Friday, March 17, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Va'ya'khel and P'kudey - Sh'mot (Exodus) 35-40:38


The two Parashot* that are before us, seal off the book of Sh'mot. Both of them focus on constructing the Mishkan, its utensils, and the priests' garments, and reiterate the calling of the two artisans who were in charge of the work. However, because the instructions in our text describe (or report) the actual implementation of the work (in ‘real-time’), they are animated with a sense of activity. The act of contribution, for example, is fraught with enthusiasm and vitality, while everyone appears to be doing his utmost within his (or her) means and capabilities.

Just before examining these accounts, let us pause to look at yet another injunction regarding the Shabbat. In this instance it appears to be a prelude to the construction of the holy edifice, with an emphasis on keeping the Shabbat set apart by not doing any manner of work (including kindling of fire): "… everyone doing work in it shall be put to death" (ref. Ex. 35:2,3).  In all likelihood, this was to serve as a reminder to the Israelites that even the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the Shabbat rest.

Va’yak’hel: “And he [Moses] gathered…” is rooted in k.h.l (kof, hey, lamed) - “to gather unto – for the purpose of executing the plan. And as we shall see shortly, a plan is definitely being set up here. In 35:10 an invitation is issued for "every wise-hearted one among you, let them come and make all which YHVH has commanded" (emphasis added). Such an open summons had not been announced previously. The People of Yisrael respond with gusto. They are both contributing to and participating in the work itself. The camp is bustling with activity. The skilled and the unskilled, the rich and the poor, the rank and file together with the leaders – all are doing their part.

Let us now simply follow the text, taking note of the activity, the mass inclusion of the entire community, and the spirit of eager willingness and generosity that pervaded the camp. Additionally, notice the frequent repetition of “heart”. "And all the congregation of the sons of Israel went out from Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart was lifted up, and everyone whose spirit made him willing. They brought the offering of YHVH for the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. And the men came in together with the womeneveryone willing of heart. They brought in bracelets, and nose rings, and rings, and ornaments, every gold article, and everyone who waved a wave offering of gold to YHVH. And everyone with whom blue was found, and purple, and crimson, and bleached linen, and goats' hair, and rams' skins dyed red, and dugong skins, they broughtEveryone rising up with an offering of silver and bronze, they brought the offering of YHVH; and everyone with whom was found acacia wood for any work of the service, they brought. And every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands; and they brought spun yarn, blue, and purple, and crimson and bleached linen. And all the women whose hearts were lifted up in wisdom spun the goats' hair. And the leaders brought the onyx stones and stones for the setting, for the ephod and for the breast pocket, and the spice, and the oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the incense of the perfumes. And every man and woman whose hearts made them willing to bring for all the work which YHVH commanded to be done by the hand of Moses; the sons of Israel brought a willing offering to YHVH…” (35:20-29, emphases added).

As mentioned, this action-packed passage is characterized by the willingness and eager participation of everyone involved. A similar atmosphere is also echoed in chapter 36, where Betzal'el and Ohali'av (Aholiab) and all the ones endowed with Elohim-given wisdom and a desire to do the work, take the contributions from the people: "And they took every offering before Moses which the sons of Israel had brought for the work of the service in the holy place, to do it. And they brought to him still more willing offerings morning by morning. And all the wise men came, those doing every kind of work for the sanctuary, each one from his work they were doing” (36:3, 4 emphases added). Here we see the cooperation between the lay people and the experts, all of whom were providing abundance of such magnitude, to the extent that Moshe was told: “The people are bringing more than enough for the service of the work that YHVH commanded to do" (v. 5). Moshe therefore "commanded, and they caused it to be voiced in the camp, saying, 'Let neither man nor woman make any more offering for the sanctuary’; and the people were held back from bringing" (v. 6).

The wisdom, skill, and expertise with which the work was carried out clearly did not originate with the expert artisans themselves. In 35:31, 32, 34 we read: “And He has filled him [i.e. Betzal’el] with the spirit of Elohim [can also be read, “the Spirit of Elohim filled him”] in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge… to devise designs. And He has put in his heart that he may teach” (emphases added). Betzal’el’s protégé, whom he was teaching, was Ohali’av from the tribe of Dan. Having been endowed from above with the skillfulness and ability to carry out the work, Betzal’el, true to his name, appears to be residing “in the shadow of the Almighty”. As we noted last week, the assistant’s name expresses a similar concept, since Ohali’av means, “my tent is the Father”. Thus, the artist engaged in crafting the Mishkan (Tabernacle), declares, by his very name, Who is the real Abode!

