Pekudei: Up Up – But Not Away ~ Yehoshua Steinberg


Exodus 35:24 – They attached (וַיִרְכְּסוּ)the Breastplate (Choshen) from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a techlet string, so that it would remain above the belt of the Ephod, and the Breastplate would not be loosened from above the Ephod, as G-d had commanded Moses .

In a literally identical (save for vocalization) sentence above (ibid. 28:28), the Torah commanded that the Choshenbe attached to the Ephod, using the verb וְיִרְכְּסוּ. It repeats its use of this term in thisverse, which discusses the Israelites’ fulfillment of this command. In his comments on this term, Rashidefines וַיִרְכְּסוּas an expression of connection, and cites two additional instances in which this expression appears in Scripture with a similar meaning: i) [Shelter them in the cover of Your countenance] from the רֻכְסֵיof man (Psalms31:21)means from the evil gangs who join together in order to harm them. ii) And the רְכָסִיםwill become valley (Isaiah40:4) means “the mountains that so closely abut each other that one can only descend to the valley between them with great difficulty since their closeness makes that valley steep and deep — will become a flat valley that is easy to walk in.”

We find an additional allusion to the meaning “connection”if the root letters “רכס”are rearranged to form the root “סרך”, which also connotes attachment/connectionin the Talmudic vernacular, as Rashiexplains concerning the word סריך(Gittin69a), and the word מסריך(Yev.121b). The root סרךis itself derived from the Hebrew word שְׂרוֹך,strap/lace(seeGenesis14:23), which in its Aramaic form is spelled with a “ס”in place of the “שׂ”[see “משריכן”(harness straps) in Shab53a].

All the commentators agree that “וירכסו”refers to connectionin some general sense,since that is implied by this verse, which states that the Choshenwas connected from above to the Ephodwith chains between their respective rings, and that they were also connected via rings from below, although thisconnection was with a techlet string. However, they differ in how they define the underlying root “רכס”that links the meanings of the word in these verses. 

According to Ibn Ezra,the core meaning of “רכס”is distortion/deformity,with its specific meaning in our verse being a “connection via entwining” (while the Isaiahverse refers to “unevensites” becoming a smooth valley, and the Psalmsverse refers to “crookedpeople”). 

Ribagsees the underlying root as strength/power,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas “reinforcedby attaching it to the Ephod”(while the Isaiahverse refers to “tall, ruggedmountains,” and the Psalmsverse refers to “toughpeople”). 

Radaksees the underlying root as height,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas lifted up so that it could be connected to the Ephodfrom below (while the Isaiahverse refers to “tallmountains,” and the Psalmsverse refers to “conceitedpeople who think highly of themselves”). [This view is also supported by Sharshos Kesef.]

To Malbim, the underlying root is a tight connection between two objects that necessitates a by-pass route,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas connected tightlyto the Ephod(while the רְכָסִיםin the Isaiahverse refers to “mountains so closely connected that one must travel around them,” and the רֻכְסֵיin the Psalmsverse means man’s evil inclination and desires, which are so called because, like the aforementioned רְכָסִים, they force man off of the straight path). 

Finally, Yerios Shlomoexplains that Rashi defines the root as “a perfectly aligned connection that does not protrude in any direction” (with theIsaiahverse referring to “mountains that jut out in perfect alignmentopposite each other, leaving no possibility of passing between them,” and the Psalmsverse referring to “untruthful people, who make an effort to align their statements perfectly to make them appear truthful”). He sees this explanation as serving to reconcile Rashi’sinterpretation with that of the other commentators.

The emphasis byRadakandSharshos Kesef on the aspect of heightand elevationin their definition of וַיִרְכְּסוּis especially interesting in light of the second part of the verse, which warns: and the Breastplate shall not יִזַחfrom above the Ephod.The word יִזַחhas no parallel in Scripture. Nonetheless, most of the commentators interpret this word in the sense of separation.Rambanand Chizkuniequate it with יִסַח(using the exchange of the similarly produced “tongue” letters,ז-ס-ש-ר-ץ), relating it to the words יִסְּחוּ(Proverbs2:22) and יִסַּח(ibid. 15:25), which mean separationand breaking apart. Hence, it matches the first half of the verse, as Scripture says that they shall connectthe Choshento the Ephodin such a manner that it will not be able to separatefrom it. Indeed, according to Rambam (Negative Commandment 87),the Torah does not merely provide a reason why the Choshenmust be attached to the Ephod, but actually issues a separate command that the Choshenmay not be removed from the Ephod.

