Creating a Tabernacle: Out of Thin Air?


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: As I was reading the Chumash yesterday I came across a section on building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that generated some interesting thoughts: Where did all the fancy fabrics come from? They included tremendous yardage, and if they wove the fabric, where did they get the raw materials, from the sheep? They required fancy woods - this they had to bring with them for sure. What about the contributions? These are certainly not found the middle of the desert. Therefore logic dictates that they brought it out of Egypt with them. If that is a correct assumption, then the following question is: The Jews did not have time to let the bread rise (which only takes a couple of hours) but they did have time to gather all the enormous amount of materials and tools to build a Mishkan?!…which they did not even know the were going to build? And why would they even think of bringing what on the surface seems to be a huge unnecessary extra load…instead of essential food? I can't make any logical sense of that.


Similarly; Regarding the Golden calf, it seems that in a few hours, and without any prior planning, they completely built a mold (out of stone or sand I suppose), collected the gold, melted it and completely finished the statue. That is really quick…quicker than in modern times.


I am lost here…it seems the Jews were pretty talented and knowledgeable in many, many areas (metal forging, yarn spinning, woodworking) even though in Egypt, they were but simple slaves. Where did all the technical and specialized knowledge come from? Thanks, G.M.



Mesora: Ever think of starting a website for Torah questions?  I enjoyed these!


Regarding the wool, yes, it came from their sheep, and they had many. The Jews were known as shepherds. They had sheep in Egypt. We know this too from the Torah’s depiction of the fifth Egyptian Plague of Animals: none of the Jews’ animals died. (Exod. 9:4) Thus, they had flocks and herds.


The wood is a good question, but Rashi addressed this (Exod. 25:5, citing Rabbi Tanchumah). Rashi states that Jacob had prophetic knowledge if the Jews’ need for the Tabernacle’s building materials. He therefore brought cedars to Egypt and planted them there, commanding the Jews to take them upon their Exodus. And although the Jews may not have known about the Tabernacle and their need for wood while salves, they heeded the commands originated by Jacob years earlier.


The contributions could be of their own objects, or of that which Moses commanded the Jews to request from the Egyptians before their leave, “And you will request, a woman from her (Egyptian) neighbor, vessels of silver and vessels of gold, and clothing…”(Exod. 3:22) The Jews despoiled Egypt upon their leave, as it is recorded when they actually left (Exod. 12:35). I once heard this despoiling was to assist in rebuilding the Jew’s self-esteem. Having been slaves for so Long, Moses addressed their need to reaffirm their dignity and wealth, and the precious metal objects and clothing of their oppressors addressed this need. We also learn from Rashi on Exodus 12:35 that the Jews valued the clothing more than the gold and silver. This attests to their state of needing to bolster their dignity: Moses was correct, their wish to emulate those who oppressed them, those who were superior, was a needed step up from slavery. Donning themselves in beautiful Egyptian clothing allowed the Jews to express dignity..


Now, the timing issue: The command of collection of all these Egyptian garments and precious objects of gold and silver was given to the Jews with plenty of time before their Exodus. So too, they had plenty of time to gather the necessary wood. However, these events were not during the hurried aftermath of their Egyptian, Passover Seder which concluded that night with their unannounced oust. Not knowing when they were to leave, they did not make ready any provisions. Therefore, they could only grab their dough with such limited time.


So there were two events: 1) the collection of Egyptian goods and the cedar wood, and 2) the Passover Exodus. The prior was not a rushed scene - the latter was…so all they grabbed was their food.


You finally asked about the Golden Calf, how it was made so fast. Well, we do not know how large this calf was, or if it was an entire form of the animal, just a head, or if it was a flat image like a painting. But if it was relatively small, making it from pure gold is not so difficult, as it is very pliable. No casts or molds need to be made. A few hours of banging the gold softened further by the fire is ample time to make some likeness of a calf, if not even a good likeness. So hi-technology wasn’t present, nor was it needed.


The arts, which we do see were required, are those indispensable in creating the Tabernacle’s vessels, the woven draped coverings, the Ark, the Menora, and other objects. For this, we are taught distinctly (Exod. 21:3), “And I (G-d) filled him (Betzalel) with a spirit of G-d, in wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and in all work.” Betzalel’s ingenuity addressed what you properly asked, “where did slaves get so knowledgeable about these fine arts?” The answer is Betzalel.


From all of your good questions we (myself included) learn how essential it is to continue our Torah learning, to consult the Rabbis and commentaries like Rashi, and to never end our questioning! I look forward to your next installment.