Messianic Education Trust
(Ex 35:1 - 40:38)

Shemot/Exodus 39:3   And they beat sheets of the gold and cut strands to work into the midst of the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the finely twisted linen

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

This is part of the account of the making the ephod, one of the garments worn by the Cohen Gadol when serving in the Tabernacle. The opening word of the verse - , the Piel prefix 3mp form of the root verb , to beat, stamp, spread out - is, according to Nahum Sarna, a typically Egyptian process: beating or hammering gold over stone to make a very thin sheet so that it can then be finely cut to produce thread-like strips which can be worked in alongside other threads and materials in woven or embroidered work. The Sforno suggests that "the donors who contributed the gold for the priestly garments beat it into thin plates, preparing it for the craftsmen, who then cut thread from the beaten plates which had been contributed." The three colours - blue, purple and scarlet - appear throughout the Tabernacle and its furnishings: on the parokhet, curtain between the holy place and the most holy place. Now they are being used on the special garments worn by the High Priest when on duty.

Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi notices that the same verb appears is used by the Psalmist: "to him who spread out the earth above the waters" (Psalm 136:6, ESV), so explains that "this teaches you how they would spin the gold with the threads of other materials: beating thin plates, the cutting strands from them across the length of the plate." Making another textual connection, to Moshe's instructions that the copper fire-pans used for incense in Korah's rebellion are to be hammered to plates to cover the altar, Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch points out that that "the meaning of , 'sheets of gold', here and , 'sheets of metal' in B'Midbar 17:3 is clear and cannot be doubted."

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim's eye is caught by the second verb - , the Piel affix 3ms form of the root , "to cut off or cut up" - which has a masoretic note meaning that it appears twice in the Tanach: here "and he cut threads" and "And He snapped the spear" (Ps 46:10), There is also is one appearance of without the vav prefix, , "He snapped the cords of the wicked" (Ps 129:4). The Tur links these three together and concludes, "this implies that in the merit of the Tabernacle they would be able to prevail over their enemies and cut down their spears.

The Talmudic sages Rabbi Aha ben Jacob and Rabbi Ashi discuss the thickness of the threads and cords used for the priestly garment: "the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen"; the ratio of the gold threads to the various coloured and bleached or undyed threads in the cords to be spun for making the ephod: four kinds of material, each six-fold, amount to twenty-four threads, and of the gold, one thread to each of the six-fold threads of the four materials (b. Yoma 72a). Rashi summarises that "there was one thread of gold with six threads of turquoise yarn and so on with each other colour."

So much for the detail given by the text; that sounds quite complicated from just a few words, but a skilled craftsman used to working with such materials would understand it without difficulty. However, the Ramban says that this is highly unusual: "In all the sacred work that was done, Scripture did not add an explanation as to the method of execution except for here. It should rather have said: 'and they made the ephod of gold, and blue-purple etc., the work of a skilful workman; they made shoulder-pieces for it etc.,' for such is the way it describes all of them." In no other case is the craft process described by which the manufacture of the Tabernacle was accomplished. Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides speculates that "it is possible that Scripture relates here how it was made because of the original thought that they had to put into making the gold threads, for they were greatly astonished that the gold should be spun and twined as is done with wool or linen, for no-one ever heard of doing such a thing until that day." The instructions Moshe gave them were simple: "They shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, worked into designs" (Shemot 28:6), but contained no design and assembly instructions. Anyone who has bought a pattern to make a dress, a skirt or a pair of trousers knows that you need more than just a picture of the garment and a list of the material; the packet contains not only pattern pieces to cut the material, usually in a number of sizes, but also detailed instructions as to which order to assemble the pieces and the type and style of stitching required for the different seams. Since it is not specified anywhere in the Torah, where did Betzalel, Ohaliab and their skilled workers get this knowledge for each garment and the detailed material specifications? In order to produce the garments, they had to add their own skills, abilities and experience. In other words, although The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem showed Moshe the plans of the Tabernacle on Mt. Sinai, it needed human input and skills to fabricate those plans and bring them to reality down here on earth.

From this we learn three important things. Firstly, Scripture - and therefore G-d Himself, even today - is not totally prescriptive. G-d does not give minute manufacturing or procedural instructions on every occasion for every task. Whilst He might, for His own good purposes, in unusual circumstances, specify the order, in the vast majority of cases He really doesn't mind if we put the milk into the cup and then pour the tea, or pour the tea first and then add the milk; the desired outcome is just a cup of tea. He doesn't mind whether we have white coffee, coffee with milk, Cafè au lait or even Coffee Light (if in NYC). Look at Yeshua's instructions about relationships: "If you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24, CJB). The objective is "make peace"; how we do this - whether verbally (in person or by 'phone), sending a text, a bouquet of flowers - is entirely up to us and the circumstances; just do it. Even Yeshua's challenge to the rich young ruler is not prescriptive: "Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven" (Luke 18:22, CJB). It doesn't matter to whom he sells his stuff, for how much he sells it, whether he goes for the best price or a quick sale, or even whether he just gives his stuff directly to the poor so that they sell it; what matters is that he disposes of his assets without retaining any for himself, so that he is free to follow Yeshua. Provided that we only choose between righteous alternatives, most often - unless explicitly stipulated (and it does happen, sometimes) - we are called to the end and the means is up to us.

Secondly, we need to re-learn that man was made "in the image of G-d" (B'resheet 1:27) and that when the job was done, G-d declared it to be not just good, but "very good" (1:31). The Hebrew words used by HaShem, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (1:26, JPS) here are - image, shadow, model, drawing - and - pattern, form or shape. While this does not mean that we can do anything G-d can do - we cannot, for example, create ex nihilo - it does mean that we have skills, abilities, talents, creativity, imagination and other G-d-given attributes that, because they come from G-d are good. A fine piece of wood carving, bringing out all the natural colour and contrast of the grain; a "Old Master" oil painting; a Bach concerto, a Chopin étude or a Beethoven symphony; these are not just good, they are very good and they celebrate the goodness of G-d's original creation. Finely tuned management or personnel skills, able to motivate, empower and value workers or volunteers without manipulating them; precision surgery for life-saving transplant operations; driving a taxi in Paris, Rome or Tel Aviv; these are also very good (if not apparently miraculous). Man may need redemption and forgiveness, to come into relationship with G-d in Messiah Yeshua, but he brings with him the innate attributes of G-d with which he was created, however badly marred. These can all be lovingly restored by the Creator's hands and employed in the kingdom of G-d for His righteousness and glory.

Lastly, we need to realise that we cannot just sit on our hands and wait for G-d to drop everything into our laps; often we have to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, do the work and make something according to our best guess at His specification using nothing more than our native wit and intelligence in order to get the job done. By this too He is glorified!

Further Study: 1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Colossians 3:16-17

Application: Are you a perfectionist, always striving to do exactly what G-d wants, when and where He tells you, or are you able to enjoy the freedom of knowing G-d's pleasure in you as you serve Him?

© Jonathan Allen, 2015

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