Radak(under root “זחח”) also agrees that יִזַחrefers to removal. However, in keeping with his interpretation ofוְיִרְכְּסוּin the first half of the verse as connection via lifting, he also ties the word יִזַחtoelevation: “The meaning of and the Choshen shall not יִזַח[from upon the Ephod]is that ‘it shall not be raised above,’ i.e., you shall not remove or lift it off of the Ephod.Similarly, when our Sages state (Chullin7a), ‘Once the זְחוּחֵיof heart became numerous,’ it refers to ‘the conceited and elevated hearts.’” Thus, in Radak’sview, יִזַחconnoteslifting upin the sense of removal/separation.

To gain a fuller understanding of Radak’sdefinition, which is based on the words of our Sages in Chullin7a, let us look at a more extensive quote from that gemara: “[Rebbe said:] ‘In my case as well, my forefathers left a place [in Halachah] for me to stand out [by making a groundbreaking ruling].’ We see from here that a if Torah sage issues a halachic declaration, we are not מזיחיןhim (we should not separate himfrom his statement by demanding that he retract it — Rashi); others quoted this teaching as stating that ‘we are not מזניחיןit’ (we must not make abominablehis declaration by denigrating it — Rashi); and others quoted this teaching as stating that ‘we are not מזחיחיןhim’ (we must not make him elevated,i.e., say that it was due to his haughtiness that he failed to heed what his teachers said and issued this newly lenient ruling —Rashi). The one who said [the correct version is] מזיחין, meant it in the sense of the verse (Exodus28:28), and the Choshen shall not יזח(be lifted off) from above the Ephod; the one who said [the correct version is] מזניחין, meant it in the sense of that which is written (Lamentations3:31), For the Lord does not (יִזְנַח)reject forever; and the one who said [the correct version is] מזחיחין, meant it in the sense of what we are taught (Tosefta,Sotah14:9), ‘Once the זְחוּחֵיof heart became numerous, there were numerous quarrels among the people of Israel.” Thus, although Rashidefines each of the three versions of the term — מזיחין,מזניחין,מזחיחין— differently,there is arguably an underlying link between all three. They all connote some aspect of separation:מזיחין, via its literal definition; מזניחין, since make him abominableessentially means separating from him due to his repugnance; andמזחיחין, since make him elevated essentially entails separating from him due to his haughtiness. Indeed, Ribag(root”זחח”) makes just such a link: “What we derive from all this is thatמזיחין,מזניחיןandמזחיחיןall connote the same notion, namely, repulsionandwithdrawal from.

In any case, according to Radak’scomments, the term יִזַח, like its parallel word זְחוּחֵיin the Talmud, is primarily an expression of elevation,with the connotation of removal/separationmerely being a secondary aspect of this act of elevation. [Interestingly, in discussing the “removal” of the Choshenfrom the Ephod,the Talmud (Yoma72a) does not use a word like הסרה(removal) or ניתוק(severance): “One who is מזיחtheChoshenfrom above the Ephod … is flogged, for it is stated, And he shall not יִזַחthe Choshen from above the Ephod.” Perhaps the reason is similar to that which we have discussed here — that the aspect of removalis merely a secondary result of the elevation.]

In fact, this parallel link between the concepts of elevationand removalcan also be found in three other words that connote ascentand elevation[namely, the roots עלה,נשאandרמם]: 1) In the verse (Genesis2:6), A mist ascended(יַעֲלֶה)from the earth,Onkelostranslates the word יַעֲלֶהasסַלִיק(departed). 2) The word “נשא”, which denotes elevationand ascent,also has a meaning of eliminationand removal, as the author of HaKetav VeHakaballah demonstrates from various locations in Scripture in his comments to Numbers14:18, which describes G-d as נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן,Forgiver of iniquity.Explaining why נֹשֵׂא, which translates literally as One Who lifts up,means Forgiverhere, he notes: “Onkelostranslates it as שָׁבִיק,leaves go of, while Yonasan ben Uzieltranslates it as שָׁרִי,pardon. We already find the expression נשׂאreferring to the notion of cancellationorremoval[in the verse] for then my Maker יִשָּׂאֵנִי(Job32:22),[which]Rashi interprets as ‘will remove Mefrom the world’; and from this (II Samuel 5:21):And [the Philistines] left their idols there, וַיִּשָּׂאֵםDavid and his men,[which means] that ‘he removed and eliminatedthe idols from the world; likewise, וַתִּשָּׂאthe earth from before Him(Nahum1:5): [Rashiinterprets וַתִּשָּׂאas]it vanished and disappeared, andOnkelos’stranslation is it was destroyed; and from this (II Samuel14:14): but G-d does not יִשָּׂאa soul, i.e., He does not wish to eliminate and removethe soul, but rather wishes that “the evil one will repent from his ways, and live.” [Similarly, the phrase נְשּׂוּי פֶּשַׁע(Psalms32:1), which means one whose transgression is forgiven,is translated by Alshichas “one whose transgression is forgotten.”]. One final example of the connection between elevationand removalis illustrated in the word הרומו, which normally would mean to raise, but in the following verse bears the meaning of removal:Remove yourselves (הֵרֹמּוּ) from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant (Numbers 17:10). 

