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Is the Temple or the Tabernacle More Central to Judaism….Parashat Tetzave

Did you know that the Temple is never mentioned, not even once, in the entire Torah? Prof. David Frankel asks why? The answer is revealing….

This week’s parasha is parasha Tetzave. It continues to deal with the construction of the Mishkan, of the tabernacle that served the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan as a place of worship and cultic ritual.

So what is the Mishkan and what is the significance of the Mishkan?

This comes together with another question we might ask about the parashah, and really about the entire Torah as a whole. And that is the question, or the fact, that the Temple and the construction of a Temple is never commanded in the entire Torah.

The rabbis, who wanted to believe that building a Temple is a mitzvah, based their interpretation of this mitzvah on the parashot of the building of the Mishkan, where it says

ועשו לי מקדש

They shall make for me a temple or a sanctuary

ושכנתי בתוכם

So that I may dwell in them. (Exodus 25:8)

But it is clear that that is not a command to build a Temple! It is actually just a command to build a Mishkan, which is a one-time phenomenon that lasted 40 years.

So the question that I would like to raise is, why is there no command to build a Temple?

The answer, I believe, is found in the book II Samuel.

In the book of II Samuel, David is pondering his great house he had just built for himself and he decides it is time to build God a Temple.

Then God responds in a surprising way in the book of II Samuel, Chapter 7. God responds and says, “Shall you build me a house? I have never dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up out from the land of Egypt until this very day. I went about in a Tent and in a Tabernacle.”

בכל אשר התהלכתי

(II Samuel 7: 7)

“Throughout all my journeys with the children of Israel did I once tell any of the leaders of Israel saying, Why have you not built me a Temple?


This is a very startling response from God to David’s very earnest request and desire to build a Temple. This passage is usually ignored, and I would like to spend just a few minutes contemplating its meaning.

Here we have an unusual Biblical passage which seems to actually consider the temple an undesirable institution. In spite of the fact that it is celebrated so often in other parts of the Bible, here it is clear that it is not what God wanted.

What did God want? He said well?? All the time from the Exodus what have I commanded, what have I used? A Tent and a Tabernacle, אוהל ומשכן , that is what God really wants. Why?

One explanation is that a temple is solid, secure, immovable, and intransigent. That gives a sense that we know exactly where God is, and we can always know that he is with us. If he is with us, we are invincible.

God says NO.

I don’t want a house. I don’t want to give you that sense that you know where I am and who I am. I am the elusive God. I am the God that moves, that cannot be pinned down. Therefore, also, don’t use me as a crutch. Don’t feel that since you have my presence in some way, you can rely on being invincible and indestructible.

God teaches us in the book of Samuel and in the parasaha that his real presence is the presence of a Mishkan. It is the elusive, moving God that cannot be pinned down that is with us when he is with us; and that we may never and must never use the sense of God’s presence as a foundation for overconfidence, because God can never be pinned down and we must always live humbly with God.

Shavua Tov from Schechter


(image: Lombardmaps – 19th Century, Tabernacle & Camp, from wikimedia, Gover)

David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He has been on the faculty since 1992. He earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School,” and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.”  From 1991 to 1996, Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.

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