Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
How Many Tents?
It can be shown that the events in the wilderness in which Moses appointed people to various offices, during which time the pillar of cloud descended on the Tent, took place in the private tent of Moses. This is based on the fact that the pillar of cloud would descend and remain over the entrance of Moses’ tent, and under its cover the LORD would speak with him (Exodus 33:9). The divine word that came to Moses from above the ark cover, from between the two cherubs in the Tabernacle itself, had to do solely with instruction to be given the Israelites. Other events, such as those mentioned above, took place in Moses’ tent.
by Dr. Meir Gruzman
"Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the Tent of Meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside the camp. So it was, whenever Moses went out to the Tent, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the Tent. And it came to pass, when Moses entered the Tent, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the Tent, and the LORD talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the Tent door, and all the people rose and worshipped, each man in his tent door. So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he [Moses] would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the Tent" (Exodus 33:7-11).
Up to now the Shekinah Glory, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, was over the camp of Israel. And Moses’ own tent was within the camp. But then Moses took a tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp some distance away, calling it the Tent of Meeting. The rabbis teach that the distance was about a thousand yards as defined in Joshua 3:4. The purpose was to impress upon the people the separation from YEHOVAH God as a result of their sin. ADONAI would only talk with Moses and only outside the camp. The structure of the Hebrew language at the beginning of this verse indicates that Moses went out to the Tent many times (33:7).
In the opening scene of the golden calf incident, the Israelites spoke disparagingly of Moses. Their disrespect was clear when they called him: "this Moses" (32:1). But after YEHOVAH God had judged them and Moses had interceded on their behalf, they had a new respect for him. So whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, and watched him until he entered it (33:8). This probably reflected respect, reverence and remorse on their parts. But it also demonstrated separation, because the Tent of Meeting was always outside the camp of Israel.
The Shekinah Glory, the visible manifestation of YEHOVAH's presence, would come down and stay at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, whenever Moses went inside. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the Tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to his or her tent (33:9-10). Thus, ADONAI was still with His people, although somewhat removed.
ADONAI would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend (33:11a). The meaning of speaking face to face here means as a man speaks with his friend, that is, openly, without holding anything back. In Numbers 12:8 we are told that ADONAI spoke to Moses face to face, literally mouth to mouth. The expression is immediately explained to mean clearly and not in riddles. That meant that the LORD spoke to Moses in Hebrew words -- not in dreams or visions like He spoke to other prophets. The conversations between the LORD and Moses were intimate, and the sensitive heart of Moses made it easy for ADONAI to speak to him (Deuteronomy 34:10).
The Tent of Meeting was guarded by his young aide Joshua, who had served as field commander if Israel's army when they fought the Amalekites (17:9). Joshua was the man that YEHOVAH God was preparing to succeed Moses. Joshua would later lead Israel's military conquest of Canaan. When Moses returned to the camp, Joshua would guard the Tent to prevent the Israelites from making it into something to be worshipped like they had with the golden calf (33:11b). They were prone -- and they would continue to be prone -- to idol worship.
Targum Onkelos translates the words ohel mo’ed (Tent of Meeting) as beit ulpana, meaning a place of study. This, however, was not the sole purpose of the Tent; it was also for receiving the word of the LORD, as stated in the above biblical text: “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp” (Exodus 33:11). In other words, Moses set up a private, personal Tent of Meeting designed to serve anyone who “sought the LORD.” Such seeking is explained by Targum Jonathan to our passage: “whoever returned wholehearted to the LORD, would go out to the Tabernacle, the house of study outside the camp, confess his sins, pray over his sins, and praying, he would be forgiven.”
It follows that in the wilderness there were two structures that went by the name Tent of Meeting: the Tabernacle, which contained the ark, altars and other fittings, and the private tent of Moses, which, according to the chronology in Scriptures, was erected soon after the sin of the golden calf. Indeed, Targum Onkelos distinguishes them by using different names, rendering mishkan (Tabernacle) as mashkan zimna (Tabernacle of Time, Heb. Mo’ed ), and Moses’ private tent as beit ulpana (House of Study), as noted above.
In view of this it would be correct to say that the Torah was studied and taught in this tent, as described in the Talmud (Eruvin54b):
"How was the instruction accomplished? Moses would learn from the Almighty. Then Aaron would enter [the Tent] and Moses would instruct him. Aaron would step aside and sit to the left of Moses. His two sons would enter, and Moses would instruct them. His sons would step aside, Eleazar sitting to the right of Moses and Itamar to the left of Aaron…The elders would enter, and Moses would instruct them. The elders would step aside, and all the people would enter and Moses would instruct them."
