Rabbi Bernard Fox
“Every talented individual among you shall come and make all that Hashem has commanded.” (Shemot 35:10)
Beginning in Parshat Treumah, the Torah deals with the construction of the Mishcan. However, Parshat VaYakhel represents a transition in the discussion. To this point, the Torah describes instructions that Hashem gave to Moshe. Now, the focus of the Torah’s discussion changes. The Torah describes Moshe’s presentation of the instructions to Bnai Yisrael and the actual construction and assembly of the Mishcan.
In our pasuk, Moshe addresses the nation. He calls on all the talented craftsmen to join in this endeavor. In the following passages, Moshe provides a general description of the project. He lists the components that will be created and assembled. Why does Moshe provide this inventory of the items to be created? It would seem more appropriate for Moshe to list the skills that are required!
Nachmanides offers an interesting response. He explains that Moshe was commanded to do this. The individual craftsmen were not fit to participate in the project until each knew the breadth of the project and an outline of its details. Each was required to understand the entire project and perceive the manner in which it would be accomplished.
This seems to be a strange requirement. Most of these participants had a specific role in the construction of the Mishcan. Some craftsmen created the curtains. Others fashioned the upright boards that supported the tent. Another group was metal workers. They fashioned the sockets into which these boards were fitted. It is reasonable that each worker should understand his task. However, why should each be required to grasp the entire project?
In order to explain Nachmanides’ comments, it is important to appreciate that the Mishcan was constructed as an integrated whole. The identity of Mishcan did not emerge with the assembly of the components. Instead, each component was created as part of the entity of Mishcan. This entity includes the structure of the Mishcan and the vessels within. Therefore, in creating a socket, the craftsman was not fashioning a mere insignificant item that upon assembly would become part of the Mishcan. At the time of creation, he was fashioning a portion of the integrated Mishcan.
We can now understand Nachmanides’ observation. It is obvious that in order for a craftsman to participate in this project, he must be qualified to execute his responsibility. His responsibility was not to merely create a socket or weave a curtain. His job was to create the socket or curtain as part of the Mishcan. There is a major difference between these two responsibilities. In order to create a socket, the craftsman need only understand the design specifications of the socket. He does not need to understand or appreciate the entire project and the role of his socket within the whole. However, to create a socket that is an integrated component of a Mishcan, a far more imposing qualification is requisite. The craftsman must understand the entire project and the role of the socket within the entirety. With this broader and more comprehensive knowledge, he can execute his responsibility. He can create a socket that is part of the integrated whole. This is the reason Moshe described to the craftsmen the entire project. Only after mastering this description were the craftsmen qualified to participate in the project.
Nachmanides observes that this insight explains another set of passages. In Parshat Pekudey, the Torah describes the presentation of the components of the Mishcan to Moshe. The Torah recounts in detail the order in which the components were presented. What is the purpose of this elaborate account? Nachmanides explains that the account of the presentation demonstrates that the craftsmen understood the relationship of the various components within the whole of the Mishcan. Each component was presented in the proper order in relation to the other parts. In other words, this account demonstrates that the craftsmen succeeded in fashioning the components as part of an integrated whole.
“And the men came with the women. Every charitable person brought bracelets, earrings, rings, and body ornaments. All were objects of gold. There were also all those who brought offerings of gold to Hashem.” (Shemot 35:22)
This is a difficult pasuk to translate. The above translation interprets the passage to mean that their husbands accompanied the women. Why was this necessary? Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin ZTL (Netziv) explains that the property donated by the women often required the acquiescence of the husband. In order to assure that both parties agreed to the donation, the husband came with his wife.
Meshech Chachmah offers another explanation. His comments are based upon a more literal interpretation of the pasuk. Literally translated, the pasuk indicates that the jewelry was brought while still worn by the women. The procedure used for donating this jewelry was unusual. A woman would come to the collection point wearing her jewelry. When the woman arrived, the jewelry would be removed and donated to the construction of the Mishcan. Why was this odd procedure required?
Meshech Chachmah begins by explaining that these contributions were collected after the sin of the Egel HaZahav – the creation and worship of the golden calf. A review of that incident will help answer our question.
Bnai Yisrael were distraught with the fear that Moshe had died on Mount Sinai. The people came to Ahron and asked him to create an idol. The idol would act as an intermediary between the nation and Hashem. Rashi explains that Ahron knew that Moshe would return. He hoped to delay the people until Moshe descended. He told the people to bring him the jewelry from their wives and children. Ahron reasoned that the owners of these valuables would resist. This was a miscalculation. Our Sages explain that the women did not willingly contribute their jewelry. But their husbands forcibly removed these valuables from their wives. The gold was quickly collected and donated for the creation of the Egel.
