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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Vayakhel: Great Source(s)

He made the laver out of copper, and its base out of copper, from the mirrors of the serving women (tzovot) who served at the entrance of the tabernacle. — Ex. 38:8

Miriam was a teacher of women. — Targum Micah 6:4

“Each of you is made in the image of God,” Miriam explained. “Your soul and your speech are like God’s, and your body is God’s dwelling place. Each of you embodies the Divine presence in a different way. When you look into your mirror, you see a woman, bu you also see the Divine image. If a man were to look into your mirror, he would see a man, but he would also see God. This is what the Torah means when it says: God created the adam in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God is like the mirror: God remains the same, but reflects each of our images differently, men and women, young and old. This is why, when we study together, we can reveal different facets of the Torah to each other. Each of us is different reflection of the One.”

…They made a covenant with one another to return again and again to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to pray, to study and see the their faces in the basin made form their mirrors. And in that company Miriam was often heard to teach: On account of the one God’s many images is the Eternal called Adonai Tze’vaot, Lord of Hosts; and some say, Adonai Tzovot, God of the women who serve the Divine dwelling-place.
— Jill Hammer, “The Mirror”

This midrash can be found in All the Women Followed Her (see Source Materials for details) and in Sisters at Sinai.

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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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Tetzaveh: Great Source(s)

“And it [a robe hemmed with bells] shall be upon Aaron when he serves, so that its sound shall be heard when he comes into [v’nishma kolo b’bo-o] the sanctum before the Lord and when he goes out, that he shall not die.”
— Exodus/Shemot 28:31-38, Alter* translation [bracketed material added]

R. Simeon ben Yohai said: The man who enters his own house, or needless to say the house of his fellow man unexpectedly, the Holy One hates, and I too do not exactly love him.

Rav said: Do not enter your city nor even your own home unexpectedly [footnote: without informing your kin of your coming].

While R. Yohanan was about to go in to inquire about the welfare of R. Hanina, he would first clear his throat in keeping with “And his voice shall be heard when he goeth in [v’nishma kolo b’bo-o] ” (Exod. 28:35)
— Bialik & Ravnitsky, Sefer Ha-Aggadah* (citation to Lev Rabbah 21:8)

Alter notes: “In the ancient Near East, the inner sanctum was a dangerous place. Any misstep or involuntary trespass of the sacred paraphernalia could bring death…The sound of the ringing golden bells on Aaron’s hem goes before him as he enters the sanctum, serving an apotropaic function to shield him from harm in this zone of danger.”

Cassuto* says: “…shall be heard… for it is unseemly to enter the royal palace suddenly; propriety demands that the entry should be preceded by an announcement, and the priest should be careful not to go into the sanctuary irreverently. And likewise when he comes out, as he prostrates himself before departing, the sound of the bells, together with the act of prostration, will constitute a kind of parting blessing on leaving the sanctuary. Lest he die for not showing due reverence for the shrine.”

* See Source Materials for full citations. Note: Tetzaveh is also transliterated Tetsaveh or T’tzavveh.

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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 which 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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Terumah: Language and Translation

“And they shall make [v’asu (third person plural)] an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and cubit and a half high. Overlay [v’tzipita (second person masc. singular)]…Cast [v’yazkakta (second person masc. singular)] four gold rings… Make [v’asita (second person masc. singular)]…” — Exodus/Shemot 25:10-13

Why is the third person plural — “they shall make” — employed in verse ten while all the other verbs in making the Tabernacle and its accoutrements are second person masculine singular, as in “[you, male individual] make”?

Contemporary Translation

I don’t know of a commentary directly noting that use of the third person plural here has the effect, grammatically, of including males and females in construction of the all-important ark — and, by extension, Torah study and Torah implementation* — while the second person verb forms generally used in the tabernacle instructions, as throughout Exodus/Shemot, address a masculine singular “you.”

However, this week’s portion begins with “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts: you shall accept gifts for Me from every person [kol ish] whose heart is so moved” (Exodus 25:2). The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (TWC) ** notes here that later verses — Exodus/Shemot 35:22, 35:29 and 36:6 — explicitly include men and women, thus arguing for the translation as “every person,” rather than as the more usual “every man.”