Moreover, one can assume that the events in the wilderness in which Moses appointed people to various offices, during which time the pillar of cloud descended on the Tent, took place in this private tent of Moses. We give examples of two such events: “He gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent. Then the LORD came down in a cloud and spoke to him; He drew upon the spirit that was on him and put it upon the seventy elders” (Numbers 11:24-25). Another example: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘The time is drawing near for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may instruct him.’ Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting. The LORD appeared in the Tent, in a pillar of cloud, the pillar of cloud having come to rest at the entrance of the tent” (Deuteronomy 31:14-15).
Our assumption is based on the fact that the pillar of cloud would descend and remain over the entrance of Moses’ tent, and under its cover the LORD would speak with him: “And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, while He spoke with Moses” (Exodus 33:9). Add to this what the Sages said about the words, “And stationed them around the Tent” (Num. ibid.) -- “In the tent of dibberot [words], which was outside the camp” (Yalkut Shimoni, Numbers, 637). The Midrash continues:
"He made two tents, one for worship and one for dibberot [the words of YEHOVAH God]; according to the dimensions of the inner one, so was the outer one, and the Levites used to serve both the one and the other with wagons…Its length was thirty cubits long by ten wide, like the inner one, for it is written, 'He gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent' (Numbers 11:24) -- he stood thirty on the north, thirty on the south, ten on the east, and Moses faced them on the west."
The Tent of Dibberot
Assuming that “the tent of dibberot” was Moses’ tent (for we hear no mention of another tent by this name), and that this was also what was meant by the “outer” tent; then it follows that this event -- appointing seventy elders -- also took place in Moses’ tent. As for the name Tent of Dibberot, perhaps this hints at a “Tent of Speaking” (Heb. le-dabber is ‘to speak’) in which, as we said, the Torah was learned, or in which the LORD spoke with Moses, or perhaps, as I shall explain below, the tent in which the tablets of the Decalogue (‘aseret ha-dibberot) were placed in safekeeping. That would also explain the following midrash, that describes what happened to Moses when Joshua was appointed to take his place and carry on his work (Deuteronomy Rabbah 10.5):
"Moses arose early and went to Joshua’s home; Joshua became fearful and said: My teacher Moses has come to me! They went out walking, with Moses on Joshua’s left. They entered the Tent of Meeting and the pillar of cloud descended, forming a barrier between them. When the cloud lifted Moses went to Joshua and said to him: What did the Word (ha-dibbur) say to you? Joshua answered him: When the Word used to be revealed to you, did I know what it was all about? At that moment Moses cried out and said: better a hundred deaths than a single jealousy."
Here, too, one may presume that the event took place in Moses’ tent, which was, as we have said, the “outer” tent.
Why Not in the Tabernacle?
One may well question our identification of Moses’ tent as the place where appointments took place, solely on the grounds that the cloud appeared about it; didn’t the cloud also reside over the entire Tabernacle? Now of course the cloud used to descend on the Tabernacle, perhaps primarily on the Tabernacle. For it is written regarding the moment of the Tabernacle’s consecration: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the LORD filled the Tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). The cloud would dwell over the Tabernacle for as many days as the Tabernacle remained encamped in a given place (Numbers 9:15, 23).
It is also no secret that after the erection of the Tabernacle the word of YEHOVAH God would come to Moses from between the two cherubs, for it is explicitly stated: “There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you -- from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact” (Exodus 25:22); moreover, “At the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the LORD, there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you” (Exodus 29:42). Indeed, thus it actually was: “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him” (Numbers 7:89).
Rashi (on Exodus 33:10) asserted definitively that the word of YEHOVAH God was only in Moses’ tent prior to erection of the Tabernacle. As he put it, “This was Moses’ practice from the Day of Atonement until the Tabernacle was erected…But since the Tabernacle was erected, He no longer spoke with him save from the Tent of Meeting.” Nevertheless, one could still suggest that the divine word that came to Moses from above the ark cover, from between the two cherubs, had to do solely with instruction to be given the Israelites: “all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people” (Exodus 25:22); other events, such as those mentioned above, took place in Moses’ tent, with the cloud and the Presence of the LORD.
Who Was Allowed in the Tabernacle?
