Wibble Wednesday: Entirely Predictable (Exodus 35:1–40:38)

(Hmm, I thought I posted this last night, but apparently the ‘publish’ button didn’t work right…)

Well, it’s Yom Kippur, and one of the things to do on Yom Kippur is to make amends to those we have wronged this year. Well, who have I wronged? PPerhaps you, my loyal readers, whom I’ve been rather faithless to in not keeping up with the wibbles. Well, anyways, I’m trying to get back on schedule now, although Yom Kippur is a pretty poor day to snark at the religion and its holy text. On the other hand, this week’s text is pretty thin on mockability anyways, since we’re in the rather repetitive פָּרָשַׁת ויקהל (“Then he assembled” portion). It’s so thin, frankly, that I’ll elect to do the quite closely related פָּרָשַׁת פקודי (“Accounts” portion) and give you a twofer.

The quick snarky summary: The community comes out to donate to and build the Tabernacle. Exactly what we were told should be built is built. Really, there’s practically no grist for snark here. And then the spirit of God descends upon it.


The entirety of this chapter is rather barren of useful commentary largely because its text is very nearly a word-for-word recapitulation,in somewhat different order, of the instructions from Exodus 25–27. Now, instead of God instructing Moses to make things, we have Moses telling the people to make those same things, and occasional reports of the master artisan Bezalel at work. So the bulk of the chapter offers very little opportunity for commentary. The most noteworthy aspect of this particular bit of narrative is the placement, actually: immediately after the sin of the Golden Calf, the building of the Tabernacle seems to have a definite expiatory quality. Of course, that might motivate the rich gifts the people bring: it’s emphasized that the people are so generous that Moses has to turn them away after they bring more rich materials than his artisans know what to do with. Of course, the rich gifts for the temple are a bit of a farce, given that they only possess such wealth because God engineered the plundering of Egypt, so after a fashion giving it freely as a gift to God is an empty gesture.

Rather notably, almost all the skilled work of the building was apparently done by two people: the aforementioned Bezalel, and another craftsman named Oholiab. It’s explicitly suggested in 35:31–33 that he had been supernaturally gifted with skill in many crafts. In fact, given that both the wealth of the Tabernacle and the skill in its construction were directly motivated by God himself, it’s not clear what the Israelites’ role in all this is.

So, anyways, the Tabernacle, and its furniture, and the priestly vestments and oil and incense and suchlike are all made in these two parshot, according to the exact specifications discussed earlier. Briefly in among this construction is a description of the gifts of metal and where each was used. Notably, the census measured out in silver makes it clear that the previous overlarge figure of 600,000 was not an aberration; here the figure of 603,550 is specifically descriptive of adult men. Really, at some point I need to take some exception to that figure, which is insane.

The only original payoff of all this, besides that which was foretold several chapters ago, is in verses 40:34–38, with the glorious return of the Presence of God to within the community of Israel. We’re told of the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night earlier, but that it leads them: here, in the final verse of this book, we are told that the pillar of divine presence rested directly on their Tabernacle, in the midst of the nation, instead of out in front.

All in all, Exodus goes out with a whimper. The last two parshot are, I fear, kind of anticlimactic, repeating, as they do, the exact wording of previous sections. And starting next week we’re in the book that many readers regard as the bane of any engaging Torah study, namely Leviticus. I think it’s not as bad as all that, but that’s a topic for next week.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

2 Responses to Wibble Wednesday: Entirely Predictable (Exodus 35:1–40:38)

  1. Greg Sanders says:

    I got through Leviticus just fine when I was trying a read through ages ago. If memory serves, I had more trouble with chronicles due to the long genelogies.

    • Jake says:

      Yeah, I find Leviticus pretty interesting in a “this is how they lived, or at least thought was the correct way to live” way. There are a lot more boring things out there, and this section of Exodus is actually a prime example.

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