Purposefully Blue

The peculiar blue [תכלת, tekhelet] thread used in tzitzit [ritual fringes] (Numbers 15:37-41) also appears prominently in the construction of Tabernacle (Exodus 25ff). It is used in the inner curtains and the loops that connect them; it also appears throughout the priestly vestments.

Why this blue?

It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: Why is blue [תכלת] specified from all the varieties of colours? Because blue resembles [the colour of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the colour of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the colour of] the Throne of Glory, as it is said: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone [לבנת הספיר], and as it were the very heaven for clearness (Exod. 24:10) and it is written: The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone [אֶבֶן-סַפִּיר] (Ezek 1:26).
— Sotah 17a (also: Menachot 43b and Chullin 89a)

Kedushat Levi links the above passage about blue, תכלת, to the stages of a creative act, beginning and ending with its purpose [תכלית]:

[A project from thought to completion] has undergone four distinct stages. 1) original mental image of the project; 2) clarification of the details, etc. 3) translating thought into deed. 4) carrying out the intention which originally prompted the project. [Punctuation follows translation.] When the original mental image of the project is seen reflected after its successful completion, the person inhabiting this building will experience a sense of satisfaction and joy.
— Kedushat Levi, p. 475 (see Source Materials for full citation)

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Folding, Half-Shekels, and Ego

One of the 30-cubit, goat-hair curtains on the outside of the Tabernacle is folded over the front of the tent (Exodus 26:9; see Thirty Cubits and Cloaking) for more on the curtains). Two aspects of this are emphasized in the commentary of Kedushat Levi, among others:

Folding: Folding [כפל, khaphal] is related to the idea of “klipah” [קלפה], the protective shell covering God’s Light in the world, according to mystical teaching. Kedushat Levi links the folding of the curtain and God’s cloaking, to protect humans from what they cannot withstand, adding that “folding over” implies reinforcing something not otherwise as strong as necessary. (Kedushat Levi, p. 473; full citations for Kedushat Levi, Stone Chumash in Source Materials.)

Half: Kedushat Levi also emphasizes the fact that the curtain is folded in half. He links “half” to “awe” through a play on the Hebrew words: the curtain, folded in “half” [חצי, chatzi], is linked via “crush” [מחץ, machatz] to “awe.” (More below.)

Additional thoughts on the concept of “half,” regarding the command to collect a half-shekel as part of the census embedded in the Tabernacle story, suggest a different direction:

Many commentators interpret homelitically that the requirement of half a coin alludes to the concept that no Jew is complete unless he joins with others; as long as we are in isolation, each of us is only “half” of our full potential.
— Stone Chumash, on Exodus 30:13

Combining these views on folding and half seem to suggest that any approach to God is best accomplished in community.
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Cloaking Improves Vision

Readers of Moby Dick have long skimmed the whaling sections. Love-story followers generally hurry through the “war” part of War and Peace, while others skip through the boring relationship stuff to focus on land distribution. Likewise, many Bible readers’ eyes glaze over at the close of Exodus: Some 200+ Torah verses describe plans for the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Another 200+ verses describe the actual work. Four entire weekly Torah readings are dedicated to the details of the Tabernacle, with Ki Tisa’s story of the Golden Calf in between.

Some teachers focus on general messages extracted from these passages: the importance of working collaboratively, supporting community infrastructure, or honoring the arts, for example. But others take an allegorical view, mining details rather than glossing over them. Kedushat Levi (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740 – 1809) is one of the later. And some of those details surround the number 30.
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Thirty Cubits in the Tabernacle

The inside of the Tabernacle, the desert worship space of the Israelites, is 30 cubits long. (This is worked out from directions for various components, described in Exodus 26-27.) An inside covering is composed of ten panels of “twisted linen, and indigo and purple and crimson, with cherubim, designer’s work,” each measuring 28 cubits by 4 cubits (Alter’s translation; citation below). Eleven goat-hair panels of 30 cubits by 4 cubits create an additional covering over the whole construction. (Explicit instructions in Exodus 26:1 and 26:7).

The inside coverings are joined so “that the Tabernacle be one whole” (Exodus 26:6).

26:6) that the Tabernacle be one whole
This phrase leads Abraham ibn Ezra to muse over how unity in the greater world is constituted by an interlocking of constituent parts that become a transcendent whole, as in the unity of microcosm and macrocosm. One need not read this section homelitically, as he does, in order to see the power of summation of this particular phrase.
— Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. (NY: Norton, 2004)

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Naso: Prayer Links

Toward the close of parashat Naso, twelve princes bring identical gifts as a dedication offering for the tabernacle (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:10 – 88). Twelve times, the same five verses, with minor variations of the “mail-merge” sort at the open and close, appear:

The one who presented his offering on the {INSERT: ORDINAL} day was {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER} of the tribe of {INSERT: TRIBE}. His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs. That was the offering of {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER}. Continue Reading

Pekudei: Something to Notice

The colors.

