The Mishkan and its Utensils

The Gemara (Berakhos 55a) says that when Hashem told Moshe to appoint Betzalel to lead the building of the Mishkan, He first told Moshe to describe the building of the Mishkan itself, and then told him to describe each of the keilim (utensils) to be placed and used within it. However, when Moshe actually called Betzalel, he told Betzalel to first build the keilim, and then the Mishkan. Presumably not taking the order of Hashem’s instruction to imply a necessarily mean they should be built in that order as well.

Betzalel disagreed. The building must precede the items you place within it. He asked Moshe Rabbeinu if Hashem did not actually ask that they be built in the other order. Moshe complimented Betzalel, replying, “You must have been in the shadow of the A-lmighty [betzeil Ei-l] when He spoke to me.”

Tosafos clarify that this gemara is speaking of the actual appointment of Betzalel in Ki Sisa (31:7). The order there places the the Mishkan first. The longer description in Terumah has the keilim first.

So we see that while Betzalel was right in practice, the Mishkan needed to be first, Hashem actually utilized both sequences. The notion of building the keilim first is not “merely” Moshe Rabbeinu’s error, which itself would be a subtle mistake and therefore warrant study. It has intrinsic value which dictated the structure of parashas Terumah.

What exactly is the difference between Moshe’s perspective and Betzalel’s, and why was Betzalel’s perspective the proper one to use in practice?

A while back I explored the notion of viewing the chain of events from two directions. When we look causally, events progress from past to future. I let go of a ball therefore it falls and then it bounces a bit. Causes precede effects. However, when we look teleologically, the universe makes sense by looking backwards in time. I wanted to bounce a ball, therefore I let go of it. My final purpose determines my earlier action.

Shabbos, for example, represents both. It attests to Hashem as First Cause, Creator of the universe. And it is also “me’ein olam haba — in the image of the World to Come”, a foretaste of experiencing Him as Final Purpose. Shabbos is a window into creation’s ultimate meaning, and connects that Divine Plan to its very beginning.
Which is holier — cause or telos? Causality makes sense in the physical world, one need only invoke the laws of nature. Telos requires having a mind, being purposive. In fact, I have in the past defined qedushah as being set aside for a purpose.
What then is Moshe’s perspective? Moshe heard the commandment to build the Mishkan while atop Har Sinai, when G-d took heaven and stretched it down to the mountain. Even decades later, Moshe Rabbeinu says “Ha’azinu hashamayim va’adabeirah — Give ear, heavens, and I will speak, vesishma ha’aretz imrei fi — and the world will hear the e of my mouth.” As Chazal explain, the sequence and the choice of verbs reflect Moshe’s position of being closer to heaven than to earth.

From a heavenly perspective, teleology is primary. Things exist not from the laws of physical objects, but from the decisions of the A-lmighty or of souls. In Moshe’s worldview, the utensils for performing the avodah, the service, were logically first.

However, that is not how things work in this world. “Sof ma’aseh, bemachashavah techilah — that which is made last, was thought first.” Betzalel said that such sequencing is proper for heaven, but here on earth, we must plan, have all the peices ready, and build toward our conclusion.

In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu‘s plan would have been paradoxical. If the keilim are first because of their teleological sequence, they should have been made at the number one teleogical spot. The head of a line stretching backward from the future to the past would still be the last thing made. The two sequences should lead to the same result. Therefore, it is only when speaking of the Mishkan in theory, in parashas Terumah, Hashem mentions the goal first. When He commands Moshe to actually appoint people to build it, Hashem switches to normal chronological order. It was Moshe’s lack of focus on this world that caused him to miss the change, and required Betzalel to point it out to him.
This might be related to Rav Dessler’s position that the sequence of time, past to present to future, is a product of the human condition since Adam ate the fruit. And that Torah, being about eternal truth, can raise man above that until he, like Adam, could see “min haqatzeh el haqatzeh (from one end to the other)”. See my earlier entry, or better, Michtav meiEliyahu II:150-154 itself.

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