In any case, givenRadak’semphasizing the aspect of elevationin the definitions of both וַיִרְכְּסוּandיִזַח, he apparently explains the verse as follows: Lift up the Choshenso that you shall be able to attach it to the belt of the Ephod; however, do not raise it excessively to the point where it is impossible to connect it to the Ephodfrom below.

Returning to the word יִזַח, a similar term, מֵזַח, is found several times in Scripture. Most commentators define the word מֵזַחeither as a beltor strength.In his comments on the words מֵזַחinIsaiah23:10 and Psalms109:19, and the word וּמְזִיחַinJob12:21, Rashiinterprets them as to mean a belt,but also notes that a belt itself usually symbolizes strength(similar to the dual meaning of “gird” in English). By contrast,Radakexplains that their basic definition is strengthand power,but since a belt fastens and strengthens one’s loins, it too is called a מֵזַח. Now, Menachem, links the word מֵזַחand the word יִזַח, placing both of them in the same category, under the root “זח”(as per his custom of limiting roots to two letters only). However, since Rashiand Radakdefine מֵזַחasstrengtheningand fastening, whereas יִזַחrelates to separation, one would not seem to think of them as being of related roots. Indeed, Dunash ben Labrat(on p. 60 of his Sefer HaTeshuvos) refutes both Menachem’sassignment of “מזח”to a 2-letter root “זח”, and his linkage of “מזח”and יִזַח, arguing that the “מ”in “מזח”is a part of its root, and that יִזַחis a separate Arabic term meaning separate, or slip away.Rashito our verse, in a rare instance, supports Dunashover his disputantMenachemand defines יִזַחas an Arabic term meaning severance.[Radakand Ribagalso list יִזַחunder the separate 3-letter root “זחח”.]

However, the aforementioned Rambansolves the mysterious word יִזַחby equating it to the word “יסח”by way of exchanging the letters “ז”and “ס”(based on the similar letters ז-ס-ש-ר-ץ, which are formed between the tongue and the teeth) and defining it as meaning separationandbreaking apart.Like Menachem,he finds a Hebrew equivalent for it in the verse, and may it be for a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself(Psalms109:19). While retaining its literal definition as a belt, he suggests that it may also imply severanceandbreaking apart, likeיִזַח: “Perhaps, [since the preceding verse states that the scheming maligner shalldon curse like his garment,] this verse is saying that he shall gird himself constantly with the curse, as others gird themselves with their belts, until he is destroyed and broken apart by it.” [Thus, Rambanlinks the opposing notions of attachmentand breaking apartin the same word. We find a similar example in Ribag’sdefinition of the root “נקף”, which alludes to both surroundingand cutting off.]

Malbim(Isaiah23:10) also tries to interpret the word יִזַחbased on a comparison to “מזח”, by explaining that they have a common aspect of elevation: “The word ‘מזח’, as in the verse, and may it be for a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself(Psalms109:19), connotes a belt that girdsthe body. But what differentiates a מֵזַחfrom [the standard terms for a belt,] an אֵזוֹרand an אַבְנֵט, is that a מֵזַחis a belt that one ties around long clothes in order to elevate them, so that they will be appropriate for his size. Just as in the expression, and the Choshen shall not יִזַחfrom above the Ephod,which refers to elevation,so does a מֵזַחlift up his clothes. Similarly, we find in Aramaic, the term זְחוּחֵי הַלֵב, raised hearts (i.e., conceited). Likewise, it says (ibid.) And he shall don curse כְּמַדוֹ,meaning that the curse should be like his size (מִדָה). [As the verse then continues,] May it be to him like a garment in which he wraps himself, and a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself — i.e., although it is customary for a garment to sometimes be longer than his body, the curse itself shall be like a מֵזַחwhich raises up the garment, so that it should fit his body size perfectly.This term is also used in a borrowed sense in reference to the banks of an island, which rise upfrom amidst the sea and girdthe sea so that it should not ascend onto the island. [The banks are] the מֵזַחthat keeps the island elevatedabove the water, and girdsthe sea. It is not a big stretch to explain the verse (Job12:21), He pours scorn upon nobles, and loosens the מְזִיחַof the אֲפִיקִים,as follows: אֲפִיקִיםmeanssprings(as in כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶגֶב), and G-d will loosen and remove the “belt” that begirds the springs of water, and [the waters] will flood the land portions of the rich, and in this manner will pour scorn upon them,as they will end up without any of their wealth.

