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Zev Farber





The Other Ohel Moed



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Zev Farber





The Other Ohel Moed






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The Other Ohel Moed

Traditional and critical scholars agree that the Ohel Moed "Tent of Meeting" Moses erects in Exodus 33 is not the same as the Ohel Moed Tabernacle referenced in other biblical texts. But what is it?


The Other Ohel Moed

The Ohel Moed Tabernacle

The Torah describes a structure that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness called the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), which appears to be identical to the Tabernacle (משכן) or at least part of the same structure.[1]

שמות לט:לבוַתֵּ֕כֶל כָּל עֲבֹדַ֕ת מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד
Exodus 39:32 Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle Tent of Meeting
שמות מ:ב בְּיוֹם הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ תָּקִ֕ים אֶת מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:
Exodus 40:2 On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle Tent of Meeting[2] 

The Meaning of the Names

The name אהל מועד appears to derive from its being a place in which God meets (י-ע-ד) with, or appears to Israel:

שמות כט:מב …פֶּ֥תַח אֹֽהֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אִוָּעֵ֤ד לָכֶם֙ שָׁ֔מָּה לְדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁם: כט:מג וְנֹעַדְתִּ֥י שָׁ֖מָּה לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְנִקְדַּ֖שׁ בִּכְבֹדִֽי:
Exodus 29:22 …at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before Yhwh. For there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you, 29:43 and there I will meet with the Israelites, and it shall be sanctified by My Glory.

The name משכן derives from the idea that it is a place in which God, or the divine Glory (כבוד) dwells (ש-כ-נ) among the Israelites:

שמות מ:לה וְלֹא יָכֹ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה לָבוֹא֙ אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד כִּֽי שָׁכַ֥ן עָלָ֖יו הֶעָנָ֑ן וּכְב֣וֹד יְ-הֹוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן:
Exodus  40:35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Glory of Yhwh filled the Tabernacle.[3]

When Was the Ohel Moed Tabernacle Built?

Approximately one-third of Exodus narrates the planning and construction of the Tabernacle. Moses is first told by God to build the Tabernacle in Exodus 25:8-9,[4] with the details of how it should be built appearing in chapter 26.[5]  The rest of Exodus deals with the Tabernacle, with a brief interlude for the story of the Golden Calf and its aftermath (Exodus 32-34). At the climactic conclusion of Exodus, the Ohel Moed Tabernacle is set up and made functional,[6]and the divine Glory enters it.[7]

The Ohel Moed in Chapter 33

Considering the timeline above, it is rather surprising to encounter Moses setting up an Ohel Moed in chapter 33, right after the golden calf story but before the construction of the Ohel Moed Tabernacle begins.

שמות לג:ז וּמֹשֶׁה֩ יִקַּ֨ח אֶת־הָאֹ֜הֶל וְנָֽטָה־ל֣וֹ׀ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֗ה הַרְחֵק֙ מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְקָ֥רָא ל֖וֹ אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהָיָה֙ כָּל־מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ יְ-הֹוָ֔ה יֵצֵא֙ אֶל־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֖ר מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:
Exodus 33:7 Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought Yhwh would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp.

This cannot be a reference to the Ohel Moed Tabernacle, since it had not yet been built.[8] So what is this tent? And how are Moses’ Ohel Moed and the Ohel Moed Tabernacle related? These questions has been given different answers by Jewish commentators throughout the ages.

A Precursor Tent: Ibn Ezra’s and Ramban’s Solution

Ibn Ezra suggests that the tent described here was a temporary structure that was only used until the real Ohel Moed Tabernacle was built:

והנה משה נבדל מישראל בעבור הכבוד שידבר עמו. וזה היה אחר שהוריד הלוחות השניים כתובים, והחלו ישראל לעשות המשכן, שקרא לאהלו אהל מועד – כי השם נועד לו שם עד שנעשה המשכן.
Now Moses separated himself from the Israelites so that [God’s] Glory would speak with him. And this happened after he brought down the second engraved tablets, and the Israelites started building the Tabernacle, that he called his tent the Tent of Meeting, since God would meet with him there until the Tabernacle was built.

Ramban has the same suggestion:

הכתוב ישלים לספר (בפסוקים ח–יא) כל מה שהיה בעוד האהל שם עד שהוקם המשכן.
The passage continues to describe (vv. 8-11) everything that occurred with this tent until the Tabernacle was constructed.

