Friday, March 12, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Parshat Vayakhel

35:2 - "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death [כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת]."  Put to death for violating Shabbat?  Another instance where the death penalty is no longer applied.  And is not appropriate.

35:3 - Do not light fires on Shabbat.  Actually, the verse says do not kindle fires "throughout your habitations" [בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם].  Why is this added?  It surely isn't to imply that it is okay to light fires on Shabbat in all places other than one's place of living.  But then why add this qualification?  Strange.

35:10 - "And let every wise-hearted man [וְכָל-חֲכַם-לֵב] among you come, and make all that the LORD hath commanded..."  Another use of this strange locution, attributing wisdom to the heart.  What does it mean?

35:22 - "And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles [וְכוּמָז]."  Kehot translates this word v'chumaz as "buckles,"  but the real fun is in Rashi's commentary.  What are these girdles/buckles?  "This is a golden ornament placed over a woman’s private parts. Our Rabbis explain the name כּוּמָז as [an acrostic]: כַּאן מְקוֹם זִמָּה, [meaning] here is the place of lewdness. -[from Shab. 64a]"  Ah well.  Not so nice, but not that surprising either, right?  Question:  Does the fact that the Talmud considers a woman's privates to be inherently lewd mean that for all time that's the way it has to be?  Can there be any acknowledgement that such views are outdated?

35:29 - "The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made."  I'm just curious:  whose heart didn't make them "willing" to contribute?

36:8-38 - Verse 8 says "And every wise-hearted man [כָל-חֲכַם-לֵב] among them that wrought the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains...."  In verse 10, "And he coupled five curtains..."  In verse 11, "And he made loops of blue..."  In verse 13, "And he made fifty clasps of gold..."  And so on.  So who is the "he"?  In verse 6, Moses tells the people to stop bringing offerings because they had already brought enough for the mishkan and then some.  The next person mentioned is "every wise-hearted man" in verse 8.  But the next 30 verses all refer to this "he" who, in effect, builds the physical structure of the miskhan.  The singular forms of the Hebrew are used here, not the plural.  Am I just misunderstanding the grammar here?

An aside:  While I'm sure there's a "reason" for it, to my eyes it seems very strange that the details of the mishkan's constitution and construction are described in detail, multiple times; first when God tells Moses what to do, then Moses tells the people what to do, then what it is the people did.  Frankly there's something weird in my view about the Torah providing so much detail about these physical things while glosssing over important details when it comes to so many other laws.  It makes sense if the Torah is a blueprint for establishing a set of new religious practices in a certain place and time...but not if the Torah is supposed to be a timeless document.

38:8 - "And he [Bezalel] made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women [בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹּבְאֹת] that did service at the door of the tent of meeting."  What are these mirrors, exactly, and what is the point of using them to fashion the laver, particularly because this detail was not commanded by God?  (Kehot translates this as "the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions.")  Rashi's commentary, at once fascinating, beautiful, and terrible, is worth citing at length:
Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Mishkan, but Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts]. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything [אלו חביבין עלי מן הכל] because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5).
Beautiful, right?  But then it takes a turn to a darker side:
This is [the meaning of] what is בְּמַרְאֹתהַצֹבְאֹת [lit., the mirrors of those who set up legions]. From these [the mirrors], the washstand was made, because its purpose was to make peace between a man and his wife. [How so?] By giving a drink from the water that was in it [the washstand] to [a woman] whose husband had warned her [not to stay in private with a certain man] and she secluded herself [with him anyway. The water would test her and either destroy her or prove her innocence. See Num. 5:11-31].
So if I understand Rashi's commentary correctly, women are precious because they helped perpetuate the Jewish people even though the men were tired from labor...but they are also fundamentally untrustworthy and should be judged by magic rather than their word.  Not nice.