Perhaps we can propose a third link between these two aspects. Our verse states:They attached (וַיִרְכְּסוּ)the Choshen from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a techlet(blue-torquoise)woolen cord, so that it would remain above the belt of the Ephod, and the Choshen would not be disengaged (יִזַח)from above the Ephod, as G-d had commanded Moses. Thus, since the Torah specifies that the attachment of the Choshento the Ephodfrom below be solely through a techlet string, its aim is seemingly not to create a complete attachment. Had that been the case, the Torah would have commanded that they be directly tied or fastened together, or at least to link them with chains, like the top of theChoshen.Rather, this connection was to be similar to רכסים, the mountains that are adjacent to each other but not actually attached. Consequently, the expression וְלֹא יִזַחis meant to connote both aspects of its meaning: 1) On the one hand, it should not be elevatedabove the Ephod,as the threads of the techlet cord keep it attached from below. 2) On the other hand, the Choshenis not to be attached to the Ephodin the manner of a מֵזַח, which is tightly fastened. That is, the threads keep the Choshenfrom being elevated above the belt of the Ephod,but the warning not to be יִזַחalludes that we must also avoid making the attachment excessive.

Yet another perspective on the unbreakable link between the Choshenand the Ephodis presented in the “Daf al Hadaf”commentary to Erachin16a. Our Sages teach us that the Choshenatoned for the sins of the Jewish people in monetary matters, while theEphodatoned for their sins of idolatry. Thus, the Ephodatoned for the most fundamental sin between man and G-d (bein adam la’Makom), whereas the Choshenatoned for a most fundamental sin between man and his fellow (bein adam la’chaveiro). [Chasam Soferstates in his commentary to Exodus28:16 that Aaron merited to atone for Israel’s monetary injustices because he himself did beyond what the law required in all matters of dispute with his fellow Jew.] Therefore, the Torah commanded that theChoshennot be separated from the Ephod,in order to emphasize that one may not differentiate between the commandments between man and G-d, and the commandments between man and his fellow. One may not be “good to Heaven” but bad to his fellow men, nor vice versa; both types of commandments are inextricably related.

In this light, we can perhaps explain why this connection had to be through a techlet string. Discussing the uniqueness of this color, the Talmud states (Sotah17a) that it was due to our forefather Avraham’s refusal to take so much as a “thread” to a shoestrap (Genesis14:23) from the King of Sodom as compensation for saving his country, that his descendants merited “the ‘thread’ of techlet wool,” i.e., the commandment of tzitzis. The Gemara goes on to explain why the thread of tzitzismust be precisely from techlet wool: “R. Meir used to say: Why is techlet specified from all the varieties of colors? Because techlet resembles [the color of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the color of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the color of] the Throne of Glory, as it is stated, They saw the G-d of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of heaven in purity(Exodus24:10),and it is written, the appearance of a sapphire stonein the likeness of a throne (Ezekiel1:26).” In other words, by fulfilling this commandment, a person becomes connected to some degree with the Divine Presence (see Rashi, ad loc.). 

In this light, we can perhaps explain the unique form of the lower connection of theChoshento the Ephod.Avraham Avinu,in all of his actions — whether those related to man’s relationship with G-d, or those affecting interpersonal relations — desired to fulfill the will of G-d and thus become more closely attached to the Holy Throne in heaven. Therefore, the link between the Choshenand the Ephod— which symbolizes the linkage between these two categories of commandments — is not a tight and strictly fastened connection(מזיח)through gold chains; rather, it is merely achieved through material threads, in order to teach us that in order to sanctify G-d’s Name one need not invest a huge fortune, but can accomplish it even through the simplest of objects — threads and shoestraps. Such a connection to the Throne of Glory also protects one from haughtiness(זחיחות), because the entire world is but an expression of G-d’s Glory, while we are “but dust and ash.”

