Anonymous comment yesterday wondered why the Torah places the sin of the eigel in the middle of the discussion of the Mishkan, with some of the Mihskan material before it and some afterwards. Let me take the easy way out – what’s the problem? According to the Ramban the order of the Torah is chronological (see his comments at beginning of Parshas Terumah and VaYakhel). After accepting some of the major precepts of the Torah, Moshe gave the command to construct the Mishkan – hence parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh follow after Yisro and Mishpatim. Moshe then went up to Har Sinai to receive the rest of the Torah, during which time the eigel was made – Parshas Ki Tisa. Hashem threatens to distance himself from Bnei Yisrael, but Moshe’s prayers are effective and the bond between G-d and people is restored. The Shechina once again returns to the Mishkan, as related in parshiyos VaYakhel and Pekudei, completing Sefer Shmos.
Of course, I am cheating a bit because I ignored Rashi, which is what prompted Anonymous' comment. Rashi writes (see 21:18) that “ain mukdam u’muchar baTorah”, the Torah parshiyos are not in chronological order. The command to build a Mishkan came only after Yom Kippur, after the completion of the entire process of receiving the Torah and being granted atonement for the cheit haeigeil. According to this view, the parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh, which are read before Ki Tisa, actually chronologically occurred afterwards.
It seems to me that Ramban and Rashi differ on two fundamental issues. Firstly, the Ramban in many places writes that the principle of “ain mukdam u’mecuchar” should not be invoked unless there is a very compelling reason to do so – without strong evidence to the contrary, we assume the Torah does follow a chronological order. The Ibn Ezra, and perhaps Rashi, do not assume a chronological framework – they are much more liberal in applying “ain mukdam” and rearranging timelines. Secondly, this dispute perhaps relates to the function of the Mishkan, as discussed in previous posts. According to the Ramban, the Mishkan was an extension of the experience of Har Sinai, part of the process of kabbalas haTorah. It makes perfect sense that the original command to build a Miskan (P’ Terumah-Tetzaveh) should occur in the context of the initial occurrence of mattan Torah. Rashi, however, focuses on the role of the Mishkan as a means of atonement for the eigel. Therefore, he assumes it could only have been commanded after the sin of the eigel occurred.
But, as Anonymous asked, according to Rashi, why indeed should the Torah chop up the Mishkan parshiyos and place Terumah-Tetzaveh before the eigel and vaYakhel-Pekudei afterwards – even if the Torah's order is not chronological, thematically doesn’t it make sense to group all the Mishkan material together?
The Targum explains the word “anveihu” in the pasuk “zeh K-li v’anveihu” as stemming from the root n-v-h, to dwell. Even as early as the week after escaping Egypt, Bnei Yisrael did not want Hashem to pop into their lives for a miracle and then depart – they wanted the Shechina to dwell with them. The parshiyos in Sefer Shmos are the story of this desire and its fulfillment and tie together thematically. Yetziyat Mitzrayim introduced the bond between G-d and Bnei Yisrael; Yam Suf forged the desire for a permanent Mishkan; Yisro/mattan Torah was a prerequisite; finally, Terumah-Tetzaveh is the culmination of the ideal. The chronological reality of events was that the process was never finished. The sin of the eigel interrupted events, and instead of a Mishkan which was an ideal fulfillment of Redemption, we received a Mishkan which was a kapparah. The break in the Mishkan parshiyos, I think, was necessary to reflect two different roles of the Mishkan: one the one hand, the ideal thematic relationship of Mishkan with the process of Redemption, on the other hand, the reality of events as they transpired, which led to a lesser fulfillment of that aspiration.