An object that has been consecrated to idolatry becomes prohibited. It can no longer be used for any purpose. This prohibition applies once some act has been performed upon the object to associate it with idolatry. A verbal declaration has no effect in prohibiting the object. However, the Meshech Chachmah maintains that a verbal declaration will render the object unfit for use in the Mishcan.
This law created a problem. How could Moshe accept any jewelry for the Mishcan? The possibility existed that this jewelry had previously been committed to be used in creating the Egel. Even a verbal declaration would disqualify the object for use in the Mishcan!
The solution required identifying those women who had successfully resisted their husbands. This was done by requiring the jewelry to be brought while still worn. A woman came to the donation point wearing the valuable she wished to donate. This indicated that her husband had not been successful in securing the object for use in creating the Egel.
“And he made the sacred oil for anointing and the pure incense using the technique of a perfumer.” (Shemot 37:29)
In VaYakel and Pekuday the Torah retells the construction of the Mishcan and the vestments of Kohanim and the Kohen Gadol. Virtually every element is described in specific detail. However, there are two notable exceptions. These are the items mentioned in our pasuk.
The Shemen HaMishchah was the oil used for anointing the Kohanim and the Mishcan. This anointing was part of the process of conferring sanctity on these individuals and the Mishcan. The instructions for the creating of the oil are outlined in Parshat Ki Tisa. There, the Torah explains that the Shemen HaMishchah was created through introducing specific fragrances into pure olive oil.
The Ketoret was an incense burned in the Mishcan. In Parshat Ki Tisa, the Torah discusses the compounding of the Ketoret. The Torah lists the elements contained in the Ketoret and their proportions. The parasha also describes the preparation of the incense.
In our Torah portion, the manufacture of these two items is not recounted at length. Our passage contains the entire discussion. The Torah merely states that these items were created as required.
The question is obvious. Our Torah portion discusses the manufacture of the Mishcan and the garments. The instructions for the creation of the Mishcan and the garments were previously provided, in detail, by the Torah. Nonetheless, in our portion the Torah meticulously describes the actual manufacture. Yet, the Ketoret and the Shemen HaMishchah are excluded from this review! Why are these items not reviewed in our Torah portion?
Rabbaynu Avraham ben HaRambam offers a fascinating response. He explains that the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketoret differed from the other items described in the parasha. These two items were highly processed. The finished product did not resemble the original components. The Shemen HaMishchah was created through burning the various fragrances. The oil then absorbed the smoke from the fragrances. The final product did not include the substance of the original aromatic elements. Only their fragrance remained in the oil. The Ketoret was created through thoroughly grinding the original elements. The individual elements could not be identified in the final compound. Rabbaynu Avraham posits that because the original elements of these two items were not identifiable in the final product, their manufacture is not described in detail.
Rabbaynu Avraham's response requires analysis. He presents a fundamental distinction between the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketoret as compared with the other elements of the Mishcan and the garments. However, a question still remains. Why is this distinction important? Why does the Torah only review the manufacture of items in which the constituent components remain evident?
It seems that the purpose of our Torah portion is to communicate a visual image of the components of the Mishcan and the garments of the Kohanim. This is accomplished through describing their manufacture. Describing the manufacture of the Ketoret and the Shemen HaMishchah would not contribute to creating a visual image of these items in their final form. Therefore, the creation of these items is not discussed in detail.
This insight helps resolve another issue. The Torah describes the construction of the Mishcan and the garments in excruciating detail. We now know that this was done to create a visual image. Why is this image necessary?
The Torah includes six hundred thirteen mitzvot. Most apply at all times. However, the mitzvot relating to the Mishcan are an exception. The Mishcan and the Temple do not currently exist. Exile from the land of Israel and the destruction of the Temple deprived these mitzvot of their physical expression. As a consequence of exile an important portion of the Torah does not exist in material form. These mitzvot will not be fulfilled again until the rebuilding of the Temple.
This creates a paradox. The taryag mitzvot – the six hundred thirteen commandments – are eternal. They must be real to every generation. How can the mitzvot related to the Mishcan remain alive even when there is no Bait HaMikdash. The Torah addresses this problem. These mitzvot are preserved through creating a detailed visualization. The Mishcan does not exist in physical form. However, it is still real to the student reading the Torah. In this manner these mitzvot are preserved for all times.