By Rabbi Avraham Chaim Carmell
As we ‘foretold’… Here is another article from the bad guys, interspersed with some comments (not enough, but it’s a start):
“They hammered out the sheets of gold and he cut threads to weave into the blue wool…” (Shemos 39:3). The Ramban notes that the Torah singles out this one detail of craftsmanship for special mention.
Twice the Torah juxtaposes Shabbos with the instructions for building the Mishkan (ibid 31:12-17; 35:1-3). Chazal teach us that we learn from this that any type of creative act that was required to prepare the materials or construct the Mishkan is included in the list of thirty-nine melachos forbidden on Shabbos. Since the Torah writes, “Do not do any type of work [on Shabbos]” (ibid 20:10), it follows that all and any category of significant work was included in building the Mishkan. The final product was the ultimate in consecrating the entire range of human ingenuity toward creating a sanctuary for the Shechinah.
Yet out of all the numerous arts and crafts that the workmen employed, the Torah describes only the above technology of creating gold thread. What was so unique about it? The Ramban suggest that the idea of using gold as thread was an entirely new concept that was invented specially to make the garments of the Kohanim. This apparently was a two-stage process. The Seforno notes that the passuk begins, “they hammered”, and continues “he cut”. He explains that the donors prepared the gold sheets, while Betzalel cut the sheets into threads just the right width to blend well with the different color wools and linen.
To explain the significance of this let us turn to a verse in parashas Vayakhel. When the artisans told Moshe that within two days the Yidden had donated more than enough for all the work, Moshe issued an announcement: “No man or woman should do any more work (melachah) toward the donation for the Sanctuary. And the people stopped bringing” (ibid 36:6).
The Ramban interprets the word melachah not to mean work, since the people were only bringing materials. Rather, it means possessions, as Yaakov said to Esav, “I will go slowly to the pace of the possessions (hamelachah) before me” (Bereishis 33:14), or the guardian who swears that he did not stretch out his hand to his friend’s property (meleches re’eihu) (Shemos 22:7).
Why does Lashon Hakodesh refer to possessions as “work”? The message may be to teach us that ownership is not an end in itself. Amassing wealth is a self-imposed plague mankind has adopted, wasting divinely imbued faculties in futile pursuit of having more possessions to worry about (Avos 2:8). Our very language tells us that whatever we own is for a purpose to do something useful with it. Possessing money, gold and silver is of value to the extent that they can be used to do melachah. Rashi (ibid) translates melachah as moving forward, from the root halichah. We must ask ourselves to what extent do our possessions contribute toward our moving forward in the purpose of our lives?
So Lashon Hakodesh refer to possessions as “work” to tell us ownership is not an end in itself? Wrong! The true reason, Hamodia commies to the contrary, is wealth rarely comes down directly from chance, impersonal sky (which might necessitate fair division among all). People generally earn money by doing melacha, or “work”, foreign as that may seem to those accustomed to living off their neighbors’ stolen taxes (via Misrad Hadatot). See too Shmuel A 25:2 “Uma’asehu”:
ואיש במעון ומעשהו בכרמל והאיש גדול מאד ולו צאן שלשת אלפים ואלף עזים ויהי בגזז את צאנו בכרמל. ושם האיש נבל…
“Amassing wealth is a self-imposed plague mankind has adopted, wasting divinely imbued faculties in futile pursuit of having more possessions to worry about (Avos 2:8).”
Huh. I never read Avos that way (the citation is wrong; he presumably means “מרבה נכסים מרבה דאגה”). The writer is clueless about economics (the profit motive, law of supply, demand, exchange, “agglomeration economy”, etc.), as they all are.
“Possessing money, gold and silver is of value to the extent that they can be used to do melachah. Rashi (ibid) translates melachah as moving forward, from the root halichah. We must ask ourselves to what extent do our possessions contribute toward our moving forward in the purpose of our lives?”
“Ibid” meaning Genesis 33:14 – irrelevant here. He now distorts Rashi to destroy the very building blocks of humanity. Rabbi Carmell confuses Chemda with Ta’ava. Chemda, as the Gra explains, is for a real thing, just overdone, while Ta’ava is just imagination.
Rav Dessler, zt”l, used to note that Lashon Hakodesh has no word for “mine”. We say “sheli” – that [which pertains] to me. In Rav Dessler’s language, possessions are keilim, wherewithals with which to carry out our mission in life. In this vein one can say that melachah is from the root malach, an agent for a mission.
Here’s a quote from Rabbi Dessler found on The Jewish Libertarian:
“There are some who take the maximum and give the minimum.” (Avos)
These are the merchants and middlemen who take advantage of every opportunity for profit, without ever considering whether the effort and work they have invested really bear any relationship to the profits gained. When they bend their efforts to benefit from their neighbor’s failures or take advantage of his ignorance, can this really be distinguished from plain, unvarnished deception?
