Vayak’hel / Pekudei 5778 (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38)
Rabbi David Stav
In its description of the Israelites’ fundraising drive to supply the Tabernacle (Mishkan) with gold and silver for its vessels, the Torah specifies that Moses counted all of the contributions and calculated the sums so that no one would, God forbid, complain about a lack of transparency on the use of the donations.
Casting the silver sockets would cost one talent of silver, and the remaining sum (1775 silver shekels) was used to prepare the hooks for the poles. In the words of the Torah: “One hundred talents of the silver were used for casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets of the dividing curtain; one hundred sockets out of one hundred talents, one talent for each socket. And out of the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five [shekels], he made hooks for the pillars, and he covered their tops and banded them” [Ex. 38:27-28].
Later, the Torah lists the amount of copper collected, and how it was used for preparing the Tabernacle vessels – but the difference between the two descriptions is stark. In recounting how the copper was used, the Torah does not delve into finer details like how much it cost him to prepare the copper basin, or how much a copper socket cost. Here, the text is quite general, unlike the description of the preparation of the silver vessels, which specifies the exact cost of the hooks alongside the cost of the sockets. Why?
Our Sages tell us what lies behind these differences, which is truly dramatic. According to the Midrash, “Once the work of the Tabernacle was complete, he said to them: ‘Come, I shall prepare an account for you’. And Moses said to them: ‘These are the accountings of the tabernacle, this and that was spent on the Tabernacle…’” [Shemot Rabbah 51:6].
At first, Moses wanted to provide a detailed account of how the contributions were used, but something went wrong. “…As he sat and calculated, he forgot to take note of one thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five talents of silver he used to make the hooks for the poles.”
Moshe could not remember what happened to these 1,775 talents of silver. Where had they gone? And then, continues the Midrash: “… he began to sit and worry, saying: ‘Today, Israel will accuse me of stealing the silver!’”. Moses was worried that others would start complaining about him, claiming he had used the silver for himself.
God noticed Moses’ distress. “What did he do?”, asks the Midrash. “He prompted Moses to look up and notice the silver hooks, which He had fashioned from the silver talents.”
The Midrash does not explain why Moses forgot the silver hooks, specifically. The simple explanation is that these hooks were out of view, since they were located between the poles, and were designed to connect the poles. They were therefore less conspicuous as the other items in the Tabernacle, which explains why Moses had not paid attention to them.
Yet perhaps the Midrash is referring to something deeper. The Hebrew letter “vav” is usually used to link one person to another, or two different actions, and is thus called vav hahibur – the “linking vav”. Moreover, the Hebrew word vav, in contemporary usage, has an identical denotation: it means “hook”. We attach a hook to a wall so that we can hang clothes or other items on it that wouldn’t naturally be associated with that spot.
The act of linking is one of our most daunting challenges. Most of us prefer that with which we are familiar – or what we find convenient – and struggle to create genuine links between different things. When Moses calculates the Tabernacle expenses, he does not notice the links. He had presumably operated under the assumption that harmony has been achieved simply because all the vessels had been created. But this was not the case.
One tradition appearing in Jewish law is that every page of the Torah was worthy of beginning with the letter vav, as if to say that there are myriads of stories and commandments in the Torah, and we may sometimes ponder over this or that commandment or story, but we need to see the whole picture as an interconnected tapestry.
Likewise, the vav is supposed to form the link between Torah and the State of Israel: the army, society, the economy, social justice, and more. It is for good reason that in Gematria – Jewish numerology – the Hebrew word “vav” equals 12: the number of Israelite tribes. The link between the various tribes living in the modern State of Israel are the “pole sockets” of today.
This is a challenge that we tend to forget as we get preoccupied with the many divergent agendas and conflicts that envelope us. Different tribes live in this state, and what makes each group a tribe isn’t necessarily the ethnic makeup of its members, but rather how these individuals define their Israeli, Jewish and cultural identities.
The linking vav is not a melting pot vav, and it is not meant to blur boundaries. Rather, it is designed to let each individual feel that his or her identity does not fade because of a desire to connect to others. To the contrary – that is exactly why it is so vital. We wish to create a nation that can enable tribal identities, while fostering full accountability and a deep connection to Israeli society as a whole. We must aim to create “pole sockets” adapted to how society builds itself today.
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