Parsha Halacha


The 13 Materials of the Mishkan

What Were They and Why 13?

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In the beginning of the Torah portion of Terumah, we find the list of the various materials donated by the Jewish people to the Mishkan. Rashi says[1] that there were 13 items. Others say there were 15,[2] and yet others maintain there were 16.[3]

13, 15, or 16 Materials

The Torah lists the following 16 materials:

1)     זָהָב – gold

2)     כֶסֶף – silver

3)     נְחֹשֶׁת – copper

4)      תְכֵלֶת – blue wool

5)     אַרְגָּמָן – purple wool

6)     תוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי – crimson wool

7)     שֵׁשׁ – linen

8)     עִזִּֽים – goats’ (hair)

9)     עֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאׇדָּמִים – tanned ram skins

10) ְעֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים – tachash skins

11)  עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים – acacia wood

12) שֶׁמֶן לַמָּאֹר – oil for lighting

13) בְּשָׂמִים לְשֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה – spices for the anointing oil

14)  לִקְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּֽים – (spices for the) aromatic incense

15) אַבְנֵי שׁהַם – shoham stones

16)  אַבְנֵי מִלֻּאִים – stones to fill the settings (in the Choshen)

The commentaries offer several explanations as to why Rashi counts only 13 materials:[4]

●      All Wool Is One

Some say[5] that the three types of wool (blue, purple, and crimson) are counted as one.

●      Don’t Count the Stones

Others say[6] that the two types of precious stones at the end of the list are not counted since they were provided by the princes (Nesi’im) rather than by the entire community.

●      Tachash and Acacia Not Counted

The acacia wood had been prepared by Yaakov Avinu who brought cedars with him to Egypt, while the tachash was an animal G-d created specifically for the Mishkan and did not belong to any one person. As such, some[7] do not count these materials.

●      Building Materials Only

Rabbi Mordechai HaKohen of Tzfat writes[8] that the oil which was used for illumination and the spices used for anointing oil and for the ketoret are not counted as they were not used in the building of the Mishkan per se.

●      Three Types of Silver

Rabbi David Pardo explains[9] that the community was supposed to donate the first 11 materials on the list only. This explains why the letter vav (which means “and”) is found between all of these items. The verse after the 11th item (acacia wood) starts without a vav to indicate that those items are part of a separate list. Indeed, all of those items (the precious stones, the oil and the spices) were given by the princes rather than by the community.[10] To round out the number 13, Rabbi Pardo considers that there were three types of silver donated: one for the sockets, one for the communal sacrifices, and one for the building of the Mishkan.

13 for 13

It has been suggested that the basis for Rashi’s opinion that there were 13 items is the Midrash[11] that says that the 13 items donated to the Mishkan corresponded to 13 things which G-d provided us with in the desert. (See below for the list.)

Significance of 13

The number 13 is found many times in the Torah and as such is regarded as being a significant number, which may be the reason why the Midrash presents this number.[12] Here are some of the instances we find this number:

●      13 Attributes of Mercy[13]

The Zohar writes[14] that just as a rose has 13 petals, so, too, the Jewish people are protected by G-d’s 13 Attributes of Mercy.

·        13 Praises in Yishtabach

The Zohar says[15] that one should say the 13 praises of Yishtabach, which correspond to the 13 Attributes of Mercy, in one breath. (Some count 15 praises in Yishtabach.[16])

●      13 Levels

The Talmud[17] quotes Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair who gives 13 steps that bring one to spiritual perfection. These are Torah (study), caution (in the performance of mitzvot), alacrity, cleanliness, abstention, purity, piety, humility, fear of sin, holiness, Divine spirit which leads to the resurrection and lastly to the revelation of Elijah, the prophet.

●      13 Rivers

The Talmud says[18] that G-d showed Rabbi Elazar ban Pedat that in the future world he would enjoy 13 rivers of balsam oil as large as the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.[19]

●      13 Garments

The Talmud says[20] that when Rabbi Chanina passed away, Rabbi Yochanan ripped 13 garments of fine wool in grief.[21]

Unity within the Many

The second Gerrer Rebbe points[22] out that 13 is the gematriyah (numerical value) of echad – one – which represents the idea of uniting many disparate aspects with their Divine source. In fact, the Divine unity which reaches all the disparate parts of this world is “more unified” than a level where there are no differences whatsoever.

The Prophet Ezekiel’s List of 13

As mentioned above, the Midrash says that the 13 items donated corresponded to 13 matters which G-d provided for us in the desert. These are recorded by the prophet Ezekiel:[23] It is unclear which of these 13 correspond to the 13 donations. I have made suggestions in the footnotes. (The explanations are from Targum Yonatan.)

1)     וָאַלְבִּישֵׁךְ רִקְמָה – I clothed you with embroidered garments

This refers to the clothing and other booty that the Jewish people took from the Egyptians.[24]

2)      וָאֶנְעֲלֵךְ תָּחַש – and gave you sandals of tachash leather to wear.

Although the tachash was a special creature that G-d revealed to Moshe for the purpose of building the Mishkan, the Jewish people captured many extra techashimand fashioned leather shoes out of their skins. These shoes lasted for the 40 years they were in the desert.[25]

3)      וָאֶחְבְּשֵׁךְ בַּשֵּׁש – I wound fine linen about your head

This is referring to the garments that the kohanim wore in the Mishkan.[26]

4)     וַאֲכַסֵּךְ מֶשִׁי – and dressed you in silks.

This is referring to the fine garments that the Kohen Gadol would wear. (Silk is an expression for fine garments.)[27]

5)      וָאֶעְדֵּךְ עָדִי וָאֶתְּנָה צְמִידִים עַל יָדַיִךְ- I decked you out in finery and put bracelets on your arms

This is referring to the tablets of the law given by Moshe’s hands.[28]

6)      וְרָבִיד עַל גְּרוֹנֵךְ – and a chain around your neck.

