Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Parshat VaYakhel

The People's Mishkan

In this week's parsha, Israel begins building the Mishkan.

It begins with a call for donations and then proceeds with its construction.

While two people, Bezalel and Oholiav, with exceptional artistic and creative skills were selected to oversee the Mishkan's construction, it is clear that the whole nation felt a aprt of it and that it was not the reserve of the elite.

To begin with the call goes out to everybody:

"Moshe called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble" (Shemot 35:1).

Usually the Torah write: Moshe spoke to the children of Israel". However, in this case, everyone was to be present. Indeed, the Hebrew word: "VaYakhel" (he gathered) reminds us of the mitzvah of "hakhel" the gathering of all Israel every seven years.

Moshe asks for the people to be generous: "'Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person shall bring it" (ibid 5), but the extent of the people's munificence surprises him: "The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do" (ibid 36:5).

Rashi observes that the community elite, the Nesi'im, are subtly criticized by the Torah for being the last people to donate, as they believed that they would have to complete the people's shortfall (see Rashi on ibid 35"27 where the Hebrew word nesi'sm is spelt without the Hebrew letter "yod" נשאם).

Even the act of construction was open to the entire people. Again Rashi comments that the two supervisors came from the tribes Yehuda, a leading tribe, and Dan, a "minor" tribe. This was to indicate that all levels of Israel's society should be involved in the construction.

Furthermore, the construction was even open to women: "Every wise hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen. All the women whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom, spun the goat hair" (ibid 35 25-26).

Additionally, the labor was not only done by the artists: "He made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting" (ibid 38:8).

Who were these women "that did service". The term used to describe their work is "lisvo tseva" (לצבוא צבא). This term is used twice more in the Torah (Bemidbar 38:4 and 8:24).

In both instances, it refers to the menial tasks performed by the Levites in the Mishkan.

It seems that the women referred to here (and in I Shmuel 2:22), were menial laborers who worked in the Mishkan. Even women at the bottom of the occupational and special scale were involved in the building of the Mishkan.

God's house is not to be the preserve of the wealthy, but a sanctuary so that all Israel knows that God dwells amongst them.

Last year'sSedra Short on Parshat VaYakhel, entitled: "Raising the Cash" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYakhel entitled: "The Builders of the Mishkan" appears at

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