The Gemora says that HaShem told Moshe to make the Mishkan,
and afterwards the keilim; but when Moshe transmitted the instructions to
Betzalel, he reversed the order, putting the keilim first, and then the
Mishkan. Betzalel objected, that that’s not the way of the world; first a
person builds a house, then puts in the furniture, not the other way around.
Moshe then admitted that HaShem told him to make the Mishkan first, and b’tzel
Keil hayisa v’yadatah, you were in the shadow of G-d and knew. That’s
why he was called Betzalel.
Why did Moshe change the order? A human being can make
mistakes—even Moshe Rabbeinu—but the transmission of the Torah had to be
perfect, free of mistakes; otherwise, the reliability of all the mitzvos come
Secondly, the word tzel connotes something which is
not clear, as in tsel shel safek, a shadow of a doubt. On the other hand,
zarcha hashemesh shelo, means that it’s clear. So why did he say that
he was in the shadow? He should have said that he was in the light of HaShem.
There’s a question about whether the Mishkan would have
needed to exist had it not been for the Chet HaEgel. It’s clear that
the Mishkan is an atonement for the Chet; but it’s not so clear that
that’s all it was. The Torah seems to hint that there would have been a
Mishkan anyway, by the fact that there are two parshas concerning the Mishkan
before the Chet HaEgel appears in the Torah, as well as after it. Had
there been no Chet, the purpose of the Mishkan would have been different,
The Sforno learns that before the Chet,
the Mishkan was not needed to arouse one to HaShem’s presence in the world.
For HaShem is everywhere, not only in the Mishkan. After the chet,
however, a special framework was needed. Not because HaShem is found only there,
but because only in such a place could one feel His presence.
Thus, before the Chet, the Mishkan served as a venue
for the expression of those feelings of G-d’s presence through the keilim—the
mizbeiach, menorah, etc. It would not have been a means for arousal of
HaShem’s presence, but of expressing the feelings of closeness to Him that one
could access anywhere. The keilim were primary.
After the chet, you couldn’t come to this arousal on
your own anywhere. The purpose of the Mishkan became twofold: to bring the
person to those feelings, and to provide a means for their expression.
HaShem gave Moshe the command before the Chet. He knew
that there was going to be a Chet, and that it would have to perform that
dual function. But Moshe didn’t know. He understood that one could feel G-d’s
presence everywhere, without a Mishkan. One just needed the keilim to
express those feelings that were everywhere accessible. Had HaShem told him to
make the Mishkan first, and then the keilim, Moshe would have known that
something was wrong, that something’s going to change, and they’re going to
need a Mishkan to arouse them, and he would know that they were going to sin.
And even though G-d’s foreknowledge doesn’t affect a person’s free will,
Moshe’s would. So HaShem couldn’t let Moshe know what was coming. He had to
keep it from him. So he told him keilim first, Mishkan second. In that
way, he would think that it would suit the situation that existed as Moshe
correctly perceived it.
But after the Chet, when Moshe had to transmit the
command, he told Betzalel to make keilim and then a Mishkan. Betzalel objected:
If one doesn’t have the Mishkan first, a place for arousal, the keilim will be
of no avail. Betzalel reasoned that it must be that when HaShem told Moshe
originally, he meant Mishkan and then keilim, but Moshe heard it
differently because He wanted to hide from him the destined Chet. Therefore, He
commanded keilim and then Mishkan. But He didn’t really say that. The
command was given over in an obscure manner, so that when he said it over to me
I would realize that what He really meant was Mishkan and then keilim.
So Moshe didn’t make a mistake. HaShem gave it over to him
in such a way that Moshe would understand it in terms suited to the world before
the Chet, of keilim and then Mishkan, knowing that it would be
understood differently after the Chet. And that’s the meaning of
Betzalel’s name: B’tzel Kel, you were in the shadow of HaShem, you
understood that He commanded me in shadow, obscuring the future Chet. But
now it’s very clear that he meant Mishkan first and then keilim.