Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Fkudey – Sh’mot (Exodus) 38:21- ch. 40 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Fkudey, the last in the book of Sh’mot, continues to elaborate on the inventory of materials for the Mishkan and on the priests’ official garments. “Fkudey” means, “which was counted,” or “these are the accounts.” But it is not only the Mishkan’s inventory that is counted or inventoried; the term is also applied here to the congregation itself (38:25, “pkudey* ha’eda” – “those of the congregation who were taken into account”). The meaning of the root p.k.d. aside from counting, visiting and commanding, originates with “invest with purpose or responsibility”1 Thus in last week’s Parashat Va’yak’hel emphasis was placed on the congregation as a “kahal,” a crowd, a mass, host, whose parts (namely the individuals who make it up) have no significance in and of themselves. But the term “fkudey,” on the other hand, stresses the fact that the congregation has no existence apart from the individuals who make it up. Thus, each and every one has been “visited” and “taken into account” in order to make the half shekel payment (ref. 38:25,26).2

In 39:32, we read the following: "And all the work of the tabernacle of the congregation was finished (“vate’chal”), and the sons of Israel did according to all which YHVH commanded Moses; so they did” (emphasis added). In B’resheet (Genesis) 2:1 it says: “And the heavens and the earth were finished (va’ya’chulu), and all the host of them. And Elohim finished (va’y’chal) His work which He had made…” (emphases added). Here is yet another parallel to the Creation process, found also in 39:43 where it says: “And Moses saw (“va’yar”) all the work, and behold they had done it…. and Moses blessed them.” This may be compared to the oft-repeated “and Elohim saw…“ (in B’resheet 1) and also to B’resheet 1:28, where in reference to the creation of man and woman it says, “and He blessed them” (emphasis added).

In 40:33 we read, “And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished (va’yechal) the work (m’lacha) (emphasis added).” Compare to B’resheet (Genesis) 2:2: “And on the seventh day Elohim ended (va’yechal) His work (m’lacha) which He had done.”

The term “tabernacle of the testimony” meets us in 40:2, echoed in 40:3 by the “ark of the testimony,” whereas in Parashat Ki Tissa (34:29) we encountered the “tablets of the testimony.” “Testimony” is “edut,” which is “a witness” or “evidence.” The reason, therefore, for the existence of the Mishkan, the ark and that which it contained (that is the “tablets”) appears to be in order to validate YHVH’s covenant with His people. “Ed,” witness, and “edut,” testimony, witness or evidence, originate with the root ayin, vav, dalet (a.u/o.d), whose primal meaning is to “endure, continue, repeat,” and by implication to “establish facts.”3  “Od” is therefore, “more and continually” and “ad” is “perpetuity,” while “edot” are YHVH’s “decrees.” Thus, the witnesses (whether human, inanimate objects, decrees, or even Time itself) are incorporated into the perpetual and firm arrangement to which they are testifying, and in this case being YHVH’s eternal Covenant.

In Parashat Trumah we examined the association of the shape of the Menorah (Ex. 25:31-39) to the flora of the Land of Yisrael. A similar relationship is thought to exist here too. ”And he gave the table into the tabernacle of the congregation, on the side of the tabernacle, northward outside the veil; and he put the lampstand in the tabernacle of the congregation, opposite the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward…” (40:22, 24, emphases added). The placing of these articles in the directions specified above was not coincidental.

The fifty day period between Pesach and Shavu'ot is when the flowers of the olive open and the kernels of wheat and barley fill with starch. Thus, the productive fate of these crops is determined during that season which [in the land of Israel] is characterized by multiple changes and climatic contrasts. Scorching southern winds, which bring with them extreme dryness and heat, alternate with cold winds from the north and west which generate tempestuous storms containing thunder, lightning and rain. The northern wind is most beneficial to the wheat, if it blows during the wheat's early stages of ripening; yet the same wind can wreak havoc on the olive crop if the buds have already opened into flowers. Olive blossoms need successive days of dry heat. Both of these crops then require just the proper balance of the heat waves and cold northern winds, making the fifty day season (the ‘Omer counting’) a very important and yet precarious season. The Talmudic sages explained that this phenomenon is symbolized by placing "the table in the north and the Menorah in the south". The showbread, which represents the wheat and barley, faced the direction of the north wind. The Menorah, lit with olive oil, faced the direction of the southern wind. Placed together in the Holy Place, they symbolize the plea to the One Creator that each wind would come at the right time.4

Obviously it is only YHVH Who is able to hold all the elements of His Creation in the perfect balance required. Thus, He is seen using (more than once) the Land of Yisrael and the variety of its natural conditions as an instrument for building and maintaining the relationship with His People, as well as for instructing and chastising them. And, as we have already observed, this concept is implemented well before the Israelites even enter the Land of Promise!

Last week’s Va’yakhel and this week’s Fkudey complement one another. Whereas, ’ya’kehl informs us about the making of the vessels of the Mishkan, Parashat Fkudey “pours” content and meaning into them: The tablets are placed into the Ark of the Covenant, the bread is laid on the Table of Showbread, the wicks are lit in the Menorah and the incense is burned5. We are also informed, of course, in detail about the making of the vestments of those who were to officiate in YHVH’s abode, i.e. the priests. Interestingly, the materials used for these garments -“gold, blue, purple, and scarlet and the fine woven linen” - were also used in the making of the tent itself.  

Among the various parts of the high priest’s regalia was “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” and on it “an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YHVH” (39:30).  In 39:6 we read, similarly, about the two onyx stones that were placed on the high priest’s shoulders, with the names of the tribes etched on them.  In this way, the high priest would approach YHVH on behalf of His people.  “An engraving of a signet” is rendered “pituchey chotam”- literally “the engravings of a seal.”  Digging a little deeper, we discover that whereas “chotam” is a seal, “pituchey” (engravings of…) originates from the root (peh, tav, chet) meaning “to open” or “opening.”  So, how is it that a “seal” and an “opening” signify the onyx stones as well as the engraving upon the high priest’s crown?  Do these two seemingly opposing terms allude to something beyond that which meets the eye? In Revelation Chapter 5 Yeshua is seen worthy of opening a special “book” and breaking its seals.  What was it that enabled Yeshua to carry out this most important task, which no one else could execute? That which qualified Him to open the seals was what He had accomplished by having given up His life, redeeming for His Father those who are to be kings and priests, who would reign on earth and are sealed on their foreheads (Revelation 7:4).  Thus, our High Priest is seen standing before the Father with the proverbial onyx stones on His shoulders and the golden band with “Holiness unto YHVH” on His forehead.  Qualifying to open the sealed book of redemption, He was displaying His ultimate task of presenting to His Father those whom He had purchased by His blood, opening the way and enabling them to be “the sealed servants of Elohim” (Revelation 7:3 italics added).

* The letter “pey” may also be pronounced “fey” depending on its placement in a given word.
1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebew, based on the commentaties of Samsom Raphael   
   Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New York, 1999.
3 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebew
4 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot Kdumim
   Ltd. Lod, Israel, 1996.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Above we paused and looked at “edut” – testimony – which is rooted in “ed” – witness (“edim” plural), and at Moshe’s “seeing” the “work” – “m’la’cha” (not “avoda” this time, which is another term for “work”). We also learned that in the “engraving of a signet” was ‘hidden’ the verb “open” and hence “opening”.

He sees the witness
Hu ro’eh et ha’ed

He saw the witnesses
Hu ra’ah et h’e’dim

There was much work
Hayta m’lacha raba (literally, there was work much)

Yeshua opened the opening to the Mishkan
Yeshua patach et ha’petach la’Mishkan