Thursday, March 11, 2010

Parshat Vayakhel - פרשת ויקהל

וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, עַל-הַנָּשִׁים; כֹּל נְדִיב לֵב, הֵבִיאוּ חָח וָנֶזֶם וְטַבַּעַת וְכוּמָז כָּל-כְּלִי זָהָב, וְכָל-אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר הֵנִיף תְּנוּפַת זָהָב לַיהוָה. וְכָל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נִמְצָא אִתּוֹ, תְּכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי וְשֵׁשׁ וְעִזִּים; וְעֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים וְעֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים, הֵבִיאוּ.כָּל-מֵרִים, תְּרוּמַת כֶּסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת, הֵבִיאוּ, אֵת תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא אִתּוֹ עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים, לְכָל-מְלֶאכֶת הָעֲבֹדָה--הֵבִיאוּ. וְכָל-אִשָּׁה חַכְמַת-לֵב, בְּיָדֶיהָ טָווּ; וַיָּבִיאוּ מַטְוֶה, אֶת-הַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶת-הָאַרְגָּמָן, אֶת-תּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי, וְאֶת-הַשֵּׁשׁ. וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂא לִבָּן אֹתָנָה, בְּחָכְמָה: טָווּ, אֶת-הָעִזִּים. וְהַנְּשִׂאִם הֵבִיאוּ אֵת אַבְנֵי הַשֹּׁהַם, וְאֵת אַבְנֵי הַמִּלֻּאִים: לָאֵפוֹד, וְלַחֹשֶׁן.

And the men came with/after the women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles, all jewels of gold; and every man that brought an offering of gold to Hashem. And every man, with whom was found blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, brought them. Every one that did set apart an offering of silver and brass brought Hashem's offering; and every man, with whom was found acacia-wood for any work of the service, brought it. And every woman that was wise-hearted did spin with her hands, and brought that which she had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats' hair. And the princess brought the onyx stones, and the stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate.
(Exodus 35:22-27)

Much of the text in this week's parsha, Vayakhel, is identical to that found in found in the previous parshiot of Terumah, T'tzavah and Ki Tisa. Here again, we continue to read and learn of the construction of the Bet Hamikdash and the production of its furnishings.

There is one intriguing episode I would like to concentrate on that we read at the very beginning of the second aliyah, which I have quoted in full above. In it, we read of how the Nesi'im, (the princes,) the Anashim (the men) and the Nashim (the women) all came to bring contributions to the temple.

Famously, the word V'haNesi'im (and the princes) is spelt here as והנשאם, which is missing two letters. Normally this word would be properly rendered as והנשיאים. Rashi cites Rav Nassan (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:16) who explains that the two yuds were dropped here by way of rebuke for the princes' "lazy" behaviour. This at first seems at odds with the text; the princes brought precious stones for the Kohen Gadol's beautiful Ephod and Choshen, but as Rashi explains, the princes were not expected to bring the most expensive or rare contributions to the Bet Hamikdash. Rashi explains that their intention was good and that they wanted to wait until the people had brought as much as they could afford, at which time they planned to step in and supply whatever it was that remained to be given. Their mistake was that they were expected to lead their people, not to wait to fill in the gaps.

Interestingly, this episode helps answer a question I've had in my mind whenever I read parshat Naso, the longest in the Torah. Here, the princes make the mistake of not seeming eager to contribute to the Bet Hamikdash and thus find themselves demoted to a cursory mention and even then, only with their name misspelt. They were not punished more seriously as their intention was good and true, but they had done wrong and deserved a slap on the wrist. The commentary in Artscroll's Stone edition of the Chumash points out that "Seeing that they had been remiss in this instance, the leaders did not repeat their mistake when the dedication of the Tabernacle was celebrated. Then, they brought their own generous offerings immediately (Numbers ch.7.)" [1]

This set me thinking right away — what is chapter 7 of Numbers? I knew Numbers to be the Anglicised name for Bamidbar, the fourth book of the Torah. I also realised that as 7 is a relatively low number, this particular chapter could form part of parshat Naso which appears early on in the book of Bamidbar. I checked it up and so it proved to be; Chapter 7 comprises the fifth, sixth and seventh aliyot of parshat Naso. I had always wondered what was so important about the princes' offerings mentioned there and why they had to be mentioned in full, even though the offerings were similar, if not exactly the same. But now it makes perfect sense to me (and please let me know if you agree); by eagerly and generously giving to the Bet Hamikdash at that time, the princes were rectifying their earlier mistake, which we read about here. As such, the Torah makes a point of appreciating the princes' repentance and ensures each one a full mention; thus delivering a lesson in appreciating other people's efforts in righting past wrongs.

Either way, with this in mind, I would like to make a separate point. I mentioned that the princes, men and women all gave to the Bet Hamikdash. Only, the text is not ordered the way. The opening words of the quote above read "And the men came with/after the women". (Please excuse my clumsy translation; the Hebrew cannot be properly rendered into one English word.) First the women are mentioned, then the men are named, and only then are the princes referred to. With due respect to the women, why are they mentioned first here? Had the ladies been mentioned at the end of the list, it would not have been in breaking with the Torah's normal style (I'm not getting into why, as I don't fully know myself,) so the fact that they are mentioned before the men is interesting and draws our attention.

The Ramban and the Ohr HaChaim both point out this occurrence in their commentaries. Their explanation is that since the jewellery in this verse was mostly worn by women, they are given the credit. The Ramban goes further and actually points out that here the men counted as secondary to the women, in that the women were more eager and enthusiastic to come forward and give to this holy cause. Their husbands were compelled to come with them, as it were. As such, the Torah rightly gives the women pride of place at the head if the list.

Having thought this through, I would like to make a minor point of my own: these scholars lived in a time when women were not treated and regarded the way they are today, for better or for worse. That they saw fit to raise this point was absolutely not a form of apologism. Though it may seem like a relatively minor act, it is always right to give credit when credit is due.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Stone Edition of the Chumash, Artscroll Publications. p519.

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