The Mishkan and Marriage

Chazal teach that the relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisrael is a marriage, with Hashem as the groom and the Jewish people as the bride. However, in order for a marriage to take effect, an act of kiddushin (betrothal) must take place. The Mishnah (Kiddushin 2a) teaches that kiddushin can take place in one of three ways. When was the kiddushin between Hashem and the Jewish people?

The Baal Haturim (Shemos 19:4) explains that Hashem betrothed us as His bride using all three methods. The kessef was the bizas hayam, the spoils that the Jewish people received at the Yam Suf after the Egyptians drowned. The shtar was the Luchos (Tablets) that Hashem gave Moshe at Mount Sinai. The biah was through entering the Mishkan, where Hashem’s Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwelled. In addition to all three forms of betrothal, there was also a chuppah (marriage canopy) at Mount Sinai, where Hashem raised up the mountain over our heads as we accepted the Torah (Shabbos 88a).

In the introduction to his sefer Hamakneh, Harav Pinchas Halevi Horowitz, better known as the Haflaah (the name of his work on Kesubos), notes that Rashi writes (Devarim 34:12) that Hashem praised Moshe for breaking the Luchos, but he doesn’t explain what precisely was commendable about his actions. The Haflaah explains that when the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, their legal status was that of a married woman who was unfaithful, an action that is punishable by death. In order to save them, Moshe shattered the Tablets in order to dissolve the kiddushin they represented, so that Klal Yisrael would once again be considered unmarried, and the magnitude of their sin would be lessened.

However, although Moshe’s action terminated the betrothal that was performed through the Luchos, there nevertheless remained the kiddushin of kessef that was effected at the Yam Suf, in which case Moshe’s attempt to assist the Jewish people would seem to be inadequate. The Haflaah suggests that the kiddushin via kessef was conditional on the Jewish people agreeing to accept and obey the Torah, so when Moshe broke the Luchos, he retroactively nullified the conditional betrothal of the bizas hayam, since the attached stipulation wasn’t fulfilled.

However, Harav Moshe Aharon Friedman of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim notes that this explanation raises a different question: If the original kiddushin between Hashem and the Jewish people was conditional and became annulled, how did we regain what we lost, in order to regain and cement a permanent relationship with Hashem?

Harav Yonasan Eibschutz explains that the new betrothal was effected when Hashem told Moshe to command the Jewish people “V’yikchu li terumah — take for me a portion,” and the money and possessions that the Jewish people donated to the Mishkan constituted a new and enduring kiddushin. Even though Jewish law normally requires the groom to give the money to the bride and not vice-versa, as would seem to be the case here where the bride (Klal Yisrael) gave money to the groom (Hashem), there is one exception to this rule.

The Gemara (Kiddushin 7a) teaches that if the groom is an important and respected man who doesn’t normally accept gifts, his willingness to take a present from the bride gives her the same pleasure as if she had received it from him, and in such a case, the kiddushin is legally valid. In our case, giving a gift to Hashem certainly qualifies for this exception, and therefore the contributions of the Jewish people for the Mishkan constituted a legitimate form of kiddushin.

Q: Why is Parashas Mishpatim, which contains the Torah’s code of civil law, juxtaposed to Parashas Terumah, which discusses the Mishkan and its utensils?

Q: Since gold is more precious and valuable than wood, why was the Aron made of wood instead of gold like its coverings (25:10–11), which would seem to give more honor to the Torah housed therein?

A: The Beis Halevi explains that the Torah juxtaposes the portions to teach that before one can donate to a holy cause such as the Mishkan, he must first make sure that the money is “kosher gelt,” which can only be determined after studying the Torah’s civil law.

Harav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that after the Jews heard the laws in Parashas Mishpatim, they wanted to return to Egypt to return all the items they “borrowed” from their Egyptian neighbors (12:35). Hashem knew that they were entitled to keep these objects as payment for the work they did during their enslavement (see Sanhedrin 91a). To reassure them, He immediately commanded them to donate these very items for the building of the Mishkan.

A: The Daas Zekeinim and Chizkuni explain that making the Ark completely out of gold would have made it too heavy to be transported on the shoulders of the Levites. Harav Dovid Feinstein questions this, calculating that even with the middle layer of wood it weighed approximately eight tons.

Rather, he answers that because the Ark contained a Torah scroll and the Tablets, it signifies the study of Torah. Although gold is considered more valuable, wood has an advantage in that it is alive and organic. We refer to the Torah as a “Toras Chaim” as it provides us with the necessary tools to respond to life’s challenges.

Even at the apparent expense of the Ark’s glory, Hashem requires that the Torah rest in a wooden housing to teach that even the most learned Rav in the world may never remain static, as that would symbolize the demise of the Torah, but must constantly be growing, changing, learning and adapting.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email