May it be the will of G-d that soon, in our own time, we merit seeing the Kohen Gadol(High Priest) wearing the ChoshenandEphod, serving G-d in the rebuilt Temple and atoning for the sins of his nation, Amen.

Pekudei: The Ring of Servitude ~ Tzvi Abrahams


עֵגֶל: calf

עַגָלָה: cart

עֶגְלוֹן: Eglon, king of Moav

מַעַגַל: circle

עֵגֶל: Calf

אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי מֹשֶׁה
These are the accountings of the Mishkan/sanctuary, Mishkan of testimony, accounted for by Moshe.1

According to Rashi, the expression מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת/the Mishkan of testimony, refers to the testimony to Israel that Hashem had forgiven them for the making of the עֵגֶל, the sin of the Golden Calf. The resting of the Shechinah among the Jewish Nation was testimony in itself to Hashem’s forgiveness.

Why in particular was the עֵגֶלchosen as the symbol for their avodah zarah? The עֵגֶלwas one of the gods that the Egyptians worshipped; this is hinted to in the verse: עֶגְלָה יְפֵה פִיָּה מִצְרָיִם/Egypt is a beautiful calf.2When the Bnei Yisrael came down to Egypt, they had to be segregated to the land of Goshen because it was an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians to see their gods slaughtered and eaten by these strange people. 

In truth, it was the Egyptians who were the strange people, for in the eyes of Hashem their worshiping of animals was indeed avodah zarah/strange worship. Hashem created animals to serve man, not the other way around.

If we look back to Parshas Ki Sisa, we see that the actual material used for the making of the Golden Calf was golden earrings, as it says:וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ כָּל הָעָם אֶת נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אַהֲרֹן/and the people took off their earrings and gave them toAharon.3(It should be noted that these earrings were specifically from the men, not the women.) The Ibn Ezra explains that they picked up the custom of wearing earrings from the Egyptians and the Ishmaelites.

So the עגלwas made from נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב/golden earrings. The first time נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָבare mentioned in the Torah is in connection to Rivkah: וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ/and the man took a gold ring, a bekain weight.4When Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, saw that his mission to find Yitzchak a wife was coming to fruition, he sealed the deal by giving Rivkah various items of jewellery, one of which was a נֶזֶם זָהָב/a gold ring. The Ibn Ezra mentions that there were two possible types of rings, one for the ears and one for the nose, and since נֶזֶם זָהָבin is the singular, it is more likely that Rivkah was given a nose ring. The bekain weight was equivalent to half a shekel and corresponded to theמַחַצִית הַשֶׁקֶל/the half-shekel given by the Bnei Yisrael in Parshas Shekalimtowards the building of the Mishkan and towards the purchasing of the communal sacrifices for the year. In this way, they helped attain atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The מַחַצִית הַשֶׁקֶל/half-shekel was a mandatory contribution; however, when it came to the non-mandatory contribution towards the building of the Mishkan, the so-called נְדִיב לֵב/donation of the heart, it was the women who stepped up and willingly gave of their precious jewellery, which the Torah goes out of its way to commend them for.

Earrings are round rings and are referred to as עֲגִילִים עַל אָזְנָיִךְ/literally “rings on your ears.”5So we see quite clearly the connection between the עֵגֶלbeing made from earrings called עַגִילִים. As we mentioned earlier, it was the men’s earrings that caused the damage, while the reparations were made through the women’s earrings. There could also be a connection linking עֵגֶל/calf to rings, in that it was customary in many places to pierce a calf’s nose with rings to help keep it under control.

Elsewhere we see that the piercing of the ear represents servitude. If theעֶבֶד עִבְרִי/Hebrew slave, after serving his time, decides to remain in servitude rather than go free, the Torah commands us to draw him close to the doorway and drive an awl through his ear. Specifically, it was the ear that heard at Har Sinai that ‘’the Bnei Yisrael are My servants,” and that they should not be a servant of servants.6What we see from here is that although women wear ear and nose rings as jewellery, the underlying reason for doing so is to symbolize servitude, the need to be subservient to their husbands, where in Hebrew בַּעַלֵיהֶםmeans “their owners/masters.”

