Spinning the goats – the Torah portion of Vayakhel

Not enough we spent two whole Torah portions talking about every details of how we will build the Tabernacle, now we start all over again to talk about how we are building it. Why the repetition?? What’s the big deal? Our People built a lovely worship-tent! Great. Can we move on now??

But we can’t.

First, I would argue that this is no doubt one of the greatest miracles in the Bible, if not ever. I know, what about the Sea splitting? The Bush burning? The Plagues, the Exodus? But that’s exactly it: everything that is done by G-d can’t quite be considered a miracle, because G-d by definition can do anything. As for us…

Imagine: we’re invited to bring whatever we have, whatever we feel like giving – gold, silver, beautiful cloth, wood. And we do. Generously. And, not only do we follow precise directions, but when we put it all together, it makes exactly this amazing prescribed structure. Nothing is missing and there’s no leftovers. How is that possible?? Yes, a miracle.

What’s more, it seems that this project was not planned initially at all – we were supposed to just leave Egypt and go to the Land! I can relate to such delays and changes in the original plan… Indeed, especially after the painful episode of the Golden Calf, much healing is needed.

Further: our reading does not open with the almost usual we might expect: ‘And G-d spoke to Moses, saying, gather the people’… but with Moses “gathering” the People. Who told him to do so? Who told them to come? But the whole Israelite community assembled (Exodus 35:1) we they will all jointly create a space for G-d in their midst. Thus, the Book which began in slavery, ends in “free collaboration”, working together willingly.

In the long list of those actively working on the mishkan, we find this (Exodus 35:26):

וְכָל־הַ֨נָּשִׁ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר נָשָׂ֥א לִבָּ֛ן אֹתָ֖נָה בְּחָכְמָ֑ה טָו֖וּ אֶת־הָעִזִּֽים׃

And all the women whose heart lifted them in wisdom, spun the goats.

Wait, what? Didn’t you forget a word at the end? Shouldn’t’ it be “goat’s hair”?? Maybe. But the Hebrew doesn’t say that. It says that the women – spun – the goats. Rashi explains based on the Talmud that “spun the goats” required extraordinary skill, for they spun the goat’s hair from off the backs of the goats, whist it was still on the living animals.

Here it is from the Talmud itself:

תנו רבנן: יריעות התחתונות של תכלת ושל ארגמן ושל תולעת שני ושל שש, ועליונות של מעשה עזים, וגדולה חכמה שנאמרה בעליונות יותר ממה שנאמרה בתחתונות, דאילו בתחתונות כתיב וכל אשה חכמת לב בידיה טוו ואילו בעליונות כתיב וכל הנשים אשר נשא לבן אתנה בחכמה טוו את העזים, ותניא משום רבי נחמיה שטוף בעזים וטווי מן העזים: (שבת צ״ט א:ב׳

Our Sages taught: The bottom curtains in the Tabernacle were made of sky blue wool, and of purple wool, and of scarlet wool, and of fine linen; and the top curtains were made of goat hair, even though that material is considered to be inferior and common. However, the wisdom that was stated with regard to the top curtains was greater than that which was stated with regard to the bottom ones. This is because, with regard to the bottom curtains, it is written: “And every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the linen” (Exodus 35:25); while with regard to the top curtains, it is written: “And all of the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats” (Exodus 35:26).

The phrase “whose hearts inspired them” suggests a greater degree of wisdom. Apparently, spinning the goat’s hair curtains required greater skill than spinning the various kinds of wool. And on a similar note, it was taught in a baraita in the name of Rabbi Neḥemya: The hair was rinsed on the goats, and it was even spun from the goats, which required a great deal of skill ((Shabbat 99a).

So the women sit there, weaving heaven and earth to complete the mishkan; the colors of heaven – are closer to the ground, while the hairs of the earthy goats – up high. The word for goats is – עיזים izim, sharing its root with עוז oz, power, courage, strength.

The same women who began this book by quietly saving the people and their leader from slavery, now leave their mark at its end. Is it coincidental that the strength that “most people” (i.e. the men 🙂 would think as earthly and mundane, the women put up high, making it at times less visible from below?

There are many pairs in these Torah portions, from the way they appear (Teruma-Tetzave; Vayakel-Pekudei), to Moses and Aaron’s roles, and the two Cherubim. Throughout them all we learn that it’s not either-or, but that each is needed, not by changing into another but by being wholeheartedly – “no more and not less” – themselves.

Shabbat Shalom.

ויקהל: “וכל הנשים… טוו את העיזים”, שמות לה:26. ציור של אהובה קליין

 

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