Not to speak of those who amass their fortune by usury, battering on other people’s hard-won earnings, or who exploit their workers, paying them a pittance for hard and exacting toil, or who oppress whole nations, ruling them with a tyrant’s hand (even though some incidental benefit may accrue to their people) – all these and their like are examples of “much taking and little giving.”
(Strive for Truth Vol. I, 121-22)
What’s interesting is to see how his actual students – and their students, understood him. The whole “Lashon Hakodesh has no word for X” is a modern Yeshivish parlour game. And only in Bereshis does it perhaps make sense to use that wordplay of “malach”.
Rav Dessler imbued this outlook into his talmidim. My father, zt”l, related in his later years that in the period immediately after World War II there was a real-estate boom in London. For a small investment one could buy up bombed out houses, renovate them and sell them for a sizeable profit. Quite a few heimishe Yidden, some of them refugees, became very wealthy during this period.
My father said that he received a number of offers to participate in such investments. However he said that he couldn’t see the point in spending time on making extra money, when he had a steady income and owned a few properties he had inherited form his father. His “sheli” was amply sufficient for his needs and responsibilities. Having for the sake of having was a concept that Rav Dessler had made alien to him.
Another of Rav Dessler’s early talmidim demonstrated this attitude in an even more poignant way. Rabbi Suliman David Sassoon, zt”l, was a longtime friend and colleague of my father, ever since the days they met as students under Rav Dessler’s tutelage. He came from an extremely wealthy family that had moved to England from Bombay. He lived a rambling private estate in Letchworth on the outskirts of London.
The family was internationally renowned for its generous support of Torah institutions and its large library of valuable manuscripts. Rabbi Sassoon, himself an erudite talmid chacham and deep thinker, personally edited and published a number of them.
Perhaps the most valuable of them all was an original manuscript of the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnayos in Arabic. I recall how one Chol Hamoed visit, my father took us along and Rabbi Sassoon showed us some of his collection. He showed how he had proven that this was actually the Rambam’s handwriting. [One proof that I recall was that in a number of places a comment had been erased and a different explanation written. Only the author himself could do something like that!]
In his later years he acted as president of the Otzar HaTorah network of schools in Western Europe and North Africa. During one period the system ran into severe debt and was in danger of collapsing. Rabbi Sassoon then put this manuscript of the Rambam up for public auction. Eventually the Israeli government was persuaded to buy it for one million dollars, which he used to salvage the Otzar HaTorah.
As a true talmid of Rav Dessler he understood that owning a priceless family heirloom was of little lasting value compared to the opportunity to ensure the continued Torah education of thousands of children. Only someone who knows what owning such a treasure means to a collector, can appreciate what a true commitment to Torah valued that act demonstrated.
So wealth is mere emotional attachment?
To come back to our parashah, the donors hammered out their gold into thin sheets. This was necessary for various aspects of the Mishkan. The boards were covered with gold leaf as were the badim, staves. Even though everything in the Ohel Moed was covered with gold, the Torah refers to them as wooden utensils. “Make an aron of shittim wood.” “Make boards of shittim wood” etc. This has halachic ramifications as the Tosafos points out with regard their susceptibility to becoming tamei (Yoma 72a, shema’amidim).
Hammering the gold into thin sheets demonstrated that they understood that gold, the most coveted metal, was useful to serve something else. The very act of stretching it thin showed thrift by making a little go a long way.
Has he forgotten “אין עניות במקום עשירות”? The rabbi regards gold a “barbarous relic”?
Betzalel went a step further. He formed the gold into threads, pethilim. The word pethil is from the root pethaltol, which means to bend and be convoluted. The quality of thread is that it can weave in and out of the fabric. Only by intertwining with other threads does it create a piece of cloth that has multiple uses that far exceeds the usefulness of a solitary thread. Betzalel received the insight for this new innovation to further demonstrate that the value of gold is enhanced when one realizes that it is there to be combined with other things to create something useful.
With this insight one can perhaps understand an esoteric interpretation given by Harav Moshe David Wahli, zt”l, a disciple of the Ramchal. He translates the words pachei hazahav (gold sheets) as “gold traps”! He writes that in the Zohar, the reddish-yellow color of gold represents the middas hadin, strict judgment. This was necessary to offset the sitra achara, the forces of evil that would blemish the purity of the priestly garments. Hammering the gold thin, created a trap (pach) to restrain the negative forces.
This may be a remez to the above idea. The priestly garments that were made “for honor and glory” (Shemos 28:2) contained a danger that the Kohanim wearing them may see the honor and prestige as an end in itself for their own self aggrandizement. The gold thread reminded them that this was all for a loftier purpose of kavod haShechinah. The word used for hammered – vayerak’u has the same root as raki’a, the heavens. They showed that gold can be elevated to a heavenly-like existence. Rather than joining the gold-rush for an opportunity to amass gold, one should view it as a golden opportunity to do something useful.