Why Are the Details of the Tabernacle Repeated?

Mar 4, 2022

וַתֵּכֶל כָּל־עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהֹוָה אֶת־מֹשֶׁה כֵּן עָשׂוּ׃

Thus was completed all the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting. The Israelites did so; just as Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they did.

Exodus 39:32

After describing the instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle in great detail, the Torah then repeats these details, describing the same elements after the Tabernacle has been erected. Of course, the Tabernacle is the place for God’s holy presence, the shechina, to dwell among the Children of Israel and, as such, certainly warrants a repetition. 

The Torah, however, doesn’t waste words. Why does it go out of its way to repeat itself, detail by detail, when describing the parts of the Tabernacle. True, the Torah does repeat ideas in other places, but this is not a thematic repetition of archetypal parables like we saw when two of the patriarchs disguised their wives as sisters, or a conflict between brothers. The book of Genesis, in fact, repeats the story of the creation of Man, but with significant differences. The Ten Commandments are repeated as well, with variances in significant details.

Exodus, on the other hand, repeats identical details of the Tabernacle that have already been recorded and, as such, begs the question as to why. Some details, such as the construction of the Menorah, are even repeated in precisely the same words. The only notable difference in the repetition is that the imperative verbs of the previous section instructing Bezalel on how to construct the Tabernacle are now converted into the past tense, indicating that the instructions have been faithfully carried out. This repetition is sometimes used by secular scholars to argue that the Torah is not divinely given and has multiple authors recording different traditions, but for those who understand that the entire Torah is divine, there must be a different answer. 

Rays of sun light up the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Shutterstock.com)

As stated in the opening paragraph, the repetition may be due to the centrality of the Tabernacle to the role of the Children of Israel as God’s chosen covenantal nation. The importance of the Tabernacle (and the Temple in Jerusalem) might seem foreign to modern Jews whose practice of Judaism does not include the Temple service. But its importance cannot be overemphasized, as it placed the shechina at the center of the nation for thousands of years. It could be argued that Judaism without focusing on the shechina is a form of godless idolatry. Therefore, having a central place in which to focus on the shechina was extremely important. Repetition solidifies this, just as public readings of the Torah, repeating precisely the same words every week, year after year, has enshrined the Torah as the guiding light for the Jewish people. Repetition of concepts and ritual ensure the Torah remains unchanged and with no variation, as it has for over 3,000 years.

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