The Tabernacle itself was made for YEHOVAH's Shekinah Glory or Presence to occupy, and only priests were allowed to enter it. In fact, the job of the Levites was to ensure that no non-priests were to enter the sacred precincts; this is highlighted by the four-fold repetition in Numbers of the phrase, "any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death." Even Moses could not enter the Tabernacle after it was occupied by YEHOVAH's Shekinah Glory. Moses had to wait outside while YEHOVAH spoke to him. Even the High Priest could not enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement without an elaborate ritual to protect him from YEHOVAH God's power. Notice Exodus 40:34-35 and Leviticus 1:1:
"Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle."
"Now the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him FROM the Tabernacle, saying..."
Only the priests were allowed by YEHOVAH God to enter the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. The Israelite people were freely allowed to enter the Outer Court, and could come to the Brazen Altar at Passover time and lay their hands on the head of the lamb that was upon it, and stand by the Brazen Altar while the priest slew the sacrifice. They could even look at the priests washing their hands at the Altar and could even watch them entering the Holy Place -- but none dared enter! When the priest drew aside the curtain and entered where the Golden Altar of Incense, and the Lamp-stand, and the Table and the Shew-bread were, none dared to look in.
On the other hand, however, Moses' Tent of Meeting was completely different. In Exodus 33 Moses ENTERS the Tent of Meeting to speak with YEHOVAH God: "And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses...." (33:8-9).
The verse continues with a description of Moses' protege, Joshua, who always remained in the tent (ostensibly even when YEHOVAH's Shekinah Glory was at the entrance speaking with Moses): "...but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent" (33:11).
Verse 7 even seems to suggest that when any Israelite wished to communicate with YEHOVAH God, he could enter the Tent of Meeting: "Now Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the Tent of Meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside the camp" (33:7).
In line with this hypothesis, we can suggest additional events that also took place in Moses’ tent:
1). The event recounted in Numbers 12:1-16, in which “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married,” and in which the LORD told them, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting,” where the LORD descended in a pillar of cloud and “stopped at the entrance of the Tent.”
2). The event recounted in Numbers 14:10, in which the entire community threatened to pelt Joshua and Caleb with stones, after the return of the spies. There it is written: “The Presence of the LORD appeared in the Tent of Meeting,” and as we know (from Rashi on this verse), the Presence of the LORD is manifest in a pillar of cloud.
3). The event in which Korah gathered the entire community against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:19): “Then the Presence of the LORD appeared to the whole community,” and here, too, the Presence of the LORD appeared in a pillar of cloud (see Rashi, loc. sit.).
4). The event telling of the community railing against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You two have brought death upon the LORD’s people” (Numbers 17:6-7). There, too, it is written, “Moses and Aaron turned toward the Tent of Meeting; the cloud had covered it and the Presence of the LORD appeared.”
5). The event recounted in the story of the crisis at the Waters of Meribah (Quarrel), where it is written: “Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces. The Presence of the LORD appeared to them” (Numbers 20:6).
All these events may have taken place in Moses’ tent, not the Tabernacle, for in these events the word of the LORD was not given to the Israelites in the sense of instructing them in the commandments; therefore the LORD’s word did not have to be given at the entrance of the Tabernacle and, on these subjects, did not have to emanate from between the two cherubs.
This, however, does not concur with Onkelos’ view. In all the events mentioned above, he renders the words Tent of Meeting as maskhan zimna, Tabernacle of Meeting. In his opinion, all the events in which the cloud descended took place in the Tabernacle and not in Moses’ tent. Perhaps he believed, as did Rashi, that after erection of the Tabernacle no divine communication of any sort took place with Moses in his own private tent.
The Broken Tablets
Moses’ tent turns out to have had another function in addition to these: it was in this tent that the temporary ark with the tablets was kept (both the broken ones and the whole ones -- cf. Bava Batra 14b: “the Tablets and the fragments of the Tablets were placed in the ark”), until the Tabernacle was built and the permanent ark fashioned by Bezalel was installed in it.
Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the first set of Tablets on the seventeenth of Tammuz, smashed them, and on the very same day was told by the LORD, “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain; and make an ark of wood,” and indeed, this is what he did: “I made an ark of acacia wood” (Deuteronomy 10:1, 3). When Moses descended with the second set of tablets, the temporary ark he had prepared awaited him, and it was into this ark that the tablets were placed. All this took place by the Day of Atonement of the first year, on which day he descended from the mountain the last time. Afterwards, the next day, he issued the instructions for building the Tabernacle, and it was not until the beginning of Nisan, in the second year, that the Tabernacle was erected. Where had the temporary ark with the Tablets been situated until then? It could very well have been in Moses’ tent!
