On the day after Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with the Second Tables, he gathered about him the entire congregation of Israel, and told them that G‑d had ordered them to build a place of worship, or a Tabernacle, which was to be a visible emblem of G‑d's presence in the midst of Israel. "They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst " were G‑d's words. For this purpose G‑d had asked them for voluntary contributions of gold, silver, copper, precious stones, wool, and linen.
When the people heard the good news, they gave freely of everything useful and precious that they owned; the women also spun and wove artistic handicraft. The princes contributed precious stones, fine oil, and rare spices. Day after day the entire community brought rich gifts as their offerings to G‑d's sanctuary, until the contributions were more than was necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Moses had to stop the ceaseless flow of contributions.
Two men, Bezalel and Oholiav, who were gifted with Divine wisdom and artistic knowledge, were appointed to take charge of the construction of the Tabernacle. They, and with them all those who had any knowledge of art and beauty, wrought and perfected the parts of the holy Tabernacle and its furnishings, according to the picture and plan G‑d had shown to Moses on the mountain.
Plan of the Sanctuary
The Tabernacle consisted of a tent that could be taken apart and moved from place to place. An artistically woven curtain, (the "Porochet") embroidered with cherubim, which was held up by four wooden pillars overlaid with gold, separated the tent into two chambers: The front chamber was called the Holy Place, and the inner chamber was called the Holy of Holies.
The walls of the sanctuary were made of wooden boards which rested in silver sockets, and which were overlaid with a fine cover of gold. The roof and outer walls were covered with expensive carpets and skins. Before the entrance into the sanctuary there hung an artistically woven curtain. The tent of the Tabernacle stood in a wide court, enclosed by curtains supported by pillars.
The Holy Vessels
On the south side of the Court, facing the entrance, stood the Altar of Burnt-Sacrifice, made of "Shittim" -- wood, covered with copper. Behind the altar, that is, between the altar and the Tabernacle, stood the Laver of brass, at which the priests had to wash before entering the sanctuary proper.
In the Tabernacle, on its northern side, stood the Table, made of Shittim -- wood, but overlaid with pure gold, and with a crown of gold all around it. On this table lay twelve loaves of unleavened bread, (the "Show-Bread"), which were replaced every Shabbat by fresh ones. In the south, stood the Candlestick, hammered out of pure gold, richly decorated and ornamented with flower-buds, blossoms, and petals; its seven lamps were lighted every evening. In the middle of the room was the Altar of Incense, made of Shittim -- wood and overlaid with gold. On it, the finest spices were offered to G‑d, every day, morning and evening.
The two Tablets of Testimony (the "Luchot"), which Moses had brought back from -- Mount Sinai were kept in the Ark of Shittim -- wood. The Ark was overlaid with pure gold from within and from without. The Holy Ark stood in the Holy of Holies. Its lid was made of pure gold, and out of it were beaten two Cherubim, spreading forth their wings, with their faces turned toward each other. Golden rings were attached to the corners of the Ark so that it could be carried on poles when the camp was on the move.
G‑d selected Aaron and his four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Elazar, and Ithamar, as priests to serve in the Tabernacle, on behalf of the entire Jewish people. The first-born who originally had been destined to be the priests of G‑d, had lost this privilege as a consequence of the sin of the Golden Calf, of which sin the entire tribe of Levy was free. Therefore, G‑d selected the tribe of Levy and sanctified it to serve Him in the Sanctuary.
The vestments of the common priests consisted of a white linen tunic, trousers, girdle, and a white turban.
The High-Priest shared these garments with the common priests; but he had, besides, other vestments and ornaments which proclaimed his office to be one of higher importance and holiness. These included the plate of pure gold ("Tzitz") which he wore on his brow and which extended right across his forehead. It was held in place by a thread of blue. On this glittering ornament the words, "Holiness to the L-rd" were inscribed. They declared that the wearer was entirely devoted to the service of G‑d.
His most characteristic garment was the Ephod, which he wore above the tunic. It was made of the finest texture, not only of blue and crimson fine twined linen, but also of gold threads. It was caught on the shoulders by two onyx-stones set in gold. On these onyx-stones the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraved, six on each stone, according to their age; and the High-Priest wore these stones as "stones of memorial" for the children of Israel when he stood before G‑d.
Attached to the Ephod, by two chains of gold and resting upon the heart, was the Breast-plate of Decision. On the breast-plate sparkled twelve precious stones in four equal rows; and in the stones the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraved. There the Urim and Tummim were placed, which the High-priest consulted on important matters, such as whether or not to declare war, and other questions which concerned the welfare of the whole people. On these occasions, the stones would light up and form words which revealed the answers to the questions.
To complete his attire, the High-priest wore between the Ephod and the tunic -- the Robe, which was of fine blue wool, and which ended in a broad hem of pomegranates of blue, red, and crimson. Between these small pomegranates small golden bells were inserted, the sound of which, when Aaron walked into the Sanctuary, was to impress the minds of the Israelites with deep reverence.
Thus magnificently were the High-priest and the priests attired; yet were they to approach the Sanctuary with uncovered feet, that they might constantly be reminded of modesty and humility.
Aaron and his sons had to take care of the offerings to G‑d and to bless the children of Israel with the words (Numbers 6:22): "The L-rd bless you and guard you. The L-rd make his countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. The L-rd turn his countenance toward you and grant you peace.."
Consecration of the Tabernacle
The rest of the work in the Holy Tabernacle was given over to the members of the other families of Levi.
After the various parts and vessels of the Sanctuary had been finished, Moses set up the Holy Tabernacle and placed each vessel in accordance with G‑d's command. Then he arranged a seven-day period for the consecration of the sanctuary and installation of the priests in their holy offices.
On the first day of Nissan of the second year after the exodus from Egypt, the erection of the Holy Tabernacle was completed. When Aaron placed the first sacrifice on the altar, G‑d sent a flame of fire which devoured the pieces of meat on the altar. The entire people had watched with awe this sign of G‑d's presence in the Tabernacle and worshipped Him, joyously bowing down before His Divine Majesty.
Death of Nadab and Abihu
On the same day, the princes of the twelve tribes, began to bring their dedication offerings. Yet the happiness of the day was marred by a very sad incident. Nadab and Abihu had become so inspired and intoxicated with the joy of their holy task as priests to G‑d, that they wanted to do more than G‑d had commanded them. They offered incense on the altar, burning it on unconsecrated fire. Suddenly, a flame of fire shot forth from heaven, killing them both. Crushed with grief over the loss of his two eldest sons, but realizing that it was a Divine punishment, Aaron kept silent. The sanctity of the Tabernacle now became even more evident than before.
Cloud the and Pillars of Fire
During the day, the Holy Tabernacle was always covered by a pillar of cloud, and in the night by a pillar of fire. As long as the pillar of cloud rested over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel remained in the same place. When the cloud rose up, it was a sign for them to continue their journey. Thus they camped and traveled according to G‑d's command.
When the Holy Ark, containing the Tables of Testimony, was raised upon the shoulders of its carriers, Moses said: "Rise up, 0 G‑d, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You." When the Ark was let down to rest, Moses exclaimed: "Return O G‑d, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel."
In order to gain the attention of the vast multitude, whether upon the march or during the encampment, Moses was commanded to use two silver trumpets; their loud and significant blast would be a summons for the people and a "memorial" before G‑d; it was to be a signal for the whole community or the chiefs to assemble before the Tabernacle, or to prepare for departure from the encampment; it led the warriors to battle, and proclaimed the holy festivals, the days of gladness and thanksgiving, of solemnity and humiliation. On each occasion there was, of course, a different signal.