This reading assumes that this Ohel Moed was a temporary structure that was decommissioned when the Ohel Moed Tabernacle was completed.

A Substitute for the Cancelled Tabernacle: Shadal’s Solution 

A variation on ibn Ezra and Ramban’s solution was offered by Shadal (R. Samuel [Shmuel] David Luzzatto, 1800-1865), who implies that Moses made this prefab tent as an alternative to the Ohel Moed commanded in chapters 25-30. He argues that when God tells Moses (Exod 33:3) that, as a consequence of the sin of the golden calf, he will not go up with the Israelites and dwell in their camp, he was effectively cancelling the plans to build a Tabernacle.

לג:ג “כי לא אעלה בקרבך” – לא תעשה לי משכן.
33:3 “For I will not go up among you” – do not make me a Tabernacle.

Moses then builds this Ohel Moed as a surrogate for the Ohel Moed Tabernacle, but when the Ohel Moed Tabernacle was recommissioned and completed, this surrogate Ohel Moed fell out of use.

“The” Tent?

Exodus 33:7 refers to the Ohel Moed as “the Tent,” implying that the tent already existed, yet no mention of a special Ohel Moed exists before this story.  This difficulty is resolved by commentators in a variety of ways.

Moses’ Tent

The LXX and Peshitta[9] texts differ from the Masoretic text (and the Samaritan Pentateuch) here; instead of the definite article “the” they have the pronoun “his,”[10] perhaps based on a different Hebrew text that read את אהלו. Virtually all traditional commentators, make a similar suggestion through interpretation, suggesting that when Moses wanted to continue to commune with God, he could not do so in the camp, so he took his own tent outside of the camp.[11]

This suggestion is problematic.  Exodus 33:8 states that Moses “went out” to the tent, suggesting that it was not his regular dwelling:

 שמות לג:ח וְהָיָ֗ה כְּצֵ֤את מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל הָאֹ֔הֶל יָק֙וּמוּ֙ כָּל הָעָ֔ם וְנִ֨צְּב֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ פֶּ֣תַח אָהֳל֑וֹ וְהִבִּ֙יטוּ֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה עַד בֹּא֖וֹ הָאֹֽהֱלָה:
Exodus 33:8 Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent.

Second, we are told that Joshua spent all his time in the tent, but Moses is depicted as a married man; Joshua could not have been with him all the time!

שמות לג:יא …וּמְשָׁ֨רְת֜וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ בִּן־נוּן֙ נַ֔עַר לֹ֥א יָמִ֖ישׁ מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֹֽהֶל:
Exodus 33:11 …but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

Thus, it seems that the LXX and Peshitta were most probably attempting to make sense of the difficult definite article in “the Tent” by adding in the word “his,” but this is not the original reading of the verse.[12] So to what does the definite article refer?

The Ohel Moed They Had Been Using 

Another possibility is that the reference is to “the” Tent Moses was already using for judging the people and consulting with God, what is mentioned in Exodus 18:13-15, where the people come to Moses to seek judgment, literally “to consult God (לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים).” Avraham ben HaRambam (Maimonides’ son) makes this suggestion.

מאמר יקח את האהל יובן ממנו שהעתיק אהל שהיה נטוי לו ע״ה לפני זה במחנה ישראל ואפשר שהוא האוהל שנאמר בו בפגישתו עם יתרו “ויבאו האהלה.”
We can deduce from the phrase “he took the tent” that he moved a tent that had already been pitched among the Israelites. Perhaps this is the tent about which it states in the account of his meeting with Jethro, “and they entered the tent.”

The modern commentator, Amos Hakham (Da’at Miqraad loc.), makes the same suggestion and argues that Moses feels compelled to put that tent outside the camp, since God had just told him (Exodus 33:3, 5) that He (God) refuses to enter the camp, lest the people anger him and he destroy them. Although initially attractive, this suggestion is negated by noting that no tent is mentioned in connection with Moses judging or consulting with God in chapter 18,[13]nor is the term “gathering,” י-ע-ד used there.[14]

Any Old Tent 

Perhaps the simplest answer to the mysterious term “the” Tent is that unlike in English, biblical Hebrew doesn’t always mean to refer to a specific, previously known object when it uses the definite article. Thus, the term can just be translated as, “Moses took a certain tent.”[15]

Where was the Tent?

