1. It Was a Portable Holy Temple

Mishkan means “dwelling,” and it refers to the portable complex in which G‑d chose to dwell among the Israelites. Built shortly after the exodus from Egypt, it was the precursor to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon and then rebuilt by those returning from Babylonian captivity.

Read: What Was the Mishkan?

2. It’s Known as the “Tabernacle” in English

In English it is commonly known as the Tabernacle, from the Latin tabernaculum (“tent”). This is probably more in line with its other Hebrew name, Ohel Mo’ed, “Tent of Meeting,”1 thus named because it was where G‑d would meet Moses and instruct him. At times the Torah also refers to it as Mikdash, “Holy [Place].”2 Each name emphasizes another element of this temporary structure, where G‑d chose to rest His holy presence and interface with His beloved nation.

Read: The Kitchen or the Library?

3. It Came After the Sin of the Golden Calf

The Torah records the instruction to build the Mishkan,3 then tells us about the tragic sin of the Golden Calf,4 before finally recounting the actual construction of the Mishkan.5 According to Rashi, who takes the approach that Scripture is not necessarily arranged in chronological order, the mandate to build the Mishkan was actually given after the sin had occurred. The message is deeply inspiring: Even though the people had sinned, Moses prayed and they were forgiven. They were still worthy of building a home for G‑d.

Read: A House in Three Versions

4. Construction Was Led by Betzalel and Aholiav

The materials for the Mishkan were donated by the people, who gave so generously and so freely that Moses had to tell them to stop.6 The actual construction was performed by a team of inspired and skilled men and women. At G‑d’s command, they were led by two men named Betzalel and Aholiav. Betzalel was from a prominent family, a relative of Moses himself. Conversely, Aholiav was from the simplest of origins, from the humble tribe of Dan. But it made no difference; everyone contributed according to his or her abilities.

Read: The Dynamic Duo Betzalel and Aholiav

5. There Was a Central Building

The Torah goes into great detail regarding the exact dimensions of the Mishkan and the materials from which it was made.7 The Mishkan itself was a boxlike structure that measured 30 cubits long and 10 cubits wide (a cubit is the length of the forearm and hand of an adult man). Its walls were made of thick gold-plated acacia wood beams standing side by side to form three sides of a rectangle. The beams were inserted into interlocking silver sockets and were held in place by long gold-plated wooden poles. A hanging curtain covered the fourth side.

Read: The Wood of Folly

6. It Was Covered With Fabric and Animal Skin

The wooden structure was draped in a tapestry woven of linen and red-, blue- and purple-dyed wool. The tapestry had two sections which were attached to each other by a row of hooks. It was covered by a layer of goat skin, its panels similarly attached with hooks. These two layers covered the top of the structure and hung over the wooden walls of the Mishkan. Additionally, red-dyed ram skin and tachash skin covered the roof alone.8

Read: What Was the Tachash?

7. There Were Two Altars

There were two altars in the Mishkan complex. Outside, in the courtyard, there was a large copper altar, upon which many sacrifices were brought. Inside there was a small golden altar, upon which incense was burned on a daily basis.

Watch: Two Altars—Two Hearts

8. A Courtyard Surrounded It

The Tabernacle sat inside a large courtyard that was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide, known as the chatzer. In addition to the copper altar, this area was also home to the kiyor (laver), with which the priests would wash their hands and feet prior to performing the Divine service. The laver was made from mirrors donated by the women of Israel.

Read: Precious Holy Mirrors

9. There Was an Outer Room...

The interior of the Mishkan was divided in two by a hanging tapestry. Besides the golden altar, the anteroom, known as the Kodesh (“Holy”), contained a number of items. On the southern side stood the golden menorah, whose seven branches the priests kindled every day. Near the northern wall stood a golden table, upon which the priests placed showbread every week.

Read: Show Bread, How and Why

10. … And an Inner Chamber

The second, innermost room was known as the Kodesh HaKodashim (“Holy of Holies”). The Holy of Holies contained the ark, a golden box that housed the tablets (both the original, broken set and the second, complete set) and other sacred items. On the cover of the ark there were two golden cherubs facing each other with outstretched wings. No one was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies except for the high priest, and even he would enter only once a year as part of his Yom Kippur service.9
Read: Which Objects Were Present in the Holy of Holies?

11. It Was Inaugurated Over 12 Days

For a week Moses practiced setting up and dismantling the Mishkan. Then, on the first of Nissan, just shy of one year after the exodus from Egypt, Moses officially inaugurated the Tabernacle. The entire tent was filled with G‑d’s presence, evidenced by a thick cloud, which prevented everyone—even Moses—from entering.10 For 12 days, the first 12 days of the month of Nissan, the princes of the 12 tribes of Israel brought inaugural sacrifices and gifts.11 The Tabernacle was not the exclusive domain of its stewards, the Levites (priests), but was the heritage of every Israelite.

Read: 12 Facts About the Month of Nissan Every Jew Should Know

12. It Was Transported in 6 Carts

The princes gave several donations to the Mishkan, including six covered oxcarts, one from every two princes. Two wagons (and four oxen) were given to the Gershonites, who transported the Mishkan's tent-coverings and tapestries. The remaining four wagons (and eight oxen) were given to the Levite families of Merari, who transported the Sanctuary's wall panels, sockets, posts and other structural components. None were given to the clan of Kehat, who transported the most sacred items on their shoulders.12

Read: Why Just Six Carts?

13. It Was Placed in the Center of the Camp

For the duration of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the desert, whenever they camped, the Mishkan would form the core of the camp. The Levites, who had been selected to be G‑d’s ministers, would camp around the Mishkan, and the remaining 12 tribes camped around them, 3 on each side.

Read: The 12 Tribes of Israel

14. It Stood in Shiloh

When Joshua led the people into the promised land, the Mishkan came with them. For 14 years the Mishkan stood in Gilgal while the Israelites conquered and divided the land. Then they created a house of stone in Shiloh and spread the curtains of the Mishkan over it. The sanctuary of Shiloh stood for 369 years. At the end of that period, the sanctuary was moved to Nov, and then to Giv’on.13

Read: Shiloh Versus Jerusalem

15. It Was Never Destroyed

At G‑d’s command, King Solomon built a magnificent permanent home for G‑d on the Temple Mount, outside of Jerusalem. At that time the Mishkan was no longer needed. The relics of the Tabernacle were then stored deep in the earth below the mountain. According to tradition, since the Mishkan was built with pure intent, it was never destroyed. It remains ready for G‑d to once again come to rest there.14

Read: 9 Little-Known Facts About the Holy Temple in Jerusalem