A woman who does not serve and respect her husband is like she is discarding her earrings. She is like those men who threw off their earrings and sinned at the Golden Calf rather than serving Hashem. Of course, the husband she is to respect needs to be worthy of respect; no אֵשֶׁת חֶיִל/woman of substance is going to respect a man who does not get out of bed in the morning!

In the Gemara in Sotah, it says that the Mashiach will come to a chutzpah-dikgeneration. This is all too apparent in today’s generation, and one of the reasons for this is that many women are the dominant party in the relationship. Since the children are raised in a house where respect is not given to the proper place, it is not so difficult to understand why they are chutzpah-dik. These are the repercussions of the women’s liberation movement, which sought “equality” for women.7We live in an upside down world where women literally wear the trousers! It is not for nothing that the Gemara refers to the woman as the בַּיִת/house, because her place is to build the house and make it a loving environment for the children to flourish. Judaism is by no means chauvinistic; men and woman have equal importance but just have different roles, just like in the army, where both the battlefront and homefront units are equally important.

So when Rivkah accepted the nose ring, she was really taking on the mission to serve her husband. On the other hand, it says: נֶזֶם זָהָב בְּאַף חֲזִיר אִשָּׁה יָפָה וְסָרַת טָעַם/like a gold ring in the nose of a pig is a beautiful woman who lacks reason,8meaning no matter how precious a gold ring is, it won’t make the pig beautiful. In the same vein, a woman may wear jewellery to beautify her face, but it won’t help her if she is ugly inside. The symbolism of the nose ring hints to us the idea that one of the key aspects to a beautiful woman is that she respects her husband. Perhaps for this reason Rivkah is described by the Torah as being not just beautiful but טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד/extremely beautiful.

Interestingly Rivkah’s death is alluded to in the Torah immediately after Yaakov builds a Mizbei’ach/altar in Beis El and offers up korbanosto Hashem. Before Yaakov is able to build the Mizbei’ach, he first issues a command to his sons to remove and bury all of the idolatrous booty that they had taken from Shechem after killing all of the males in revenge for the raping of Dinah. The Torah makes specific mention of the earrings, הַנְּזָמִים אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם,9perhaps hinting to us that the death of Rivkah, who perfected the wearing of the earrings/nose rings לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם/in the purest sense, was a כַּפָּרָה/atonement for the misappropriation of the earrings of avodah zarahby the sons of Yaakov. We see this concept of כַּפָּרָה/atonement similarly with the juxtaposition of the death of Miriam with theParah Adumah/red cow, where Rashi says that just like the cow atones, so too the death of tzaddikimatones.10

עַגָלָה: Cart

According to world opinion, man’s greatest invention was the wheel.עַגָלָה/cart is so-called because it functions through the מַעַגַל/wheel. Now we can better understand the meaning of the words that are said in Kaddish:בַּעַגָלָא וּבִּזְמַן קָרִיב, where עַגָלָאmeans “quickly,” because the circle represents movement; we see this with the advent of the wheel, which helps us to move quicker. Perhaps the עַגָלָהalso comes from the עֵגֶלbeing used to drive the cart especially with heavy loads, because the עֵגֶלis much more powerful than a horse.

עֶגְלוֹן: Eglon, King of Moav

Eglon got his name because he was so obese that he was compared to a fatted calf. It was so hard for him to get up that he was rewarded for arising to hear the word of G-d just before a knife was thrust into his belly, causing his fat and guts to be spilled over the floor. The reward was that the Mashiach would descend from his daughter Ruth.

מַעַגַל: Circle

Elements in nature are round. טַבַּעַת/ring comes from the word טֶבַע/nature, whereas straight edges like squares, rectangles, and triangles are man-made. Everything in the Mishkan (besides the Menorah) was shaped and cut by man. It can be said that Hashem gives us a ball (i.e., planet Earth), and it’s up to us to give it shape.

A circle represents a continuum, seemingly with no beginning and no end. It is very much a pagan belief that the world has always existed. A circle therefore can represent avodah zarah; if you believe there is no beginning or no end, then you are going around in circles with no goal, no destination, and therefore no meaning. For this reason, many pagan temples were round (e.g., Stonehenge).