But let us return to the earthly Mishkan… The specifications for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and the Lampstand are listed in 37:1-24. In Hebrew these three articles are “a’ronshulchan, and menorah” – rendered literally as, “cabinet/closet/chest (e.g. 2nd Kings 12:9,10), table, and lamp” (e.g. 2nd Kings 4:10); a comfortable abode, under any circumstances, especially in the desert! But what about a washbasin for a quick freshening up and maybe a mirror to make sure every hair is in place? The account in 38:8 does not fail to point out the basin, and the mirrors out of which it was constructed. In addition, although not mentioned in the Parasha’s text specifically, there is another term used elsewhere for the Ark of the Covenant. It is a “ki’seh” – a “chair”, which is also the Hebrew word for “throne”. The “Ark of the Covenant” is YHVH’s seat of glory, and was described so in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1, in reference to Shlomo’s (Solomon’s) Temple, and also in Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 43:7, regarding the future Temple.

The making of the bronze basin (or laver) and its base captivates our attention, as they were made from "the mirrors of the [women] who congregated at the opening of the Tent of Meeting" (38:8). Much has been said about the symbolism of the mirrors plating this basin, where the priests were to wash their feet and hands (that is, to consecrate themselves) before approaching the Altar, as an allusion to one of the steps on the progressive path of faith taken by the Believer. However, in the scene at hand we encounter women who have assembled, “tzov'ot”, by the entrance of the Mishkan. The verb and root tz.v.a (tzadi, bet, alef) is also used for “army” and “hosts”, such as in "YHVH Tzva'ot". In Shmuel Alef (1st Samuel) 2:22 we find once again this "army of women" by "the opening of the Tent of Meeing", although in a very different (and negative) connotation.  In T’hilim (Psalms) 68:11-12 we read: "YHVH gave the word; great was the company - tza'va - of those who proclaimed [female gender] it; Kings of armies ("tzva'ot") flee, they flee, and she who remains at home divides the spoil".  Last week we saw the People of Yisrael in their frenzy to make the golden calf, using gold earrings worn by their "wives, sons and daughters" (Ex. 32:2). This week, many of the same people are contributing to the Mishkan, and some of the donations are of the very same materials that were used for the abominable image. The women who had contributed the mirrors, thereby giving up their vanity, are seen here drawn to the house of YHVH forming a company, literally an "army", which “proclaims His Word” and is therefore far mightier than even that of "kings of armies" (ref. again to Ps. 68:12). Hence, according to the Psalm, their reward (or "spoil") is also far greater. Were these women motivated by a desire to repent and atone for the recent terrible sin committed so callously by the People of Yisrael?

Have you ever wondered about the following statement? "Let them make me a sanctuary – mikdash… according to all that I show you, according to the pattern of the mishkan and the pattern of all its furnishing, just so you shall make it" (Ex. 25:8-9)? What did Moshe see up in the mountain? When comparing the details described in Parashat Trumah, as we hear YHVH giving instructions to Moshe there is a notable difference to the present instructions. Although in both cases there are several comparisons of the structure of the edifice to body parts, in the 'original', as we noted in that parasha, there were some outstanding comparisons there not only to body parts but to very special human relationships (e.g. 26:3, 17). Is this difference an indication of what Moshe actually saw on the mountain?

When all was said and done, the work was considered a genuine collective endeavor of national scope. Not many years prior to this event, these same people had over them taskmasters who "worked them relentlessly" (Ex. 1:13). Now, the Nation as a whole is engaged in a totally different “work”, the “avoda” of the Mishkan, the avoda – worship, and service - of YHVH. Did they ever reflect back on those dark days, considering in awe their currently changed circumstances and status?

