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Shemot/Exodus 35:25 And every woman who was wise in heart spun with her hands and they brought yarn
In this parasha, "And he assembled," Moshe gathers the whole community of Israel and deliversHaShem's instructions to them for building the Tabernacle and all its furniture: its sacred items, vessels and accessories. Although Moshe has heard the instructions and seen the plans twice, with the incident of the Golden Calf in between, this is the first time the people have heard the twin invitations to bring and to build. After reminding the people to observe Shabbat faithfully - for even the building of the Tabernacle is to be punctuated each week by Shabbat, the one-in-seven day of rest for the whole community - Moshe invites the people to "Take from among you gifts to the L-RD; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them -- gifts for the L-RD" (Shemot 35:5, NJPS) and "let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the L-RD has commanded" (v. 10, NJPS). This is a voluntary offering of both materials and labour; only those whose hearts stir them are to give, and only those with wisdom and skill are to do the work.
The community withdrew to consider their position and how they would respond. Then the text tells us that "everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the L-RD his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting" (v. 21, NJPS). We read that "men and women, all whose hearts moved them ... came bringing (v. 22, NJPS) gold, silver, coloured yarns, skins and wood; all the materials that were needed for the Tabernacle construction project. The leaders and elders of the tribes brought precious stones, spices and oil. In fact, "the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the L-RD, through Moshe, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the L-RD" (v. 29, NJPS). So much so that in just the next chapter, the in-house quantity surveyors reported that "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the L-RD has commanded to be done" (36:5, NJPS) and Moshe had to tell the people to stop.Nechama Leibowitz comments that, "all classes and sections of the people - men, women, the leaders and wisehearted - were united in 'bringing' - a word recurring in one form or another nine times in the chapter."
In between these accounts of corporate and individual generosity, we find two verses that are quite different: our text above and the following verse relating that "all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats' hair" (35:26, NJPS). The main flow of the Torah goes on, in the next chapter, to tell us how all the materials were handed over to Bezalel, Oholiab and all the skilled craftsmen under their supervision to carry out the skilled artisanship needed to fashion the tent, the fixings, the furniture and all the ancillary paraphernalia. Why do these two verses seem out of time, introducing a labour component into the middle of the text describing the material donations? Perhaps the answer is that although the verses before and after list things that people brought; our text and the following verse talk about people doing something. As RabbiHirsch explains, "while the men brought wool as raw material, or spun by others, [the women] eagerly took on themselves to spin, and were happy to be able to do something with their own hands for the work of the Sanctuary." Building the Tabernacle required more than the nuts and bolts; it required skilled and intentional labour.
Let's have a close look at what the text tells us about the women. The verse opens with - a two word construct joined with the maqqef bar/hyphen indicator. is a frequently used word most often meaning 'all', but also 'each' or 'every'. The second phrase, , is another two word construct meaning "wisdom of heart". This qualifies the first phrase to describe the women: they had wise hearts, or wisdom in their hearts. The next word - - is the noun , hand, with a plural ending and a 3fs possessive suffix, making "in her hands", and the last word in the first part of the verse is the verb - the Qal affix 3cp form of the root , to spin (Davidson). Putting that together tells us that every woman who had wisdom in her heart spun with her hands. So just as not every man is Israel brought an offering, so not every woman in Israel spun yarn. The last two words of the text (although not the verse) are a verb - , the Hif'il prefix 3cp form of the root , to bring, so "and they brought" - and a noun, , which is derived from the 'spin' verb above, meaning 'yarn' or 'thread'. Essentially, the women spun wool into yarn and brought that as their offering; the offering was the action of spinning, rather than the material from or into which it was spun. The Ba'al HaTurim says that since the women were now wise, "they were granted life. This is implied by the verse, 'wisdom preserves the life of him who has it' (Ecclesiastes 7:12, ESV)".
The ancient sages pondered about this narrative - relating the bringing by the wise for the building of the Tabernacle - following the narrative of the Golden Calf in the previous parasha. In both cases, the people gave their gold: "Rabbi Yehuda ben Pazi said in the name of Rabbi: Can we read these verses and not shudder? For good: 'every willing heart brought' (Shemot 35:22) [for the tabernacle]; for evil: 'all the people broke off' (32:3) [for the calf]" (y. Shekalim 1:1). The texts certainly show that in the case of the calf, "all the people tore off [from the root , to tear off, pull away, break (Davidson)] the gold rings which were in their ears" (32:3, NASB), while in the case of Tabernacle, the Torah talks of an "elevation offering of gold to the L-RD ... brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants -- gold objects of all kinds" (35:22, NJPS). The former is quick, careless and impulsive; the latter is methodical, careful and intentional. That is why the people initially withdrew after Moshe's invitation, to consider what response they wholeheartedly wanted to make. Nechama Leibowitz helps us here by explaining that "the making of the calf involved no more that a 'breaking off', a breaking loose from the bonds of self-discipline. The making of the sanctuary, on the other hand, called for self-discipline, the acceptance of the yoke of heaven. This challenge was not taken up with alacrity and did not involve 'all the people.'"
Rav Sha'ul catches the measure of these gifts for the Tabernacle when he teaches the believers in Corinth about their giving. Notice first that he is not instructing them to give, either to him or for the support of the community in Jerusalem; he is teaching them about their attitude and how they should think of their giving. So he writes, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7, ESV). I am not beating you up about this, he tells them, and neither is G-d. What is given to G-d needs to be a deliberate, measured, reasoned, intentional act that won't cause regrets on the part of the giver or the receiver. Are you ever in a service or meeting where an offering is announced, then exalted, then cajoled and, finally, extracted? Does the preacher make you feel guilty before you've even got your wallet out because you haven't already decided to put its entire contents into the plate? Under such circumstances, it is time to put your wallet firmly away, with all its contents and, if possible, leave the meeting. That is not the Spirit of G-d speaking.
In our text, the women did what they could and what they were good at doing. They might not have material to give, so - because they wanted to give something, to be a part of the project - they gave of their labour and skills instead. Just as it took more than 'stuff' to build the Tabernacle, so it takes more than money to build any work of the kingdom of G-d today. Sha'ul recognised that when he wrote, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have" (8:12, ESV). Gifts of time, be that baby-sitting or child-minding so that someone else can attend a meeting, cleaning and housekeeping in the building the community uses, skilled labour in building or constructing furniture or fittings for the sanctuary, repairing torn curtains and hangings - these are all pleasing and acceptable to our G-d and are not to be despised by any man.
But Sha'ul's words also have another point that we need to consider: giving from debt. G-d accepts whatever we have, if we give with the right attitude, even if it is nothing. Do you have to juggle your giving each month according to what you can fit in your credit card limit? If you are not clearing your card each month, so that what you give actually comes from yourself and not from your card-lender, then think again. To give - either in cash or on a card - from a position of debt is a matter of bad stewardship. Not only will you regret the gift in a number of ways, because it couldn't be more or because of the length of time it will take you to repay it to the lender, but you are wasting kingdom resources on interest payments and there is the risk that you will find yourself trying to buy G-d's favour with someone else's money!
Further Study: Luke 21:1-4; Colossians 3:23-24
Can you hear the hearts of the women who spun the yarn; can you see their
desire to participate in the work of the kingdom with what they had and could
give? Then, as Yeshua said to the lawyer who asked about who his neighbour
was, "Go and do likewise!" (Luke 10:37).
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.