On the other hand, יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק/Hashem guides the paths of the righteous.11Even though we live within the circular concept of a year, Hashem gives us control to sanctify the chodesh, which in turn gives shape and structure to the year. Just like every week has a beginning, middle, and end, building up to the Shabbos, so too the world is on course for the day that is eternally Shabbos,יוֹם שֶׁכֻּלוֹ שַׁבַּת. For the pagan lifestyle, the week is just another continuous series of circles within circles; in fact, if you were to ask an atheist why there are seven days in a week, he would be hard pressed to give you an answer. We are עַם מְקַדְשׁ שְׁבִיעִי/the people who sanctify the seventh day. Shabbos breaks up the circle and gives shape and meaning to our lives. It is a time when we are told to rest and to rest our animals. While the rest of the world keeps on going around and around in a seemingly monotonous cycle, for us the wheel stops and we step into the timeless zone of Shabbos, מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא/a taste of the World to Come.

Where Do We See ‘π’ in the Torah?

וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת הַיָּם מוּצָק עֶשֶׂר בָּאַמָּה מִשְּׂפָתוֹ עַד שְׂפָתוֹ עָגֹל סָבִיב וְחָמֵשׁ בָּאַמָּה קוֹמָתוֹ (וקוה)וְקָו שְׁלֹשִׁים בָּאַמָּה יָסֹב אֹתוֹ סָבִיב
And he (Solomon)made the sea molten, ten amosfrom one edge to the other, a circular surrounding, and five amosits height, and a line of thirty amossurrounds its circumference.12

When we want to make a circle straight, we use the value of π (pi).Interestingly, the number of π is encrypted in the above verse. The copper wash basin, used by thekohanimin the Temple, is described as a circle measuring ten amosin diameter with a thirty amoscircumference. Given that the formula for the circumference of a circle is 2πr, and given the above measurements, π works out to be 3, yet we all know, having studied elementary mathematics, that π approximates to 3.142. This leaves a discrepancy of almost one-and-a-half amosfor the measurements given in the Torah for the circle of the wash basin. The Vilna Gaon gives the following explanation: In the abovepasuk, the word for “line” is pronounced differently to the way it is written, קָוinstead of קוה. By dividing the numerical value of קוה[111] with the value of קָו[106] and then multiply by 3 (the biblical value for π), it equals 3.142, the exact number of π to the fourth decimal point. Amazing!

Around this time of the year, we read פַּרְשַׁת פָּרָה/Parshas Parah, the segment dealing with the פָּרָה אַדוּמָה/red heifer, which was used to purify different kinds of tumah. The reason given in the Gemara in Megillahfor the reading of פַּרְשַׁת פָּרָה around this time was in order to prepare ourselves to be in a state of purity so that we would be able to bring the korban Pesach. There is a well-known Midrash that gives a parable for the symbolism of the פָּרָה אַדוּמָה, where after entering the palace, the son of a maidservant makes it dirty, upon which the king calls upon the mother to clean up the mess.13Hence, the פָּרָה/cow being the mother of the עֵגֶל/calf is appropriately the one to fix up the sin of the Golden Calf.

As we approach Pesach, the מַעַגַל/circle of the festivals begins again with the sanctifying of the first of the new month of Nisan, as it says: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.14At Pesach we were commanded to take the korban Pesachand slaughter the Egyptian god, thereby breaking out of the ring of servitude of Egypt, of strange worship, in worshiping the מַעַגַל, the circle of nature, where we emerged straight, the nation known as Yisrael — Yasher-El/straight to G-d. The true ring of servitude is represented by the Mishkan, the place that was sanctified with the nediv lev/donation ofעֲגִילִים/earrings of our holy women, who incidentally were given the reward of Rosh Chodesh, perhaps because, as we said above, Rosh Chodesh is what shapes the year. So too the Mishkan, with all its straight edges, symbolizes where we broke out of the circle and gave shape to a world where the Divine Presence can rest. 

The word תַּפְקִיד/tafkid, meaning purpose, is connected to the word פְקוּדֵי, which we translated above as “accounting.” Life has a purpose, and just like everything had to be accounted for in the building of the Mishkan, so too we have to account for all that we do in our personal תַּפְקִידof building our own individual Mishkan, where hopefully the Divine Presence will come to rest within us, giving testimony to the fact that Hashem has forgiven us for any misdeeds that may have caused us to be outside the ring of servitude. 

1Shemos 38:21.

2Yirmiyahu 46:20. See Malbim.


4Bereishis 24:22.

5Yechezkel 16:12.

6See Rashi to Shemos21:6.

7Heard in a shiurgiven by Rabbi Ephraim Kahana.

8Mishlei 11:22.

9Bereishis 35:4.

