Parshas Vayakeil: What It Means To Weave Goats, Some Mussar, & Purim

Many aspects of the otherwise dull laws of the mishkan discussed in this week’s parsha (and others) can be understood and appreciated, and made imminently relevant, with even the slightest amount of imagination. Indeed, there is a particularly strange detail of the mishkan’s construction that we shall herein explore:

Exodus 35:26:

וְכָל־הַנָּשִׁים אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂא לִבָּן אֹתָנָה בְּחָכְמָה טָווּ אֶת־הָעִזִּים

And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom weaved the goats.

This verse is, to say the least, exceptionally strange. Surely, weaving goats’ hair together is feasible, but that does not seem to be what the posuk is actually saying. The simple rendering of the text clearly indicates that these women were apparently, in some manner, weaving goats themselves.

Rashi, of course, picks up on this textual oddity and explains that these women were actually the most exceptional of seamstresses. What they were doing was a feat only the best were capable of — these women would actually begin the weaving process while the hair was still connected to the goats. Thus, right as the hair was being cut it was already being fashioned into clothes, rugs, and so on. In a way, then, these women were actually weaving goats.

Accordingly, Rashi explains the textual oddity to be a description of the tremendous skill the women that worked on the mishkan possessed. We now, however, simply face a new question: what was the point of this skill? Surely these women were not simply showing off their abilities; what was the advantage of beginning the weaving process while the hair was still connected to the goats?

Seforno uses this Rashi to explicate a fundamental and deeply important point of mussar: everything is better the closer that it is to its source. Milk is freshest the closer in time it is to when it was extracted from the cow; honey is best the closer in time it is to it’s removal from the honeycomb; etc. This even carries into the modern world of technology as well. The modern smartphone, for all its tremendous capabilities, must be connected back to a source of power. The longer it remains disconnected from its source, the weaker it becomes, until one is left with nothing more than a useless brick of metal and glass.

The further away something is from its source, the less powerful and potent it becomes. This applies to most everything in the natural world. According to Seforno the process of weaving the goats’ hair as soon as one possibly could actually produced a superior end result, a superior product.

The lessons to be derived from this are, of course, most obvious. With a holiday such as Purim rapidly approaching, it is important to understand that when one achieves something it is crucial to “bottle it up” so as to be able to maintain the achievement well into the future. It is not enough to simply accomplish — one must be capable of carrying said accomplishment through the rest of his or her life. At the moment of achievement — when the milk, the honey, the goats’ hair is freshest, strongest, best, and most potent — one must lock down the achievement by putting it to immediate use. The very moment of accomplishment is the key we must focus on to make accomplishment a true part of us.

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