Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat VaYakhel

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat VaYakhel 5760/2000

Notes on Parshat VaYakhel

Dr. Hayyim Bentov

Dept. of Talmud (retired)

In last week's reading, Parashat Ki-Tissa, Moses descended from Mount Sinai bearing a second set of tablets and tidings for the people: the Lord had forgiven them for the Golden Calf. Moreover, as this story develops in the beginning of our Parasha, the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to have His Presence dwell among them, and so He commanded them to build the Tabernacle ( 35:11). The text in VaYakhel gives the impression that the people knew in a general way about the Tabernacle, but now Moses came to command them regarding its actual execution.

The question arises, how did the people know about it? Ostensibly Moses first addressed them about it now, for the contents of Parshat Terumah, Tetzave, and the beginning of Ki Tissa were delivered to Moses while he was on Mount Sinai; but when the people sinned with the Golden Calf, all the commands concerning the Tabernacle were put in abeyance and in question? On the face of it, it seems that the Israelites first heard about it from Moses only after the Day of Atonement, after he descended from the mountain to pray and deliver the second set of tablets. Ha-amek Davar remarks on this problem as follows:

This could not be the first announcement regarding the entire project of the Tabernacle; for if it were, how could he speak of the Tabernacle, its tent and all the rest [in VaYakhel] when they knew nothing of all this? Rather, immediately after he descended from Mount Sinai [the first time] he must have conveyed to them all that is in the readings of Mishpatim, Terumah, Tetzave, and Ki-Tissa, up to the Golden Calf.

One could therefore say that the command to build the Tabernacle in our Parasha was the remedy for the incident of the Golden Calf, for G-d saw that the Israelites had sinned by making the Golden Calf when, due to Moses' prolonged absence, they felt themselves cut off from G-d; so the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured them that He would dwell amidst them and thus they would feel His providence over them.

Parashat VaYakhel lays out before us the procedure for making the Tabernacle. The plan was delivered to an assembly of the entire community of Israel at which the people were told that the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to have His Presence dwell amidst them, and to this end commanded them to make Him a "dwelling place" (Tabernacle) in their midst. The same people of whom it was said, "they went into mourning, and no one put on his finery" (Ex. 33:4), now received the tidings that the Lord would dwell in their midst. We can easily imagine what a joyous and spiritually elevating moment this must have been.

The rejoicing was two-fold: they had been forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf and they had been given a commandment through which they could now prove anew their faith and devotion to the will of G-d. Nowhere do we find that the Torah reports on the dispersal of a convocation, but here Scripture informs us, "So the whole community of the Israelites left Moses' presence" (Ex. 35:20). Or Ha-Hayyim remarks on this, "It means they all left in order to bring quickly, that is, they went immediately in order to bring their gifts humbly and joyously, with great eagerness and generosity." Abarbanel adds, "They all gave these contributions lishmah--for its own sake-- to worship the Lord and fulfill His command." The Torah's description of their generosity is full of joyous vitality, repeating the verb "to bring" ten times (35:20-29), and also stressing how their "hearts moved them."

The women figure prominently in this account. Perhaps Scripture stresses their role in bringing gifts for the Tabernacle as their reward for not having taken part of the sin of the Golden Calf. In their eagerness they came before the men, as Scripture stresses, "Men and women...came"[Heb. vayavo'u ha-anashim al ha-nashim](35:22): "to teach that the women came first, bringing their ornaments, earrings, and rings immediately, and the males followed" (Abarbanel). The women were also featured in the making of the laver and its stand, about which we read: "He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks [meaning of Hebrew hatzove'ot uncertain] at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting." Onkelos' translation indicates that they used the mirrors of the women who came to pray at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and Ibn Ezra explains:

Among the Israelites there were women who worshipped the Lord and abandoned the pleasures of this world, giving their mirrors as a gift because they no longer needed to make themselves beautiful, but only came every day to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to pray and hear about the commandments. It says they came in hosts (tzav'u) at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting because they were numerous.

According to his commentary, the mirrors that were donated expressed the religious sentiments of these women and therefore they were chosen to be used for making the laver. A well-known midrash is cited by Rashi about Moses wishing to reject these mirrors,

Because they were made to serve the evil inclination. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Accept them because they are most precious to Me of all. For by means of these mirrors the women established many hosts in Egypt; when their husbands were exhausted from hard labor they would go bring them food and drink and feed them, and they would take their mirrors and each woman would see herself and her husband in the mirror and would encourage him, ... and they would conceive and give birth.

According to this interpretation the mirrors (mar'ot) symbolized the life and procreation of the Israelites, tzov'ot -- meaning that they established many hosts (tzeva'ot) of children. Even if mar'ot tzov'ot is understood differently, making the laver and its stand out of these mirrors certainly gave credit to the women over and above their full participation in making the Tabernacle.

In conclusion, this week's reading conveys two messages: the great joy and generosity which our ancestors showed in building the Tabernacle, and the major role played by the women in its construction.

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