Unlike the Ohel Moed Tabernacle, which was a massive and complex structure at the center of the Israelite encampment (see e.g. Numbers 2:17),[16] the Ohel Moed in Exodus 33 was a simpler structure that could simply be “pitched”; moreover, it was located outside the camp:

שמות לג:ז וּמֹשֶׁה֩ יִקַּ֨ח אֶת הָאֹ֜הֶל וְנָֽטָה ל֣וֹ׀ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֗ה הַרְחֵק֙ מִן הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְקָ֥רָא ל֖וֹ אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהָיָה֙ כָּל מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ יְ-הֹוָ֔ה יֵצֵא֙ אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֖ר מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶֽהלג:ח וְהָיָ֗ה כְּצֵ֤את מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל הָאֹ֔הֶל יָק֙וּמוּ֙ כָּל הָעָ֔ם וְנִ֨צְּב֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ פֶּ֣תַח אָהֳל֑וֹ וְהִבִּ֙יטוּ֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה עַד בֹּא֖וֹ הָאֹֽהֱלָה:
Exodus 33:7 Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought Yhwh would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp33:8 Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent.
שמות לג:יא וְדִבֶּ֨ר יְ-הֹוָ֤ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל פָּנִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְדַבֵּ֥ר אִ֖ישׁ אֶל רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְשָׁב֙ אֶל הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה
Exodus 33:11 Yhwh would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp

Who is Allowed in the Tent?

The Ohel Moed Tabernacle was made for God’s “Glory” or “Presence” (כבוד) to occupy, and only priests are allowed to enter it. In fact, the job of the Levites is to ensure that no non-priests may 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 [17](וְהַזָּ֥ר הַקָּרֵ֖ב יוּמָֽת).”

Even Moses may not enter the Ohel Moed Tabernacle after it is occupied by Yhwh’s Glory; Moses must wait outside while God speaks with him.

שמות מ:לה וְלֹא יָכֹ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה לָבוֹא֙ אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד כִּֽי שָׁכַ֥ן עָלָ֖יו הֶעָנָ֑ן וּכְב֣וֹד יְ-הֹוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן… ויקרא א:אוַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר:
Exodus 40:34 40:35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Glory of Yhwh filled the Tabernacle… Leviticus 1:1 Yhwh called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying…

In fact, even the high priest cannot enter the Tent without an elaborate ritual to protect him from Yhwh.[18]

Moses’ Ohel Moed was different. In Exodus 33 Moses enters the Ohel Moed to speak with Yhwh:

שמות לג:ט וְהָיָ֗ה כְּבֹ֤א מֹשֶׁה֙ הָאֹ֔הֱלָה יֵרֵד֙ עַמּ֣וּד הֶֽעָנָ֔ן וְעָמַ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וְדִבֶּ֖ר עִם מֹשֶֽׁה…
Exodus 33:8 33:9 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….

The verse continues with a description of Moses’ protégé, Joshua, who remained always in the tent (ostensibly even when God was occupying it to speak with Moses):

שמות לג:יא …וּמְשָׁ֨רְת֜וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ בִּן־נוּן֙ נַ֔עַר לֹ֥א יָמִ֖ישׁ מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֹֽהֶל:
Exodus 33:11 …but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

Verse 7 even seems to suggest that when any Israelite wished to communicate with God, they could enter the Tent:

שמות לג:ז וּמֹשֶׁה֩ יִקַּ֨ח אֶת הָאֹ֜הֶל וְנָֽטָה־ל֣וֹ׀ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֗ה הַרְחֵק֙ מִן הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְקָ֥רָא ל֖וֹ אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהָיָה֙ כָּל מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ יְ-הֹוָ֔ה יֵצֵא֙ אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֖ר מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:
Exodus 33:7 Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought Yhwh would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp.

The Afterlife of Moses’ Tent

Although traditional interpretations of Exodus 33 assume that Moses’ Ohel Moed was temporary, this is never implied by the texts themselves; in fact, phrases such as “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, describe the continued existence of Moses’ Ohel Moed.

