Building the Tabernacle

Parshat Terumah 5772
From this parsha until the end of Sefer Shemot / Exodus, the Chumash focuses on building and inaugurating the Mishkan (tabernacle).

The Mishkan is the portable temple that the Jews were commanded to build in the desert. It was disassembled every time they moved from one camp to another and then rebuilt.

The Parts of the Tabernacle

The main part of the Tabernacle was a tent that was divided into two sections – the Holy and the Holy of Holies.

Inside the Holy of Holies was the ark (aron) which held the tablets that were given to Moses.

Inside the Holy were the table (shulchan), the incense altar, and the menorah.

The tent was surrounded by a courtyard. In this courtyard were the altar for bringing animal offerings and a washbasin (kiyor).

I want to investigate a couple of ideas about the vessels that were part of the Tabernacle.

Here is the translation of a few few verses from Judaica Press:

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Exodus Chapter 25

Ark (Aron)

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. …
13 And you shall make poles of acacia wood and you shall overlay them with gold.
14 And you shall bring the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them.
15 The poles of the ark shall be in the rings; they shall not be removed from it.

Table (Shulchan)

23 And you shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits its length, one cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height.


31 And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall [all] be [one piece] with it. …
39 He shall make it of a talent of pure gold, with all these implements.

Exodus Chapter 27

Altar for Offerings

1 And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and its height [shall be] three cubits.

Exodus Chapter 30

Incense Altar

1 You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke; you shall make it out of acacia wood.
2 It shall be one cubit long and one cubit wide, a square, and two cubits high; its horns shall be [one piece] with it.

The incense altar is mentioned in next week’s parsha, but it fits into the discussion here.


How big is a cubit? The estimates range from 18 – 24 inches. To keep things simple, I will assume that one cubit is 20 inches.

Here are the dimensions of these vessels in cubits and (inches):

Vessel Length Width Height
Ark (Aron) 2.5 (50) 1.5 (30) 1.5 (30)
Table (Shulchan) 2.0 (40) 1.0 (20) 1.5 (30)
Menorah any any any
Altar 5.0 (100) 5.0 (100) 3.0 (60)
Incense Altar 1.0 (20) 1.0 (20) 2.0 (40)


My Questions

Ark (Aron)

Why are none of its measurements whole numbers?

Exodus 25:15 Why are its poles never to be removed? There does not seem to be such a restriction with the other vessels.

Table (Shulchan)

Why are only two of its measurements whole numbers?

Why isn’t it as tall as the incense altar?


Why doesn’t it have any measurements stated other than the amount of gold to be used?

Incense Altar

Why is this the tallest piece in the Mishkan?

Your Turn

Please share your questions and suggested answers in the comments.

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Picture by  Shlomo Skinner, Sukkot 2009 in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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