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Shemot/Exodus 36:18 And he made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent to be one.
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Not much is said by the commentators, classic or modern, about the three chapters 36-38 that make up the bulk of this parasha. It is generally taken to be an abbreviated copy of chapters 25-27, switching the verbs from "and you shall make" to "and he made". This produces "a report of construction and not a building manual."1 This verse, in fact, is a perfect example. Working with the NJPS translation we have:
Exodus 26:11 Make fifty copper clasps, and fit the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together so that it becomes one whole.
Exodus 36:18 They made fifty copper clasps to couple the tent together so that it might become one whole.
Nevertheless, we can learn something important by considering the words carefully to understand both what was commanded and what was done. The opening verb is, in both cases, from the root , to make, do or perform. Here 'make' is obviously in view: the craftsmen are to manufacture fifty clasps to join the pieces of the tent together, in this case the curtains. The clasps themselves, or hooks in some translation, are , clasps of bronze, or copper in some translations. These two words form a construct - two adjacent nouns normally translated "the X of Y" - and although in this case the second (known grammatically as the absolute) is not definite, the first is in construct form and the words are linked with a mercha/tipcha pair of accents. The word comes from the root , to bend or stoop, giving the idea of a slightly open piece of chain link. The original command tells us that these claps were inserted into the fabric loops on the curtain edges to join the curtains together like a longitudinal seam along their edges. Each clasp is to be essentially the same - the same shape, size and strength - so that they are interchangeable. No instructions are given for sequencing or identifying any of the clasps so we assume that they are put on and taken off in random order each time.
is the Pi'el infinitive of the root , to be bound or joined together, so here "to join or attach". Nouns derived from the root are and , a male and female companion; also a , an association or company, perhaps better known today as a fellowship or study group, and its members: , study fellows. Known from the Mishnah as the group of people who would offer one Pesach sacrifice and hold their seder together in Second Temple times (m. Pesachim 7.13, 9.9), these have grown since the 1970s to range from social groups to independent minyanim and rabbinic study groups, often involving very tight and close sharing and relationships over several generations.
is the tent" - the Tent of Meeting. In both the command and the fulfillment, as well as other versess in this chapter,Targum Onkelos changes to the much more specific Aramaic , 'tabernacle'. Perhaps we can see this as a move towards seeing "the tabernacle" as more than just the tent, but the whole courtyard assembly. Although the Tent of Meeting contained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, accessible only to the priests and the High Priest respectively, as well as many of the significant items of furniture such as the Ark, the Menorah and the Incense Altar, the laver and the main altar were outside in the courtyard where much of the daily ritual was performed. Just as the clasps held the curtains together in the tent, so the tent held the courtyard together.
The last two words in the verse, , "to be one" - slightly different in the command text: , "and it shall be one" - give both the immediate and the larger purpose for the clasps: that the tent may be whole. The curtains are bound together as one piece so that they go on and off together whenever the Tabernacle journeys; that the curtains are one piece without any gaps; and that the tent has structural strength and stability. The word is the same word word used in the Sh'ma: "Hear, O Israel, the L-rd, your G-d, is one" (D'varim 6:4). An adjective, David Clines lists it as "one, whole, single, same"2 with its root meaning "to unite or be united" and many scholars describe it as a compound unity rather than a singularity. Clearly, the Tabernacle is built of many pieces - boards, pillars, curtains, hooks and sockets, covers and so on - which nevertheless make the composite unity of the whole; it is essentially indivisible.
Unity is a quality stressed by the Scriptures. The Psalmist notes how critical this is - "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1) - comparing that unity to the anointing oil running Aharon's beard and the dew settling on Mt. Hermon before locating it as the focus ofHaShem's blessing: "For there the L-RD has commanded the blessing, life for ever" (v. 3). Life in the olam haba, the world to come, is conditioned upon unity among G-d's people. That principle lies at the root of Jewish outreach, kiruv, where every grouping within modern Judaism - while criticising and bickering with each other - encourages Jews who are less religiously observant than themselves to become more observant and engaged with the Jewish people.
In the same way, Yeshua calls for His disciples to "love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34, ESV), conditioning the effectiveness of our witness on that unity: "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (v. 35, ESV). If we don't love one another - other disciples of Yeshua - as He loves us then the world will know about it and reject our witness to G-d's love as being essentially meaningless and false. Yeshua's words are echoed in different ways throughout the Apostolic writings: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8, ESV), "above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14, ESV) and "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22, ESV). The adherents of the thousands of Christian churches and denominations clearly have some work to do before Yeshua returns, so that He can "present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27, ESV). The church, Paul says, is the bride of Messiah, but He will have only one bride - one that is , together, despite being made of many parts.
Now we come to the crux of the matter and of our text. What about the clasps? Who are they and what do they do? Is this just all about curtains? In a word, the clasps are Messianic Jews, those Jewish believers in Yeshua who identify both as Jews and as disciples of Yeshua. They are the ones who, stooping and bending, humble themselves to hold together the different parts of G-d's people. With a foot in many camps, Messianic Jews bring the people of G-d together, whether Gentile believers in Jesus, Jewish believers in Yeshua or the non-Yeshua-believing Jewish world. Keeping Shabbat and the feasts, they develop close connections and relationships, through study and fellowship, through prayer and worship, building long-lasting multi-generational trust and conversations that open hearts and minds for both academic debate and personal sharing. Cross-community relationships bring strength and stability to G-d's people - like the braces and guy-ropes of a tent, holding the structure firm through assaults by wind and rain - anchoring the people in the word of G-d and the traditions of our people.
Working alongside Messianic Gentiles - those Gentile disciples of Yeshua who see G-d's vision and mission in these last days for bringing together Jew and Gentile to reveal the miracle of the One New Man (Ephesians 2:15) and to show the essential and inescapable role of Israel in fulfilling G-d's promises and plans for Yeshua's return - but formerly rejected as "outside the camp" by the institutional leaders of both the Church and the Synagogue, Messianic Jews are uniquely called to bring G-d's people together at this time. Pray for them and their work. Encourage them and open doors to enable access to your churches and congregations. Now is a moment when the Spirit is moving among G-d's people; they are the clasps, the joiners, who make us all one and increase strength and resilience across the bride of Messiah.
1. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 500.
2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 11.
Further Study: D'varim 28:8-10; Hebrews 13:1-6
Application: Are you a clasp or a loop, one of the essential connectors in the body of Messiah? Speak to the Master Craftsman today and see if he is to use you in a connecting or enabling role to bring unity among the people of G-d. Some bending or stooping may be required as we all grow together to become .
Comment - 18:24 20Feb22 Joshua VanTine: Another sterling drash fashioned to help us bend and stoop to greater heights for our King Moshiach Yeshua. A brilliantly crafted and challenging phrase that we must answer, "If we don't love one another - other disciples of Yeshua - as He loves us then the world will know about it and reject our witness to G-d's love as being essentially meaningless and false." May the Faithful One help us to be faithful ...
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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