1. Eldad and Medad Stayed in the Camp

In Numbers 11, Moses complains that he cannot remain in charge of the Israelites by himself. God tells him to gather 70 elders and bring them out to the Ohel Moed, where God will help Moses spread his prophetic spirit upon them.

במדבר יא:טז וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶסְפָה לִּ֞י שִׁבְעִ֣ים אִישׁ֘ מִזִּקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ … וְלָקַחְתָּ֤ אֹתָם֙ אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד וְהִֽתְיַצְּב֥וּ שָׁ֖ם עִמָּֽךְ… יא:כד וַיֵּצֵ֣א מֹשֶׁ֗ה… וַיֶּאֱסֹ֞ף שִׁבְעִ֥ים אִישׁ֙ מִזִּקְנֵ֣י הָעָ֔ם וַֽיַּעֲמֵ֥ד אֹתָ֖ם סְבִיבֹ֥ת הָאֹֽהֶל: יא:כה וַיֵּ֨רֶד יְ-הֹוָ֥ה׀ בֶּעָנָן֘ וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלָיו֒ וַיָּ֗אצֶל מִן הָר֙וּחַ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָלָ֔יו וַיִּתֵּ֕ן עַל שִׁבְעִ֥ים אִ֖ישׁ הַזְּקֵנִ֑ים…
Numbers 11:16 Then Yhwh said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders… and bring them to the Tent of Meeting and let them take their place there with you…11:24 Moses went out… and he gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent. 11:25 Then Yhwh 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…

At this point in the story, we hear that two men who were supposed to have accompanied Moses to the Ohel Moed remained in the camp and started to prophecy there. The following verses make it clear that this Tent was outside of the camp:

במדבר יא:כו וַיִּשָּׁאֲר֣וּ שְׁנֵֽי אֲנָשִׁ֣ים׀ בַּֽמַּחֲנֶ֡ה שֵׁ֣ם הָאֶחָ֣ד׀ אֶלְדָּ֡ד וְשֵׁם֩ הַשֵּׁנִ֨י מֵידָ֜ד וַתָּ֧נַח עֲלֵהֶ֣ם הָר֗וּחַ וְהֵ֙מָּה֙ בַּכְּתֻבִ֔יםוְלֹ֥א יָצְא֖וּ הָאֹ֑הֱלָה וַיִּֽתְנַבְּא֖וּ בַּֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:יא:כז וַיָּ֣רָץ הַנַּ֔עַר וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לְמֹשֶׁ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֶלְדָּ֣ד וּמֵידָ֔ד מִֽתְנַבְּאִ֖ים בַּֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:
11:26 Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them—they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent—and they prophesied in the camp11:27 A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!”

The story ends with everyone reentering the camp.

במדבר יא:ל וַיֵּאָסֵ֥ף מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה ה֖וּא וְזִקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Numbers 11:30 Moses then reentered the camp together with the elders of Israel.

The details of this story clarify that the Ohel Moed here, like the Tent in Exodus 33, is outside of the camp.[19]

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 Ohel Moed outside of the camp:

במדבר יב:ד וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֜ה פִּתְאֹ֗ם אֶל מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְאֶֽל אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶל מִרְיָ֔ם צְא֥וּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶ֖ם אֶל אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וַיֵּצְא֖וּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּֽם: יב:ה וַיֵּ֤רֶד יְ-הֹוָה֙ בְּעַמּ֣וּד עָנָ֔ן וַֽיַּעֲמֹ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וַיִּקְרָא֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן וּמִרְיָ֔ם וַיֵּצְא֖וּ שְׁנֵיהֶֽם:
Numbers 12:4 Suddenly Yhwh called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out [of the camp], you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. 12:5 Yhwh came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them stepped out [of the Tent].

After they enter the Tent, 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. God gives Miriam an angry speech and then leaves the area, having punished Miriam:

במדבר יב:ט וַיִּֽחַר אַ֧ף יְ-הֹוָ֛ה בָּ֖ם וַיֵּלַֽךְ:יב:י וְהֶעָנָ֗ן סָ֚ר מֵעַ֣ל הָאֹ֔הֶל וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִרְיָ֖ם מְצֹרַ֣עַת כַּשָּׁ֑לֶג… יב:יד וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה… תִּסָּגֵ֞ר שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְאַחַ֖ר תֵּאָסֵֽף: יב:טו וַתִּסָּגֵ֥ר מִרְיָ֛ם מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים וְהָעָם֙ לֹ֣א נָסַ֔ע עַד הֵאָסֵ֖ף מִרְיָֽם:
Numbers 12:9 Yhwh was incensed with them and he departed.12:10 As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!… 12:14 Yhwh said to Moses, “…Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.” 12:15 So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted.