Whether they did or not, the transformation that had taken place was quite amazing! In Egypt they were treated as a faceless mass, having suffered the loss of individual identity to the point that they were referred to in single person (e.g. Ex. 1:11,12 Parashat Shmot, literal translation). By comparison, in 36:10 – 37(, the work performed in the Mishkan is also described in single person. However, against the backdrop of the preceding descriptions, the picture set before us here is entirely different. If the oft-repeated “and he made” are in reference to Betzal’el, we are left with no doubt that he had the full and active support, and participation of the People as a whole. But, if the reference is to more than one person - it would signify unison. Once again, just as we observed in Parashat Trumah (in 26:6-11), the Mishkan itself was to be made of a great variety of components, yet was to be “one” (36:13, 18). This was also the case with the People of Yisrael, who was (and is) to portray the eternal principle of ‘diversity within unity’, so well illustrated by our text.

After the description of the Nation’s willing participation in the preparations of the Mishkan, Parashat Pkudey, the last in the book of Sh’mot, continues to elaborate on the inventory of materials for the sacred edifice and the priests’ official garments. “Pkudey” means “that which was taken into account/visited”, or “these are the accounts”. But it is not only the Mishkan’s inventory that is counted or listed; the term is also applied here to the congregation itself (38:25, “pkudey** ha’eda” – “those of the congregation who were taken into account/visited”). The meaning of the root p.k.d. aside from counting, visiting, and commanding, originates with “invest with purpose or responsibility”.1 Thus, while in Parashat Va’yak’hel emphasis was placed on the congregation as a “kahal”, a crowd, a mass, host, whose parts (namely the individuals who make it up) have no significance in and of themselves, the term “pkudey” stresses the fact that the congregation has no existence apart from the individuals who make it up. Hence, each and everyone has been “visited” and “taken into account” in order to make the half shekel payment (ref. 38:25,26, and also as we noted last week).2 Let us try to read the opening verse (21) as closely as we can to the Hebrew original: "These are the itemized/counted [articles] – p'kudey - of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the testimony/witness which was itemized/counted/supervised – pukad - by the mouth of Moshe…" The repetition of "Mishkan" and Moshe's involvement in overseeing it as a whole, stresses the fact that the inventory of its items alone was not sufficient. The oneness of the Mishkan has already been noted in the previous parashot (Ex. 26:6,11; 36:13).

Therefore, in the present Parasha, the itemized items seem to be of no significance in and of themselves, but only as part of the "Mishkan of the testimony". In 39:32, we read the following: "And all the work of the tabernacle of the congregation was finished (“vate’chal”), and the sons of Israel did according to all which YHVH commanded Moses; so they did” (emphasis added). In B’resheet (Genesis) 2:1-2 it says: “And the heavens and the earth were finished (va’ya’chulu), and all the host of them. And Elohim finished (va’y’chal) His work which He had made…” (emphases added). Another parallel to the Creation process is found in 39:43: “And Moses saw (“va’yar”) all the work, and behold they had done it…. and Moses blessed them”. This may be compared to the oft-repeated “and Elohim saw…“ (in B’resheet 1) and also to B’resheet 1:28, where in reference to the creation of man and woman it says, “and He blessed them” (emphasis added). In 40:33 it says, “And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished (va’yechal) the work (m’lacha)” (emphasis added). Compare this to B’resheet (Genesis) 2:2: “And on the seventh day Elohim ended (va’yechal) His work (m’lacha) which He had done…”

The term “tabernacle of the testimony” meets us in 38:21 and is echoed in 40:3 by the “ark of the testimony”, whereas last week in Parashat Ki Tissa we encountered the “tablets of the testimony” (Ex. 34:29). “Testimony” is “edut” - “a witness” or “evidence”. The reason, therefore, for the existence of the Mishkan, the ark and that which it contained (that is the “tablets”) appears to be in order to validate YHVH’s covenant with His people. “Ed”, witness, and “edut”, testimony, witness, or evidence, originate with the root ayin, vav, dalet (a.o/u.d), whose primary meaning is to “endure, continue, repeat”, and by implication “to establish facts.”3 “Od” is therefore “more and continually” and “ad” is “perpetuity”, while “edot” are YHVH’s “decrees”. The witnesses (whether human, inanimate objects, decrees, or even Time itself) are incorporated into the perpetual and firm arrangement to which they are testifying, in this case, YHVH’s everlasting Covenant.