Even Nahmanides, who was of the opinion that there was no temporary ark and that the command given Moses to make an ark referred to none other than the permanent ark that he had been commanded before first ascending Mount Sinai, maintains that the tablets -- both the broken ones and those that were intact -- were placed temporarily in Moses’ tent, until Bezalel’s ark was ready. This is what he said:
"When he descended, he placed the tablets in the Tent of Meeting, until the ark and the Tabernacle would be ready. For had he not broken the first set of tablets, they would have been in the Tent of Meeting until Bezalel made the ark; thus the fragments of the tablets necessarily had to be there, because he did not take them back up the mountain."
The Afterlife of the Tent of Meeting
Although traditional interpretations of Exodus 33 assume that Moses' Tent of Meeting was temporary, this is never implied by the texts themselves. In fact, phrases like "whenever people wanted to consult with God" or "Joshua would never leave the Tent" imply that it was around for a long time. Moreover, three stories in the Torah -- all of which occur well after the construction of the Tabernacle itself -- describe the continued existence of Moses' Tent of Meeting:
1). Eldad and Medad Stayed in the Camp
In Numbers 11, Moses complains to YEHOVAH God that he cannot remain in charge of the Israelites by himself. YEHOVAH tells him to gather 70 elders and bring them out to the Tent of Meeting, where YEHOVAH will help Moses spread his prophetic spirit upon them. At this point in the story, we hear that two men who were supposed to have accompanied Moses to the Tent of Meeting remained in the camp and started to prophesy there. The following verses make it clear that this was outside of the camp:
"But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the Tent of Meeting; yet they prophesied in the camp" (11:26).
The story ends with everyone reentering the camp --
"Moses then reentered the camp together with the elders of Israel" (11:30).
The details of this story clarify that the Tent of Meeting here, like the Tent in Exodus 33, is outside of the camp.
2). Miriam and Aaron's Slander
This same Tent appears in the following chapter, Numbers 12, where Miriam and Aaron complain that Moses has married a Kushite woman. This story as well places the Tent of Meeting outside of the camp:
"Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, 'Come out [of the camp], you three, to the Tent of Meeting!' So the three came out [of the camp]. Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward" (Numbers 12:4-5).
After they enter the Tent, YEHOVAH God descends in a pillar of cloud and tells Aaron and Miriam to step outside and speak with Him, while Moses, presumably, stays inside the Tent. YEHOVAH then gives Miriam an angry speech and leaves the area, having punished Miriam:
"So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the Tent, suddenly Miriam became leprous....Then the LORD said to Moses....'Let her be shut up out of the camp seven days, and after that she may be received [in the camp] again'. So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey on till Miriam was brought in [to the camp] again" (12:9-10; 12:14-15).
These passages clearly show a scenario in which Moses, Aaron, and Miriam go outside the camp to the Tent of Meeting to speak with YEHOVAH God, and Miriam must remain outside the camp because of her punishment -- her leprosy made her ritually impure. Additionally, the three individuals wait for YEHOVAH God inside the Tent -- this is possible for the Tent of Meeting, but NOT for the Tabernacle itself.
3). The Appointment of Joshua Inside the Tent of Meeting
The same image of the Tent of Meeting appears in Deuteronomy 31:14-15, 23, which is one version of the appointment of Joshua.
"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may inaugurate him.' Son Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting. Now the LORD appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the Tent....Then He inaugurated Joshua the son of Nun, and said, 'Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you'" (14-15, 23).
Admittedly, this text does not specify that the Tent of Meeting is outside the camp, but it overlaps with some of the other "outside the camp" texts in a number of ways:
(a) Joshua and Moses are told to wait inside the Tent for YEHOVAH God to come. This would have been forbidden in the actual Tabernacle itself.
(b) YEHOVAH God appears in a cloud at the entrance of the Tent and speaks from there -- just as He does with Aaron and Miriam.
(c) An unusual verb appears in three out of the four accounts -- including this one (Exodus 33:8, Numbers 11:26, Deuteronomy 31:14).
These accounts demonstrate that the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 33 was NOT understood as a temporary structure, but remained in use throughout the wilderness period.
-- Edited by John D. Keyser.
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