“And HaShem spoke to Moshe, in Midbar Sinai in the Ohel Moed…” – The Rashbam comments that the beginning of Sefer BaMidbar, from the aspect of its location and timing, belongs to Har Sinai before the Jewish people embarked on their journey to the Land of Israel! He suggests an astounding idea: the definitions changed! Once the Mishkan was built that place was no longer called Har Sinai , bur Midbar Sinai!
Nevertheless, one can still find instances where even prior to Matan Torah the location is referred to as
Midbar Sinai (For example Shmot 19:1-2). At the time when all of the mitzvoth were given to the nation at Sinai the area is called “Har” in recognition of the amazing revelation that we experienced at Har Sinai. However, after the completion of theMishkan this status is eliminated, the memory of the great event is totally diminished. No longer Har Sinai, just Midbar Sinai!
The proof of the Rashbam is astonishing! In Chapter 3:1 the Torah begins with “Har Sinai” since it is discussing the sons of Aharon when they were still alive. However, when the Torah describes the death of Nadav and Avihu, the place is referred to as “Midbar Sinai” since they died at the time of the completion of the Mishkan.
Har Sinai is seemingly the place of the giving of the Torah and the “heart” of the nation and its spirituality. Nevertheless, the revelation at Sinai was a one-time occurrence and the mountain has no intrinsic sanctity of its own. As it says at the end of the revelatory experience, upon conclusion of the epiphany every person, and even every animal, was allowed to ascend (and even to graze) on the mountain – it has no more holiness!
From the moment the Mishkan is constructed the “right of the first born” passes to it! From now on Har Sinai will longer be referred to as the site of the giving of this mitzvah or another – rather the Mishkan.Bamidbar Sinai, in the Oehl Moed – the Ramban writes at the beginning of Parshat Teruma about the purpose of the Mishkan: The secret of the Mishkan is that the glory that appeared upon Har Sinai should be hidden within it.” His concept is that G-d’s revelation to us at Har Sinai will continue in the context of the Mishkan!
As such the focus of holiness and the glory of G-d was transferred from Har Sinai to the Mishkan. The Mishkan accompanied the nation throughout its wanderings in the desert as well upon its entry into the Land of Israel. It endured various temporary conditions such as when it as in Shilo and Givon until it reached Yerushalayim. The moment it arrived there and the Beit HaMikdash was built, the Temple Mount and Yerushalayim were endowed with ultimate sanctity.
Likewise, the Rambam writes, “How was it sanctified? The first sanctity (at the time of Shlomo) consecrated the Temple Mount immediately and for the future…” Since the holiness of the Mikdash is generated by the Shechina/Divine Presence – which is eternal, therefore the Mikdash’s sanctity, too, remains forever. According to this the Rambam rules , “Even though the Temple was destroyed (because of our sins) a person is obligated to display awe towards its former location as if it was standing.”
It would seem that as long as the nation still wandered the Mishkan should wandered with it. Even during the period of the conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel, as the nation acclimated itself to its new spiritual environment, it followed that the Mishkan should find temporary residence in Shilo and Givon. However, the moment that the kingdom was established and the nation’s presence was secured, its connection to the Land was endowed forever. Naturally, the meeting place between G-d and His people was affixed and the place became forever holy.
This past week we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim – this special day on which, after thousands of years of foreign conquest and hegemony, we returned and liberated Yerushalayim and the Temple Mount. Once again they are under our control and sovereignty. Thank G-d, we have merited this. May we merit too the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash soon in our time.