Building the Mishkan by Day

בְּיוֹם הַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ תָּקִים אֶת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.

On the day of the first month, on the first of the month, you shall erect the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. (40:2)

The opening word “bayom” (on the day) in verse two seems redundant, for it proceeds to state “on the first of the month”! What is this word adding?

The Meaning of the Word “Day”

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the word “day” can have one of two meanings:

A: It can denote a day in the week or month. In such a case, this will include both the daytime and nighttime portions of that day, e.g. “the day of Shabbos” includes Friday night

B: It can denote the daytime portion of a day, as opposed to the night.

In our case, by adding the word “day”, Hashem was indicating not only the date when the Mishkan was to be erected, but also emphasizing that this was to take place specifically during the day. This is in accord with the principle derived in the Gemara[1] that the building of the Mikdash does not take place at night.

An Alternative Source?

The Meshech Chochmah concludes his comment with the words, “ועיין פרק שני דשבועות מקרא אחרינא – and see the second perek of Shavuos [where it derives this] from a different verse.” With this reference, he is alerting us to the fact that the Gemara upon which his explanation of our verse is based provides a different source for the idea of not building the Mikdash at night:

מנין שאין בנין בית המקדש בלילה? שנאמר "וביום הקים את המשכן"

 From where do we know that we do not build the Beis Hamikdash at night? As it says, “and on the day of the setting up of the Mishkan.”[2]

In truth, with this concluding observation, the Meshech Chochmah could be seen as raising a question: Why, in fact, did the Gemara derive the idea that we may not build the Mikdash at night from the verse in Bamidbar and not from our verse? Indeed, there is room to say that our verse would be a preferable source, for three reasons:

1.   It is earlier in the Torah, and we generally use the first available verse as a source.

2.   The word “day” in our verse seems redundant, thereby making it a more eligible basis for a halachic exposition.

3.   Our verse relates Hashem’s command to Moshe, while the verse in Bamidbar is descriptive in nature. Generally speaking, a halachic requirement is more likely to be derived from a command than a description.

The Meshech Chochmah does not elaborate on this issue. Rather, in a very understated way, simply by means of reference, he raises the question, leaving it to the reader to contemplate the matter further.

Perhaps we may suggest that since there were many unique laws that applied on the first day of the Mishkan, as outlined in the beginning of Parshas Shemini, the Gemara preferred to cite as its source a verse which described the ongoing parameters of how the Mishkan was set up. Alternatively, from our verse alone, we may have concluded that the insistence that the Mishkan be built only by day applied specifically to the first time it was built. By contrast, on subsequent occasions, and in later locations, we may have thought that it is merely being “rebuilt”, so that the timing would not be so significant. Hence, the Gemara cited a verse from a subsequent occasion to inform us that all acts of building can take place only by day.


 The Mizbeach of the Ketores “Before the Aron”

וְנָתַתָּה אֶת מִזְבַּח הַזָּהָב לִקְטֹרֶת לִפְנֵי אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת

And you shall place the Gold Altar for the incense before the Ark of the Testimony (40:5)

On a straightforward level, the verse’s description of placing the mizbeach for the ketores “before the Aron” would seem to be relating purely to its positioning, i.e. that it be midway between the north and south walls of the Mishkan and thereby directly aligned with the Aron which resides in the center of the Kodesh Hakodashim. However, if this is the case, why does the Torah omit this detail when it subsequently describes Moshe placing the mizbeyach in the Mishkan,[3] instead stating simply that it was placed “before the paroches”? Likewise, when the gold mizbeyach is originally discussed in Parshas Tetzaveh, it is also just commanded to be placed “before the paroches”! For this reason, the Meshech Chochmah understands that the words “before the Aron” in our verse are actually referring to the nature and purpose of the ketores itself.

The Rambam writes that the reason the Torah commands to offer ketores in the Mishkan is in order to offset the smell of the animals that are constantly being offered, including their slaughter, cleaning, and the burning of the sacrificial parts on the mizbeyach.[4] However, later commentators vigorously challenge this explanation, raising numerous questions, for example:

1.   If this is the reason for the ketores, why is the Torah so particular regarding the exact amount each of its ingredients?

2.   Why is there such a severe prohibition against a person replicating the ketores for his own personal use?[5]

The Meshech Chochmah adds that proof for the idea that ketores is not just to offset an unpleasant smell is that it was offered during the seven preparatory miluim days. On those days, the amount of korbanos offered was minimal, in addition to which the Mishkan was dismantled each day, so that the need to offset any odor from the meat would be negligible – and yet still the ketores was offered!

All of this seems to clearly indicate that there is more to the ketores than offsetting a negative odor. Rather, the ketores contains mystical secrets relating to the providing of an enhanced setting for the Divine Presence, as discussed in kabbalistic works. The Meshech Chochmah explains that this is the message of our verse, which states that the gold mizbeyach shall be placed “before the Aron.”[6] With these words, the verse is indicating that the ketores which will be offered upon this mizbeyach relates directly to the Divine presence that resides upon the Aron, allowing for the full manifestation of Hashem’s glory there.

חזק חזק ונתחזק

[1] Shavuos 15b.

[2] Bamidbar 9:15.

[3] Verse 26.

[4] Moreh Nevuchim 3:45.

[5] See e.g. Rabbeinu Bachye to Shemos 30:1.

[6] A close reading of the Meshech Chochmah implies that he also wishes to explain why the Torah communicates the idea of “before the Aron” specifically in our verse. Since the definitive proof that the ketores is not just to offset an unpleasant smell comes from the fact that it was offered during the miluim days, it is in our verse, which contains the command for those days, that this idea is mentioned.