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Shemot/Exodus 36:8 And all the wise of heart among those doing the work made the Tabernacle ... the work of an artist - he made them.
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The verb , "to do or make", is a key to this verse; it appears four times: , Qal 3mp prefix, vav-conversive, "and they made"; , Qal participle mp construct with prefix, "among those doing"; , ms noun construct, "the work"; and finally, , Qal 3ms affix, "he made". This verse is all about 'making' or 'doing' and comes at the start of the narrative describing the making of the Tabernacle. It is interesting that when Moshe is instructed to set the construction of the Tabernacle and its furniture and equipment in hand, he is given the sequence: ark, furnishings, Tabernacle. During the account of the construction, the sequence is modified to: Tabernacle, ark, furnishings. The Sages of the Talmud imagine Betzalel asking Moshe, "As a rule a man first builds a house and then brings vessels into it; but you say, 'Make me an ark and vessels and a tabernacle.' Where shall I put the vessels that I am to make? Can it be that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to you, 'Make a tabernacle, an ark and vessels?'" (b. Berachot 55a). This demonstrates Betzalel's wisdom, described in the previous chapter: "And Moshe said to the Israelites: See, the L-RD has singled out by name Betzalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood -- to work in every kind of designer's craft -- and to give directions" (Shemot 35:30-34, JPS).
Why does our verse start with a plural verb for those who are doing the work of the Tabernacle - "and they made" whereas at the end of the verse it switches to a singular verb: "he made them"? Umberto Cassuto suggests that this is a literary convention: once in full and then in abbreviation: "In this paragraph, since it is the first to describe the work, the opening sentence is characterised by a longer and more detailed formulation: 'And all the wise-hearted men among the workmen ...'; whereas in the succeeding paragraphs the phrasing is simpler: 'And he made', 'And they made', and once (37:1) 'And Betzalel made'"1. This doesn't entirely help us here in this verse however: the Hebrew , "and he made" and , "and they made", are only one letter different in length. In this verse the affix singular , "he made" is the same number of letters as the affix plural , "they made". There must be a more compelling reason.
RabbiHirsch proposes that the choice of verbs is due to Betzalel: "The singular here and in the following verses refers to Betzalel to whom the supreme direction of the whole work was entrusted." He has already explained that " is used to express not only actually doing but also the directing, ordering and guiding production of a work." This matches Shemot 35:34 (above) and is confirmed by Nahum Sarna who adds, "They [Betzalel and Oholiab] are endowed with the ability to instruct others, which is a divinely bestowed gift". Ibn Ezra notes that "there are many scholars who are incapable of teaching". Hirsch seems to be saying that because Betzalel is leading the team, both in technical skills and project management, then everything is credited to him because he is responsible for the whole work. However, that counters Cassuto's argument above that sometimes "and they made" is used. How else can this be explained?
Another suggestion made by a number of commentators, Jewish and Christian, both for this instance and a number of similar occasions when a clearly plural entity is addressed with a singular verb - for example, the Sh'ma, D'varim 6:4, "Hear, O Israel ..." - is that the people involved all performed the action or said the words as one; they worked as one, they spoke as one, as if one person. According to this proposal, the use of a singular verb alone for an ostensibly plural group, or a plural verb followed by a singular verb in the same verse or context, emphasises unity. Conversely, the use of a singular verb followed by a plural verb shows that a potentially unified group acted in a non-uniform way. For example, when the fire fell on Mt. Carmel to consume Elijah's sacrifice, the text records: "And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, 'The L-RD, He is G-d; the L-RD, He is G-d'" (1 Kings 18:39, ESV). The verb 'saw' is singular, because all the people saw the fire fall, there was no mistaking that. The verbs "they fell" and "they said" are plural, because not everyone wanted to fall on their face or admit thatHaShem is G-d. We can imagine that some dropped to the floor immediately and shouted their confession, some hesitated but then followed everyone else, some probably looked around over their shoulders in the hope that a few other people might still hold out for Ba'al and then reluctantly dropped down and mumbled the words in a half-hearted way.
Here, as the subjects are the wise of heart, who have volunteered their services for the construction of the Tabernacle, we can assume that this is an expression of unity: the workmen all did their work perfectly, so that there was no differences between the ten curtains that were made; the designs, colouring, figures, shapes and dimensions all matched exactly. Hirsch, speaking of what he sees as the power of the symbols in the sanctuary and the need for each of the craftsmen working on the project to understand the intention to glorify HaShem, to point to Him and to magnify Him in every detail, claims that "both at the making, as well as at the delivering, and finally at the assembling and erecting, the holy and symbolic meaning and purpose of each and every part which made up the whole edifice was present and vivid in the minds of the workers and Moshe, so that each part and the whole was made, delivered and set up in the spirit of its purpose, and so the symbolic character and meaning of the whole edifice and every part of it was vindicated."
Working from the premise that "the jealousy of scribes increases wisdom" (b. Bava Batra 21a), theBaal HaTurim notes that the word appears three times in the Tanakh: here, "do not be envious of those who do wrong" (Psalm 37:1, NIV), and "The face of the L-RD is against those who do evil" (Psalm 34:17, ESV). "Of whom should be jealous?", he asks; "Of those included in 'the wise of heart doing the work'". The wise of heart will be working together, quietly getting on with the work of the kingdom, building up the saints and generating a reputation and credibility for Yeshua. Rarely is it trumpeted by the media, or in the public spotlight, but their work is good; people come to faith in Yeshua, the sick are healed and broken hearts are bound up, evil is exposed and overcome, G-d's name is lifted up and people receive a witness of the truth.
Rav Sha'ul writes to the Corinthians, urging them to work "together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of G-d in vain ... giving no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of G-d; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:1,3-10, NASB). These are the ones who steadfastly persist in following Yeshua, no matter the opposition or resistance; they take the good with the bad, receiving everything as from the hand of G-d, knowing that in G-d's grace and time, He will cause "all things to work together for good to those who love G-d, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, NASB).
We have to do more than simply envy the wise of heart. We need to join them in their labours; we need to educate our hearts to be wise and to answer the call of G-d to press on with the kingdom business that has never been more urgent: announcing the kingdom of G-d and inviting people to enter it and come into a living relationship with G-d through Yeshua. This is wisdom - investing our lives in G-d's business, knowing that our investment cannot fail for He is faithful and true.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Acts 11:20-24; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Application: Have you joined in with the work of the kingdom, investing your life in G-d's plans and purposes? Speak to a kingdom broker today and see how you can get involved and answer G-d's call on your life.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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