This unit suggests a scenario in which Moses, Aaron, and Miriam go outside the camp to the Ohel Moed to speak with God, and Miriam must remain outside the camp because of her punishment—her serious skin disease (צרעת) made here ritually impure.[20] Additionally, the three individuals wait for God inside the tent—this is possible for the Ohel Moed, but not for the Tabernacle.

3. The Appointment of Joshua Inside the Ohel Moed

The same image of the Ohel Moed appears in Deuteronomy 31:14-15, 23, which is one version of the appointment of Joshua.[21]

דברים לא:ידוַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֜ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֗ה הֵ֣ן קָרְב֣וּ יָמֶיךָ֘ לָמוּת֒ קְרָ֣א אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ וְהִֽתְיַצְּב֛וּ בְּאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד וַאֲצַוֶּ֑נּוּ וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ מֹשֶׁה֙ וִֽיהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ וַיִּֽתְיַצְּב֖וּ בְּאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:לא:טו וַיֵּרָ֧א יְ-הֹוָ֛ה בָּאֹ֖הֶל בְּעַמּ֣וּד עָנָ֑ן וַיַּעֲמֹ֛ד עַמּ֥וּד הֶעָנָ֖ן עַל פֶּ֥תַח הָאֹֽהֶל: //לא:כג וַיְצַ֞ו אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֗וּן וַיֹּאמֶר֘ חֲזַ֣ק וֶֽאֱמָץ֒ כִּ֣י אַתָּ֗ה תָּבִיא֙ אֶת בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶל הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתִּי לָהֶ֑ם וְאָנֹכִ֖י אֶֽהְיֶ֥ה עִמָּֽךְ:
Deuteronomy 31:14 Yhwh said to Moses, “Your time to die is near; call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, so that I may commission him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting31:15 and Yhwh appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud; the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance to the tent. // 31:23 Then he commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”

Admittedly, this text does not specify that the Tent is outside the camp, but it overlaps with some of the other “outlier” texts in a number of ways.

  • Joshua and Moses are told to wait inside the Tent for God to come. This would have been forbidden in the Ohel Moed Tabernacle.[22]
  • Yhwh (not his Glory) appears in a cloud at the entrance of the Tent and speaks from there, just as he does with Aaron and Miriam.
  • The unusual verb נ-צ-ב appears in three out of the four accounts, including this one (Exod 33:8, Num 11:16, Deut 31:14).

These stories demonstrate that the Ohel Moed in Exodus 33 was not understood as a temporary structure, but remained in use throughout the wilderness period. But how does this connect to the Ohel Moed Tabernacle?

A Second Ohel Moed Just for Moses

An alternative traditional solution is that there were two Tents of Meetings in the wilderness.

Sifrei Zuta Numbers 18:4

“ושמרו את משמרת אהל מועד לכל עבודת האהל” –  אמר ר’ שמעון הא למדנו שהן שני אהלות אהל העבודות ואהל הדברות:
“And discharge the duties of the Tent of Meeting, all the service of the Tent” – Rabbi Shimon said: “We learn from this (=the double reference to “tent” in the verse) that there were two tents, the tent of service (=sacrifices) and the tent of speaking (=with God).”

Yalkut Shimoni,Behaalotecha 737 (Numbers 11:24)

“ויעמד אותם סביבות האהל” – באהל הדברות שהוא חוץ מן המחנה, שני אהלים עשו אהל לעבודה ואהל לדברות וכמדת הפנימי כך היה החיצון…
“He stood them (=the 70 elders) around the Tent” – this refers to the tent of speaking, which was outside the camp. They made two tents, a tent for service and a tent for speaking, and the one inside the camp was the same size as the one outside…

One modern quasi-traditional commentator who adopted this solution was the German rabbi Benno Jacob (1862-1945).[23] Jacob noted correctly that Moses’ Ohel Moed could not be described as temporary, considering these other stories. Therefore, he suggested that it was a second structure that existed alongside the Ohel Moed Tabernacle. This alternative structure was Moses’ own personal Ohel Moed, in which he could commune directly with God.