Parshat Pekudei

38:21 - "These are the accounts of the tabernacle [פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן], even the tabernacle of the testimony..."  The first section of this parsha enumerates in detail the exact amounts of precious metals collected for purposes of building the mishkan.  It made me wonder why these exact numbers are important enough for inclusion in the Torah.  Is it to provide "proof" that it was indeed built?  Does it suggest some measurement of the "wise-heartedness" of the people who "donated"?  Would the mishkan have been less grand/impressive/important had the numbers been less?

38:22 - "And Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses."  This is an interesting statement, one that Rashi discusses at length.  To wit, why does it say Bezalel make what God commanded Moses when he (Bezalel) wasn't present when the instructions were given?  Why doesn't it say Bezalel made what Moses commanded him?  Rashi explains that while Moses commanded that the mishkan be constructed after its contents, but Bezalel understood -- "correctly" -- that the contents should be made first.  Moses, incredibly, agrees: 
Moses said to him [Bezalel], “You were in the shadow of God [בְּצֵל אֵל, which is the meaning of Bezalel’s name. I.e., you are right], for surely that is what the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded me.” And so he did: [Bezalel] first [made] the Mishkan, and afterwards he made the furnishings. -[from Ber. 55a]
This statement is remarkable for a couple of reasons.  First, it's a particulary tortuous way of resolving an apparent problem in the text.  Rashi could easily have let this verse alone, implying equivalence between what God told Moses and what Moses told Bezalel.  Second, it raises the possibility -- both troubling and encouraging -- that Moses, for whatever reason, didn't get God's words right, and God doesn't step in to correct things.  And if he doesn't get this right, what else might Moses not be getting right?  Since everything but the Ten Commandments was b'yad Moshe, doesn't it imply other things could be wrong?  As troubling as that might seem, it also reminds me at least of the liberal implications of b'yad Moshe and lo bashamayim he:  that ultimately it is up to us to understand, interpret and apply the Torah to our lives.
38:27 - "And the hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the veil: a hundred sockets for the hundred talents, a talent for a socket."  For some reason this verse spoke to me:  According to the Torah narrative, the wealth of the people, given by God/taken from Egypt, donated by the people, is physically used to bind together the structure of the mishkan.  Not converted into money to buy things, but physically used to construct it.  I know that one of the big turn-offs of "organized Judaism" for many people is this focus on money, but there is a point to it beyond the "needs" fo the money to keep the organization functioning, namely people's personal investment in the community.  I need to think about this more...

39:28 - "and the mitre of fine linen, and the goodly head-tires of fine linen [וְאֶת-פַּאֲרֵי הַמִּגְבָּעֹת שֵׁשׁ], and the linen breeches of fine twined linen..."  Kehot translates this more interestingly as "glorious high hats of linen."  This makes me smile, I must confess...

39:31 - "And they tied unto [the plate of the holy crown] a thread of blue, to fasten it upon the mitre above; as the LORD commanded Moses."  Pretty short and sweet...but Rashi has a lot to say about the meaning of "to fasten it upon the mitre above."  It's interesting to me that he comments on some things but not others...

39:33 - "And they brought the tabernacle unto Moses, the Tent, and all its furniture, its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars, and its sockets..."  And yet another recounting of all the bells and whistles of the mishkan, for the third (?) time.  Again, why the repetition of these details, while other, seemingly more crucial things, only get said once?

40:1-16 - "And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And thou shalt..."  The next 14 verses explicate all the things God tells Moses todo concerning the construction of the mishkan, all its furnishings, and the installation of Aaron and his sons as priests.  Are we to understand that Moses -- himself, without help -- did all of this?!?  (You'd think this would be something for Rashi to comment upon...)

40:17 - "And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up."  Hmmm.  In 40:2, as we just saw above, God says "'On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting."  So are we to understand that an entire year elapsed between God telling Moses what to do and the mishkan actually being raised?!?

40:33-38 - A strange sight, worth quoting at length:
And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud [הֶעָנָן] covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.  But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
I'm trying to understand this.  So the mishkan is completed, but then immediately (?) it is covered by a "cloud" -- presumably the presence of God? -- which prevents Moses from entering.  So then did Aaron & Sons enter?  Am I missing something?

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