10Mo’ed Katan 28a.

11Tehillim 23:3.

12Melachim I7:23.

13Midrash TanchumaChukas8.

14Shemos 12:2.

Fekudai: My Clothes and Me ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein


My Clothes and Me

The Malbim and others explain how a bevy of apparent synonyms for “clothing” actually differ from one another. As many commentators note, the Hebrew words levush and malbush do not inherently refer to clothing, rather they are conjugations of the Hebrew verb lovesh (“he dresses”) and refer to that with which one dresses. Malbim further explains that the word beged is a general term that includes all sorts of clothing, while other words, in various ways, refer to specific types of clothing.

Returning to the the word levush, the commentators explain that it denotes a type of garment which is worn in the normal way of dressing, but is nevertheless special because most people do not wear this type of garment. A levush is a distinct type of clothing reserved for certain individuals. To this effect, the word levush is applied in the construct to form phrases like levush malchut (“royal clothes”), levush sak (“sackcloth), and more.

The word kesut (which literally means “cover”) refers specifically to clothing which are worn by simply covering oneself with them (like a poncho or a shawl), they are not worn in the normal fashion of donning clothes. Sometimes, the first letter of the word kesut is dropped and the word appears as sut (e.g., Genesis 49:11). A type of kesut that is worn at night is known as a salmah or simlah (with the metathesis of language allowing for the placement of the L and M consonants to be interchanged). The Malbim explains that another difference between kesut and salmah/simlah is that the former is only used to cover onself, while the latter also gives honor to its wearer. R. Shlomo Pappenheim argues that the word kesut focuses on clothes’ ability to protect its wearer (whether from the heat, the cold, or something else).

  1. Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer points out that the above stands in contrast with the explanation proferred by R. Yosef Kolon (1420–1480), also known as the Maharik. He wrote that beged denotes a simple piece of cloth like a tallit which is not fitted to the one wearing it, while kesut implies a specially sewn garment that fits to one’s shapes and dimensions. R. Wetheimer further writes that a salmah/simlah is a linen cloth which can be folded and used to cover one’s head, neck, and upper torso (similar to a hijab or keffiyeh), and also doubles as a bed sheet when unfolded to its full size. R. Wertheimer agrees that when worn, a salmah/simlah generally serves as a badge or symbol of honor.

Although he goes against the consensus, Ibn Ezra (to Exodus 22:25) actually writes that salmah and simlah are not synonymous. Rather, he explains, simlah is a general term which includes multiple items and salmah is one of those items which falls into the category of simlah.

The word mad refers specifically to a garment which is custom-fitted to the person intended to wear that article. It is related to the Hebrew word moded (“measure”). In Modern Hebrew, madim refer to uniform, most commonly the fatigues worn by soldiers. The word maateh refers to “wrapping” or “enveloping” and need not neccessasrily refer to clothing, but to anything which is wrapped around something else or otherwise envelops it.

Malbim explains that the word me’il refers to the outermost layer of clothing which one might wear and is related to the Hebrew word mei’al (“on top”). R. Wetheimer writes that me’il denotes a thin, delicate article of clothing.

  1. Moshe Shapiro (1935–2017) notes that the words beged and meil are both related to the idea of perfidy. The word beged is related to the noun begidah (treachery) and the word meil is related to the word meilah (betrayal). R. Shapiro explains that when a man dons a beged he uses that implement to conceal his true, inner-self and reveal to the outside a façade. This duplicity is conceptually related to the idea of treachery and betrayal whereby one feigns loyalty on the outside, but has nefarious intentions on the inside.

The word levush, on the other hand, denotes a pragmatic, utilitarian use of clothing. The Talmud (Shabbat 77b) explains that the word levush is a contraction of the words lo bushah (“no embarrassment”), because the purpose of wearing a levush is simply to cover onself in a respectable way—there are no dastardly motives. R. Yochanan called his clothes “the honors” (Bava Kama 91b) because he viewed his clothes as simply a mechanism by which he may respectably present himself in public, as opposed to a mask behind which to hide.

Following this sort of model, R. Shlomo of Karlin (1738–1792) explains that every action a person does creates a layer of dressing for his soul—but there are two types of dressings. If he does a good deed, then he creates a levush for his soul, and if he does a bad deed, then he creates a beged over his soul. What you wear depends on what you do. Although the famous cliché suggests, “the clothes make the man”, we see that actually the opposite is true: “the man makes the clothes”.imagesimages.jpg