate needs to be tied down to look good and be functional is oddly soothing to me. HaShem isn’t pretending everything is going to be perfect and specifically tells how to mitigate that.

Aliyah 3 – Exodus 39:22-32

Exodus 39:32 Thus all the work for the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was finished, with the people of Isra’el doing everything exactly as HaShem had ordered Moshe.

EXO 39:32

Look how gracious, forgiving and loving HaShem is. The Mishkan was built after the golden calf was destroyed and punishment was meted out. It is almost as if HaShem forgives and forgets and has the Torah proclaim that Israel is faithful and true to Him.

Aliyah 4 – Exodus 39:33-43

Exodus 39:43 Moshe saw all the work, and — there it was! — they had done it! Exactly as HaShem had ordered, they had done it. And Moshe blessed them.

EXO 39:43

What is this blessing? Is it a generic one? Is it specific? I don’t remember there being a special blessing being given to the people of Israel for building the Mishkan. Is it because they did it or because they did it with such enthusiasm, love and care?

Aliyah 5 – Exodus 40:1-16

Exodus 40:3 Put in it the ark for the testimony, and conceal the ark with the curtain.

Exodus 40:8 Set up the courtyard all the way around, and hang up the screen for the entrance to the courtyard.

EXO 40:3, 8

The ark is set down, then enveloped by curtains and finally the curtains of the courtyard is to be set up. The Tabernacle is set up from the inside to the outside. The ark which contains the broken tablets and is topped with the “mercy seat,”  is the center of this microcosm and everything is oriented around it. The people of Israel lived a life where HaShem was literally at the center of it while they sojourned through the wilderness. That’s beautiful.

Aliyah 6 – Exodus 40:17-27

Exodus 40:21 Then he brought the ark into the tabernacle, set up the curtain as a screen and concealed the ark for the testimony, as HaShem had ordered Moshe.

EXO 40:21

This seems to go directly against the description of how to set up the Tabernacle from EXO 40:3-8. It can’t be a contradiction. Perhaps I am reading it wrong. Maybe I am reading it wrong or my translation feels off to me. Is this a discrepancy?

Wait, no. It’s fine. See: EXO 40:33, which clarifies that the courtyard is erected last of all. Context really matters. I need to be careful about context and jumping to conclusions.

Aliyah 7 – Exodus 40:28-38

Exodus 40:35 Moshe was unable to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud remained on it, and the glory of HaShem filled the tabernacle.

EXO 40:35This must have been an amazing sight to behold. Praise and Glory to the Almighty!

Closing Questions

Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.

1.What would have happened if the half shekels were insufficient?

I guess, more would have been taken in via donation to cover the rest. I am more amazed that the totals worked out so perfectly.

2. How do you handle apparent contradictions in the Bible?

In the case, I was purposely being narrow in my focus, so it wasn’t until I read the next aliyah that I realized it was ok. Generally, I take note of the issue, look for another verse to resolve it and seek counsel if I am unable to figure it out on my own. Context is key so, definitely figuring out where to set the bounds is important. An odd verse might need the verse before and after to clarify it, or the paragraph it is in, maybe the chapter or the whole book. I advise starting with immediate context and then expanding from there.

3. Was Moses unable to enter the Tabernacle or did he not dare to?

I don’t know. The cloud filling the Tabernacle reminds me of the Holy of Holies being filled with smoke on Yom Kippur. Only the Cohen Gadol can enter once a year under all the right conditions, so maybe Moshe was hesitant. It is also possible that he wanted to go into the tent and was repelled. The word for “glory” in Hebrew (kavod) means heaviness and has an implication of grandeur. I wonder if it was like a force-field and he couldn’t press into the Mishkan because of how this great presence of HaShem was filling this place.


That concludes my journey through Pekudei for the year 5782.

I hope these words have been a blessing to you.

May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.

This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.

Published by MJ Muñoz

Husband. Father. Believer. Writer.

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