This was his tent, but an o-hel mo-ed for everyone else. It had no connection with the Tent of Meeting, the sanctuary for all Israel (p. 966).

Each of the other three stories intimately concerned Moses, Jacob argues. The 70 elders receive Moses’ prophetic spirit; Miriam and Aaron are punished for insulting Moses; Joshua is appointed to replace Moses.

Despite Jacob’s valiant effort, this “two tent” interpretation is less than persuasive. The Torah never points to the existence of two separate tents; no biblical text ever refers to “Tent(s) of Meeting(s)” in plural, or attempts to differentiate between the structures and their rules. Instead, like Superman and Clark Kent, the two never appear together.

Not Two Tents but Two Texts: The Source Critical Solution

The most compelling solution to the אהל מועד problem comes from the Documentary Hypothesis: the Tent of Meeting Tabernacle typifies P, while Moses’ Tent of Meeting is from E. (J and D have no comparable structure.)

P’s Ohel Moed Tabernacle is the elaborate structure situated in the middle of the camp into which no Israelite may enter. E’s Ohel Moed is the simple tent outside the camp into which any Israelite wishing to communicate with God may enter. The differences between these two tents are even more profound, reflecting vastly different theologies.

Does God Dwell with the Israelites?

According to the Priestly texts, Yhwh wishes to dwell among the Israelites, which is why he commands them to build a home for him:

שמות כט:מד וְקִדַּשְׁתִּ֛י אֶת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד…כט:מה וְשָׁ֣כַנְתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים: כט:מו וְיָדְע֗וּ כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיהֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֧אתִי אֹתָ֛ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לְשָׁכְנִ֣י בְתוֹכָ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְ-הֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם:
Exodus 29:44 I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting… 29:45 I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God.29:46 And they shall know that I Yhwh am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I Yhwh their God. 

In contrast, the Ohel Moed text in Exodus 33 has Moses placing the Ohel Moed outside the camp because Yhwh tells him that He cannot and will not dwell among the Israelites, since His temper threatens to destroy them if they are proximate.   Instead—

שמות לג:ב וְשָׁלַחְתִּ֥י לְפָנֶ֖יךָ מַלְאָ֑ךְ וְגֵֽרַשְׁתִּ֗י אֶת הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י וְהַֽחִתִּי֙ וְהַפְּרִזִּ֔י הַחִוִּ֖י וְהַיְבוּסִֽי: לג:ג אֶל־אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָ֑שׁ כִּי֩ לֹ֨א אֶֽעֱלֶ֜ה בְּקִרְבְּךָ֗כִּ֤י עַם קְשֵׁה עֹ֙רֶף֙ אַ֔תָּה פֶּן אֲכֶלְךָ֖ בַּדָּֽרֶךְ: … לג:ה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֜ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֱמֹ֤ר אֶל בְּנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אַתֶּ֣ם עַם קְשֵׁה עֹ֔רֶף רֶ֧גַע אֶחָ֛ד אֶֽעֱלֶ֥ה בְקִרְבְּךָ֖ וְכִלִּיתִ֑יךָ…
Exodus 33:2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites—33:3 a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up [to the land] in your midst, since you are a stiffnecked people, lest I destroy you on the way.” …33:5 Yhwh said to Moses, “Say to the Israelite people, ‘You are a stiffnecked people. If I were to go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you…’”

This prompts Moses to place the Ohel Moed outside the camp; it allows God to come down and speak without the risk of God actually being inside the camp, seeing problematic Israelite behavior, and lashing out.

Does God Live in the Tent or Just Visit It?