We were sanctified with Your great name.[29]

7)      וָאֶתֵּן נֶזֶם עַל אַפֵּךְ- I put a ring in your nose,

This refers to the Aron Kodesh (the holy ark).[30]

8)      וַעֲגִילִים עַל אָזְנָיִךְ- and earrings in your ears

This refers to the clouds of glory which surrounded us.[31]

9)      וַעֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת בְּרֹאשֵׁך- and a splendid crown on your head.

This is referring to the angel that traveled in front of the Jewish people.[32]

10) וַתַּעְדִּי זָהָב – You adorned yourself with gold

This is referring to the gold in the building of the Mishkan.[33]

11) וָכֶסֶף – and silver

This refers to the silver in the Mishkan.[34]

12) וּמַלְבּוּשֵׁךְ שֵׁ֤שׁ וָמֶשִׁי וְרִקְמָה – and your apparel was of fine linen, silk, and embroidery.

This is referring to the tapestries of the Mishkan[35]

13)  וְלַחְמִי אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָך סֹלֶת וָשֶׁמֶן וּדְבַשׁ הֶאֱכַלְתִּיךְ – The bread that I had given you, the choice flour, the oil, and the honey that I gave you to eat

This refers to the manna which could taste like flour, oil, honey, or any food.[36]

13 Presents in the Future Time

The Midrash concludes that G-d will also gift us with 13 presents in the Messianic era as the prophet Isaiah said,[37]

1)     וּבָרָא ה’ עַל כָּל מְכוֹן הַר צִיּוֹן. וְעַל מִקְרָאֶהָ עָנָן יוֹמָם – the L-rd will create over the whole shrine and meeting place of Mount Zion cloud by day

2)     וְעָשָׁן – and smoke

3)     נֹגַהּ – with a glow

4)      אֵש – of fire

5)     לֶהָבָה לָיְלָה – flaming at night

6)     כִּי עַל כָּל כָּבוֹד – Indeed over all the glory

7)      חֻפָּה- is a canopy

8)     וְסֻכָּה תִּהְיֶה – which shall serve as a pavilion

9)      לְצֵל יוֹמָם מֵחֹרֶב – for shade by day

10)  וּלְמַחְסֶה- and as a shelter

11)  וּלְמִסְתּוֹר – and for protection

12) מִזֶּרֶם- from downpours and

13)  וּמִמָּטָר – from drenching rain

May we see these speedily in our days!

[1] D.H. Tikchu on Exodus 25:2

[2] Rabeinu Bachaye on ibid 25:7 See there that the number 15 corresponds to the number of syllables in the first verse of the Torah (not counting those that have a sheva or chataf vowel).

Rabeinu Bachaye counts the spices for the lighting and anointing oil as one item.

[3] Ibn Ezra on verse 3. (He says that 15 were given as donations whereas the 16th, silver, was mandatory.) See Likutei Sichot voi. 21, page 153 note 71 for additional sources

[4] All of these interpretations seem to understand that the spices for the anointing oil and the incense count as one (see footnote 3).

[5] Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi

[6] Gur Aryeh

[7] Divrei David by Rabbi David HaLevi (known as the Taz)

[8] Shach al HaTorah

[9] Maskil LeDavid

[10] Exodus 35:27-28

[11] Midrash Tanchumah, Terumah 5

[12] Rabbi Nachum David Rosenstein in Darkei Hora’ah, page 237

[13] See Exodus 34:6-7. See also Tosfot D.H. Shlosh Esrei on Rosh HaShana 17b.

[14] Introduction to Bereishit

[15] Parshat Terumah 132a. See Shela, Masechet Tamid, Ner Mitzvah 34

[16] Magen Avraham, beginning of Siman 53. See Rabeinu Bachaye (above) that 15 items were donated.

[17] Avodah Zarah 20b and Jerusalem Talmud Shekalim 14b

[18] Ta’anit 25a

[19] These rivers were the reward for the fact that Rabbi Elazar had perfected the 13 levels mentioned above (Rabbi Rosenstien in Darkei Hora’ah, ibid).

[20] Mo’ed Kattan 24a

[21] He was grieving over the loss of Rabbi Chanina who had perfected himself in the 13 levels mentioned above (Rabbi Rosenstien in Darkei Hora’ah ibid).

[22] Sefat Emet, 5739

[23] Ezekiel 16:10-19. (The numbering may be imprecise as Midrash does not specify how to count these.)

[24] Perhaps copper (which is usually associated with a negative energy) corresponds to this.

[25] Mizrachi on Exodus 25:5 and Maharsha on Shabbat 28b. This would correspond to the tachash skins.

[26] It would seem that donation of would linen correspond to this.

[27] Perhaps the Shoham stones (worn by the Kohen Gadol) correspond to this.

[28] Perhaps the fragrant spices correspond to this alluding to the fragrant smell at Mount Sinai.

[29] Perhaps the Avnei Miluim (worn on the chest) correspond to this.

[30] Perhaps the acacia wood, from which the aron kodesh was fashioned, corresponds to this.

[31] Perhaps the goat hair (which formed tapestries that surrounded the Mishkan) corresponds to this.

[32] Perhaps the ram skins correspond to this since many angels appear like animals in prophetic visions.

[33] The corresponding donation to this is gold.

[34] Silver would be the corresponding donation to this silver.

[35] The blue, purple, and crimson wool corresponds to these.

[36] Perhaps the oil corresponds to this.

[37] Isaiah 4:5-6

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorach!

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