Earlier, in Parashat Trumah, we examined the association of the shape of the Menorah (Ex. 25:31-39) to the flora of the Land of Yisrael. A similar relationship is thought to exist here too. ”And he gave the table into the tabernacle of the congregation, on the side of the tabernacle, northward outside the veil; And he put the lampstand in the tabernacle of the congregation, opposite the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward…” (40:22, 24, emphases added). The placing of these articles in the directions specified above was not coincidental.

The fifty-day period between Pesach and Shavu'ot is when the flowers of the olive open and the kernels of wheat and barley fill with starch. Thus, the productive fate of these crops is determined during that season which [in the land of Israel] is characterized by multiple changes and climatic contrasts. Scorching southern winds, which bring with them extreme dryness and heat, alternate with cold winds from the north and west which generate tempestuous storms containing thunder, lightning and rain. The northern wind is most beneficial to the wheat, if it blows during the wheat's early stages of ripening; yet the same wind can wreak havoc on the olive crop if the buds have already opened into flowers. Olive blossoms need successive days of dry heat. Both crops then require just the proper balance of the heat waves and cold northern winds, making the fifty-day season (the ‘Omer counting’) a very important yet precarious season. The Talmudic sages explained that this phenomenon is symbolized by placing "the table in the north and the Menorah in the south." The showbread, which represents the wheat and barley, faced the direction of the north wind. The Menorah, lit with olive oil, faced the direction of the southern wind. Placed together in the Holy Place, they symbolize the plea to the One Creator that each wind would come at the right time.4 

Obviously, it is only YHVH Who is able to hold all the elements of His Creation in the perfect balance required. Thus, He is seen using (more than once) the Land of Yisrael and the diversity of its natural conditions as an instrument for building and maintaining the relationship with His People, as well as for instructing and chastising them. And, as we have already observed, this concept is implemented well before the Israelites even enter the Land of Promise!

Among the various parts of the high priest’s regalia was “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” and on it “an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YHVH” (39:30).  In 39:6 we read, similarly, about the two onyx stones that were placed on the high priest’s shoulders, with the names of the tribes etched on them.  In this way, the high priest would approach YHVH on behalf of His people.  “An engraving (or “etching”) of a signet” is rendered “pituchey chotam”- literally “the engravings of a seal”.  Digging a little deeper, we discover that whereas “chotam” is a seal, “pituchey” (engravings of…) originates from the root (peh, tav, chet) meaning “to open” or “opening”.  So, how is it that a “seal” and an “opening” signify the onyx stones as well as the engraving upon the high priest’s crown?  Do these two seemingly opposing terms allude to something beyond that which meets the eye? In Revelation Chapter 5 Yeshua is seen as worthy of opening a special “book” and breaking its seals.  What was it that enabled Yeshua to carry out this most important task, which no one else could execute? Having given up His life, He redeemed for His Father those who are to be kings and priests who will reign on earth. Our High Priest stood before the Father with the proverbial onyx stones on His shoulders and the golden band with “Holiness unto YHVH” on His forehead. Qualified to open the sealed book of redemption, He was displaying His ultimate task of presenting to His Father those whom He had purchased by His blood, opening the way by enabling them to be “the sealed servants of Elohim” (Revelation  7:3 italics added).

The two Parashot, Va’yakhel, and Pkudey complement one another. Whereas Va’ya’kehl informs us about the making of the vessels of the Mishkan, Parashat Pkudey “pours” content and meaning into them: The tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the bread is laid on the Table of Showbread, the wicks are lit in the Menorah, and the incense is burned. We are also informed, of course, in detail about the making of the vestments of those who were to officiate in YHVH’s abode, i.e. the priests. Interestingly, the materials used for these garments -“gold, blue, purple, and scarlet and the fine woven linen” - were also used in the making of the Mishkan itself.


* Parashot – plural for “Parasha” – “Parashat…” Parasha of…

(e.g. Va’yak’hel)

** The letter “pey” may also be pronounced “fey” depending on

its placement in a given word.

1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the commentaries of Samsom Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New York, 1999.


3 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew

4 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot Kdumim Ltd. LodIsrael, 1996.

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