Before we complete the Tabernacle and leave Exodus/Shemot, I must pause to consider the oft-mentioned color trio: “tekhelet, v’argaman v’tolaat shani.” These colors are central in the tent instructions/construction and appear throughout the priestly garments. The same colors are, of course, prominent in contemporary Jewish textiles and other arts.


Tekhelet — Blue, Sky Blue or Indigo.


Argaman — Purple.


Tolaat shani — Scarlet or Crimson.

“Blue Wheat,” “Ode to Overturning Bowers vs. Hardwick” and “Pink Pomegranate” (looks scarlet to me) — above — are all works by DC-area artist Judybeth Greene.


The quilt below was made by Amy Leila Smith, of Blue Feet Studio in Maine, for the National Havurah Committee.

…seems fitting closure for a portion which focuses on weaving, long a woman’s art. See, e.g., Women’s Work, the First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (Norton, 1994).

For more on the special history of tekhelet blue, see Ehud Spanier’s history (details in Source Materials).

[CAUTION on print and internet sources focusing on these three colors, especially tekhelet: Many involved in reconstructing exact colors of the Tabernacle and related work are deeply concerned with preparing for the Third Temple.]

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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Pekudei: Language and Translation

“And these are the names [v’eileh] of the Children of Israel who were coming [ha-ba’im] to Egypt…”
— Exodus/Shemot 1:1

“…throughout their journeys [mas’eyhem].”
— Exodus/Shemot 40:38 (Stone translation*)

A number of commentaries note that the vav (a conjunction which can mean “and” or “but”) is meant to link the narrative of Genesis with that launched with Exodus. In an unusual bit of similarity, both the Stone and Alter* commentaries make this point and also remark that identical words open the genealogy beginning at Genesis/Breishit 46:8.

Stone emphasizes the on-going nature of the narrative by using “were coming” for “ha-ba’im,” while Alter and others use the past tense. JPS* bridges the two with “came, each coming with…”

Alter also notes that the word mas’eyhem [in all their journeyings] uses “the same verbal stem [that] inaugurated the Wilderness narrative in 13:20, ‘And they journeyed from Succoth,'” suggesting that this helps leave a “sense of harmonious consummation,” as the work of the Tabernacle — likened to that of Creation — is completed. “But,” he continues:

the condition in which the Israelites find themselves remains unstable, uncertain, a destiny of wandering through arduous wasteland toward a promised land that is not yet visible on the horizon. The concluding words of Exodus point forward not to the Book of Leviticus, which immediately follows, but to the Book of Numbers, with its tales of Wilderness wanderings, near catastrophic defections, and dangerous tensions between the leader and the led.
— Alter, p.535

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazeik!
Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Vayakhel: A Path to Follow

In this portion, and this portion alone, the women of the children of Israel are identified as a significant group within the larger whole,” writes R. Nancy H. Weiner in her dvar Torah, “Of Women and Mirrors.”

The Torah unequivocally highlights that women are participating in the single most important sacred endeavor of the community of Israel’s collective existence: the building of the mishkan, the place in which God’s presence will dwell among the people and travel with them as they journey toward the Promised Land.

And then the narrative takes a significant turn. The efforts of the entire community become the backdrop for the tasks taken on by the great (male) architects and craftsmen of the mishkan. The portion mentions the contributions of women only once more as it describes the labors of Betzalel, the chief architect of the mishkan. The Torah says, “He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, with the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Exod 38:8)…
— Weiner, in The Women’s Torah Commentary

One path to follow is to look at the role of women in the ancient Israelite world. The work of Tikva Frymer-Kensky comes to mind as a starting point.

But Weiner herself suggests another path: “…[Women] are not the only victims of collective amnesia…” Look at less visible Jewish communities of today — Kulanu or Bechol Lashon [In Every Tongue].

The entire piece, “Of Women and Mirrors,” is available at GoogleBooks, The Women’s Torah Commentary.*

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Vayakhel: Something to Notice

“…but the materials were more than enough [vehoter] for all the work that had to be done.” — Exodus/Shemot 36:7

Construction of the Tabernacle in the desert was an act that paralleled the creation of heaven and earth and corresponded to all known aspects of the order in which G’d created the universe, (B’rachot 55). Seeing that this was so, Betzalel, the chief architect of the project was granted the wisdom to understand how the letters of the aleph bet were to be used in carrying out all the details of the task entrusted to him.

Nowadays, this ability of Betzalel at the time of his building of the Tabernacle, has been granted to the righteous Torah scholars of varying degrees, who are able to reveal insights into the Torah that have not previously been revealed. By doing so, they become partners of G’d in His creation of the universe. Betzalel also imposed restrictions on himself in his use of the gift G’d gave him, so as not to preempt the Torah scholars throughout the ages an to thereby prevent them from revealing new insights. This is what is meant by the word [vehoter], “there was an overabundance,” i.e. there was enough holy spirit that had been provided to enable Betzalel and his assistants to build the Tabernacle, but instead of exhausting it at the time, Betzalel, in his modesty, was content to leave a surfeit of it to be used by Torah scholars, who in a way are also Torah “architects,” to delight their audiences with their insights in their respective generations.
— Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Kedushat Levi,* p.525-6

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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