Artist's impression of the Tabernacle
in the Wilderness
In the first year after the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt while they were in the Desert of Sinai they were commanded by G-d to construct the tabernacle. The Shekeinah would dwell in the midst of Israel in the Tabernacle. They were also commanded to make the holy vessels for worship in the Tabernacle as well as the priestly garments for use by the priests while they were ministering in the Tabernacle. The commandment to maintain the Tabernacle was to last until the Israelites came to the land of Israel where they were commanded to build a permanent Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
In Exodus 25:8, G-d commanded Israel “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” Tradition states that when G-d said to Moses to command Israel to build Him a sanctuary, Moses replied “You are the Sovereign of all the world and you told us that the heavens and the heaven of heavens are not able to contain you. And You say that Israel must make you a sanctuary to dwell there?” So the Holy One of Israel answered him “Moses, it is not as you think, but within 20 pieces of wood in the north and 20 pieces of wood in the south and 8 pieces of wood in the west I will confine my Shekeinah there from heaven.”
The Tabernacle and its curtains
The Tabernacle, the place where G-d placed His Shekeinah, followed the children of Israel starting in the second year of the exodus from Egypt and continuing for the next 479 years. When the Israelites traveled through the desert to the Promised Land the cloud of G-d was a canopy over the Tabernacle and all the nations who saw this marveled. They were excited because the glory of G-d and His Shekeinah dwelt with the Israelites. It was a marvelous sight. The children of Israel had 42 journeys in the desert and every time they moved they took the Tabernacle apart and re-assembled it at their next camp site. When they entered the Promised Land, they first erected the Tabernacle at Gilgal. The Tabernacle remained there for 14 years, the time required to complete the occupation of the land. Afterwards the Tabernacle was moved to Shiloh where it remained for 369 years. In Shiloh, instead of the wooden frame of the Tabernacle, walls were built of stones and covered with skins. (It was an exciting moment when, after Shiloh was liberated in the Six Day War, very old walls were found which were built and designed like a tent without a roof. It looked like the Tabernacle which had survived down through history. We felt the inspiration and presence of G-d in this place, and it was an exciting experience to pray inside this Tabernacle, to feel as if all the children of Israel from those days were with us. Later a synagogue was built on the site which included the Tabernacle. The synagogue was built exactly according to the design of the Tabernacle.)
When Shiloh was destroyed by the enemies of Israel, the Tabernacle was moved to Nob and after Nob's destruction the Israelites erected the Tabernacle in Gibon. The Tabernacle stood for a total of 57 years in Nob and Gibon until King Solomon built the Temple.
Parts from which the Tabernacle was built. All their details were given by G d in Exodus
Afterwards the Tabernacle and those vessels of the Tabernacle for which there was no use in the Temple were stored in the tunnels under the Temple. They are now waiting there to be stored in the Third Temple. Rabbi Eliyahu said in the Talmud that the Tabernacle was stored and kept for eternity because the Shekeinah dwelt there and because holy people built it with great generosity of heart. In the future, when the end-times Temple is built, the Shekeinah will come and dwell in the Temple forever.
The construction of the Tabernacle, its vessels, and priestly garments was a very complicated task. Tremendous wisdom was needed to follow the detailed instructions which G-d had given. G-d provided people with the needed wisdom.
“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship ... and in the hearts of all who are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6).
The Sages also said that Moses had great difficulty in constructing the golden menorah until G-d showed him the design in a menorah of fire. The same was the case with the design and building of the Tabernacle, its vessels, garments, the Ark of the Covenant, the menorah and the flags of the twelve tribes. In the Torah G-d gave all the details of how to make them and He gave the wisdom to Moses and Bezalel to construct them exactly according to His specifications. Many of the vessels from the Tabernacle were later used in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Altar of burnt offering (Olah) in the Tabernacle which was constructed by Moses according to the Word of G d and was made of wood covered with bronze. A miracle occurred with the altar: despite the fire which permanently burned on the altar, the wood it was made of was never burned and the bronze never melted
What was the source of materials for the building of the Tabernacle,? Rabbi Tanchuma said “In the holy spirit of G-d, our Father Jacob saw that the children of Israel would build a Tabernacle in the desert, so he brought cedars to Egypt and planted them there. He commanded His children to take the cedars with them when they left Egypt.” Another tradition states that the clouds of heaven helped the Israelites to construct the Tabernacle. The sages said that the clouds of glory brought down all kinds of precious stones and pearls which were needed for the Tabernacle and for the breastplate and ephod. They also brought down the ingredients for the incense and the olive oil for the menorah. For the covering of the Tabernacle they used “rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of goats' skins.” (Exodus 26:14).
At what stage was the Tabernacle built? After Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with the second set of the Ten Commandments, he commanded that the Tabernacle and its vessels be constructed. The children of Israel donated the gold and silver and other materials which were needed. Moses had to tell them to stop bringing materials, since a sufficient supply of materials had been received. The construction took 22 months and was completed on the 25th Kislev. The Tabernacle remained folded and ready to be set up until the first day of Nisan. On this day ( the second year of the exodus) in the 2,449th year after the creation of the world, the Tabernacle was erected. It was the birthday of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and tradition states that G-d wanted to celebrate both joyful events on the same day. Tradition also states that miracles occurred during the setting up and dedication of the Tabernacle. The Midrash states when they came to set up the Tabernacle, it could not be done because the wood was too heavy. So Moses asked G-d how to set it up with human strength. G-d answered him, as he began to set up the Tabernacle, it would set itself up.
G-d Glorifies the Tabernacle
Ark of the Covenant with the Cherubim which was in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle
On the same day that the Tabernacle was erected, G-d glorified it. The Shekeinah came to dwell in the Tabernacle. The priests were anointed to perform their holy duties in the Tabernacle and to bless Israel with the priestly blessing. For the first time public sacrifices were made to the honor of G-d. Fire came down from heaven on the altar.
The Tabernacle in the Midst of the Camp of Israel
When the Tabernacle was first erected, it rested on a hill in the center of the camp of Israel. The cloud that preceded the Israelites to protect and guide them, flattened the desert, but it always left a hill for the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle moved with the children of Israel on their journeys until they came to the promised land of Israel.
The Tabernacle was stored underneath the Temple Mount and when the Third Temple is built the Tabernacle will be recovered as an eternal memorial. This will be an exciting day in the life of Israel. 9