In her “Post-Biblical Interpretations” in the same volume, Ruth Gais (rabbi of Chavurat Lamdeinu) also references comments from Ramban (aka Nachmanides, 13th Century CE) — see section below — on the involvement of “all Israel” in the work (see TWC, p. 468). In addition, however, Ramban comments on Exodus/Shemot 35:22 that the women actually went first, in the bringing of the gifts for the Tabernacle.

Ramban’s reading of the women’s precedence is based on another grammatical point. The text reads: “And they came [va’yabo-u], the men [ha-anashim] with/because of the women [al-nashim], all whose hearts moved them….”

Varieties of Traditional Readings

In her essay, “The ark and its poles,” (in New Studies in Exodus/Shemot), Nechama Leibowitz** explores the third-person-plural vs. second-person-singular topic. While she quotes her usual range of traditional and contemporary commentators, she minces no words in outlining her view of some:

As we have noted the slaving adherence to the literal wording of the text can often blind one to its real inner meaning. This, for instance, is what Ibn Ezra has to observe on the text:

Since the text originally stated: “they shall make Me a sanctuary,” it begins here with the wording; they shall make an ark”

Cassuto similarly observes in his commentary to Exodus (p. 328):

The reversion to the third person plural instead of the 2nd person singular is meant here to link up with the phrase: “the children of Israel shall make Me a sanctuary,” and, first of all, they shall make an ark.

We may justifiably wonder at these literalists…Does not the very faithfullest interpretation of the text, the plainest sense in its profoundest connotation, imply that here we have the singling out of the ark for a special role, the enlisting, in contrast to all the other appurtenances, of all Israel in its making? Must we not admit that the Midrash has plumbed the depths of the text’s plainest and literal sense?

Leibowitz quotes three midrashic sources:

1) R. Judah said in the name of R. Shalom: “Let all come and occupy themselves with the ark so that they should all qualify for the Torah.

2) Ramban (Nachmanides) explained that “all the Israelites should participate in the construction of the ark because of its supremely sacred role in housing the tablets of the Law,” through donation, direct help or “directing their minds to it.”

3) Or Ha-chayyim (Chayyim Ibn Atar, 18th Century CE) stresses that all Israel is required to complete the ark, just as no one Israelite alone can implement the whole Torah: Some laws pertain only to priests or Levites, for example, while a priest would not redeem his own firstborn.

In an endnote to the essay (not included in the on-line version), Leibowitz also quotes Midrash Tanchuma (early medieval commentary):

We find that when the Holy One Blessed be He instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle He used the expression ve-‘asita “thou shalt make” but with regard to [the ark] He said: ve-‘asu “they shall make.” Why? The Holy One Blessed be He wished to stress that the command applied to each and every Israelite alike. No one should have the excuse to say to his fellow: I contributed more to the ark. Therefore I study more and have a greater stake in it than you! (continued below*)

*Bonus Midrashic Note

Proving that the best stuff is often in the footnotes, the quote from Midrash Tanchuma continues:

For this reason the Torah is compared to water, as it is stated: “Ho, whoever is thirsty come to the water” (Isaiah 51:1). Just as no one is ashamed to ask his fellow to give him a drink so no one should be ashamed to ask his junior to teach him Torah. No one should be able to say: I am a Torah scholar and the Torah is my hereditary privilege because my ancestors too were scholars whereas you and your forbears were not scholars but were proselytes. That is why it is written (Deut. 33:4): “An inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.” Whoever is part of the congregation of Jacob including even proselytes who devote themselves to Torah — they are just as important as the High Priest (i.e., they acquire hereditary right by being included in the congregation.” — Leibowitz, New Studies in Exodus/Shemot, p.495

** Please see Source Material for complete translation and commentary citations.

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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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Terumah: A Path to Follow

As for the tabernacle, make [ta-aseh] it of ten strips of cloth; make these of fine twisted linen, of blue, purple, and crimson yards, with a design of cherubim worked into them….Five of the cloths shall be joined to one another. Make loops of blue wool…make fifty loops on one cloth, and fifty loops on the edge…And make fifty gold clasps, and couple the cloths to one another with the claps, so that the tabernacle becomes one whole. — Exodus/Shemot 26:1-5

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