The Ohel Moed Tabernacle texts understand descent of God’s Glory as a semi-permanent occupation. Once the Ohel Moed Tabernacle is complete, God’s Glory comes down in its cloud and occupies the structure. [24]

שמות מ:לד וַיְכַ֥ס הֶעָנָ֖ן אֶת אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וּכְב֣וֹד יְ-הֹוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן:
Exodus 40:34The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of Yhwh filled the Tabernacle.
במדבר ט:טו וּבְיוֹם֙ הָקִ֣ים אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן כִּסָּ֤ה הֶֽעָנָן֙ אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן לְאֹ֖הֶל הָעֵדֻ֑ת וּבָעֶ֜רֶב יִהְיֶ֧ה עַֽל הַמִּשְׁכָּ֛ן כְּמַרְאֵה אֵ֖שׁ עַד בֹּֽקֶר: 
Numbers 9:15 On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Pact; and in the evening it rested over the Tabernacle in the likeness of fire until morning.

God’s Glory stays there, underneath its cloud, until it was time for Israel to travel. When the cloud lifts off the tent, presumably God’s Glory departs with it, thus allowing the tent to be folded up for transport.

במדבר ט:כב אֽוֹ יֹמַ֜יִם אוֹ חֹ֣דֶשׁ אוֹ יָמִ֗ים בְּהַאֲרִ֨יךְ הֶעָנָ֤ן עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ לִשְׁכֹּ֣ן עָלָ֔יו יַחֲנ֥וּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְלֹ֣א יִסָּ֑עוּ וּבְהֵעָלֹת֖וֹ יִסָּֽעוּ:
Numbers 9:22 Whether it was two days or a month or a year—however long the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle—the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp.

The implication is clear: God’s Glory lives in the Tent, surrounded by a cloud or fire, at all times except when God wishes for Israel to travel. The Ohel Moed Tabernacle is the home of Yhwh’s Glory.

In contrast, Moses’ Ohel Moed is a place Yhwh Himself (not His Glory) uses for temporary visits for the purposes of communication with Moses and other Israelites:

שמות לג:ט וְהָיָ֗ה כְּבֹ֤א מֹשֶׁה֙ הָאֹ֔הֱלָה יֵרֵד֙ עַמּ֣וּד הֶֽעָנָ֔ן וְעָמַ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וְדִבֶּ֖ר עִם מֹשֶֽׁה: לג:י וְרָאָ֤ה כָל הָעָם֙ אֶת עַמּ֣וּד הֶֽעָנָ֔ן עֹמֵ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וְקָ֤ם כָּל הָעָם֙ וְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲו֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ פֶּ֥תַח אָהֳלֽוֹ:לג:יא וְדִבֶּ֨ר יְ-הֹוָ֤ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל פָּנִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְדַבֵּ֥ר אִ֖ישׁ אֶל רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְשָׁב֙ אֶל הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה…
Exodus 33:9 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. 33:10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent. 33:11 Yhwh would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp…

This source has not concept of Yhwh’s Glory or Presence, and imagines Yhwh as residing in the heavens, or perhaps on his Mountain (Horeb), and only occasionally visiting the Tent.[25]Whenever the pillar of cloud was poised outside the tent, the people would prostrate themselves outside their own tents.  This would happen occasionally only; otherwise the Israelites would be in a permanent state of prostration!

Other E texts as well suggest that God would only reside in the tent temporarily. Moses gathers the 70 elders, takes them to the Ohel Moed, and then God arrives (Num 11:24-25). Moses, Aaron, and Miriam go out to the Ohel Moed, and then God descends in his cloud (Num 12:4-5). Moses takes Joshua to the Ohel Moed, then God comes to speak with him (Deut 31:14-15). God does not live in the Tent.  In all of these texts, Yhwh doesn’t Himself enter the tent; the human enters the tent and Yhwh descends in his cloud, stands at the entrance and speaks with the person (Exod 33:9, Num 12:5, Deut 31:15).  

These significant differences taken together imply that the Torah is not simply discussing two structures with the same name; they imply an entirely different conception of God’s relationship to Israel during the wilderness period. The two accounts of the Ohel Moed entail different notions about how Yhwh manifests to humans (as Himself or as his Glory), how He speaks with Moses, where He resides in general, and why/how often He is manifest to Israel at the Ohel Moed.


Source criticism is a powerful tool that allows us to resolve certain contradictions within the Torah text, and to see the full variety of theological positions within the text, thereby enriching it.  When P and E are isolated, a confusing jumble of contradictory accounts about two Tents of Meeting and where God resides resolves into two clear conceptions of God’s relationship to Israel in the wilderness, and how and where this was manifest.


February 24, 2016


Last Updated

November 21, 2021


View Footnotes

Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).