Friday, February 25, 2011

Neat literary stuff in and around Vayakhel

A few weeks ago, at parshas Trumah, I blogged about the network of parallels identified by Martin Buber between the language and terms used to describe the building of the sanctuary, and the words used in Genesis for the creation of the world. See it here.

During my review of Vayakhel, I came across some others.
  • There are two creation stories; likewise there are two Mishkan building stories.
  • In the first creation story, we're told "God Said X... and X was so." This roughly corresponds with the description in parshas Trumah (and God said) and in Vyakhel/Pekudei (and Moshe did it)

As interpreted by the Rabbis, aspects of the mishkan also correspond with the sin of the golden calf (which makes sense, as the gold of one is said to atone for the gold of the other)
  • According to one midrash, Aaron created the golden calf simply by throwing a bundle of gold into a fire.
  • Another midrash tells us Bezalel used the same method to create the menorah 
And still others which tie together creation, the mishkan and the golden calf.
  • When Adam sins, the punishment is expulsion, and he's is banished from God's presence; when Israel sins with the calf, God banishes Himself from Israel's presence. 
  • Following Adam's sin, God creates the Sabbath, a sanctification of time; following Israel's sin with the calf, God orders Israel to create the Mishkan, a sanctification of space.
Additionally Shabbos and Mishkan are mentioned together in at least three spereate instances, and even Moshe's speech at the beginning of Vayakhel about constructing the Mishkan digresses into a discussion of shabbos, with the only Sabbath law specifically mentioned being the ban on kindling fire (see the menorah and the calf above.)

One of the Hasidic masters of hermeneutics (forget who) has a homily that ties all these stray correlations into a neat bow, and suggests that what Moshe was trying to do with the Mishkan was bring things back to how they were before the golden calf sin  (whatever that means). He suggests, also, that shabbos, and its santification of time, corrected Adam's sin in the way that the Mishkan, and its sanctification of space, corrected Israel's sin. Like I said: hermeneutics.

We also see hints of an envelope structure* in the verses and in the interpretations
  • When God settles on the mountain at the Revelation, he is described as appearing in a fire and cloud. He does this again at the end of the story, this time settling on the Mishkan.
  • At the end of His six days of labor, God blesses the creation; when the Mishkan is finished Moshe blesses the people. 
  • When Exodus begins, the women are giving birth and the children of Israel are multiplying. In Vayakhel, Rashi cleverly hearkens back to this event by reading a noun that means "throngs" as a verb that means "produced the throngs". 
The verse reads:
וַיַּ֗עַשׂ אֵ֚ת הַכִּיֹּ֣ור נְחֹ֔שֶׁת וְאֵ֖ת כַּנֹּ֣ו נְחֹ֑שֶׁת בְּמַרְאֹת֙ הַצֹּ֣בְאֹ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֣ר צָֽבְא֔וּ פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מֹועֵֽד׃
And he made the laver of bronze and the foot of it of bronze of the mirrors of the tzovos that tzav'u at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

The verb tsaz'u means either "performed a service" or "made up a crowd" and the various English translations take it both ways. If we read it as "made up a crowd" for both the verb  tzav'u  and the noun tzovos the verse becomes "from the mirrors of the crowds of women who crowded at the entrance" (the noun tzovos is feminine; had the crowd been a crowd of men it would have been tsovim) Rashi vocalizes tsovos as a verb giving us "from the mirrors that produced the crowds that crowded at the entrance."

What Rashi has in mind is a famous Midrash about mirrors in which the women of Israel took it upon themselves to seduce their worn-out, enslaved husbands thereby guaranteeing the survival of the Jewish people. In the Midrash the women don't use the mirrors to make themselves beautiful but to flirt with their husbands and increase desire. These are the mirrors that "produced the crowds" that now gather in their myriads outside the Tent of Meeting. In another midrash, verses in Song of Songs are (quite cleverly) seen as allusions to this seduction.

*When themes, ideas or words introduced at the beginning are brought back at the end

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