Friday, February 25, 2011

Goat Hair and God: Lessons from Parashat VaYakhel

What does goat hair have to do with God? Good question. According to the Torah text, one of the contributions that the Israelite women made to the tabernacle was various types of weaving. According to the Torah text in Exodus 35:26-27:

כה וְכָל-אִשָּׁה חַכְמַת-לֵב, בְּיָדֶיהָ טָווּ; וַיָּבִיאוּ מַטְוֶה, אֶת-הַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶת-הָאַרְגָּמָן, אֶת-תּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי, וְאֶת-הַשֵּׁשׁ.25 And all the women that were skilled did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen.
כו וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים--אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂא לִבָּן אֹתָנָה, בְּחָכְמָה: טָווּ, אֶת-הָעִזִּים.26 And all the women whose were very skilled spun the goats' hair.

There are some interesting nuances in the Hebrew of these two verses. In verse 25, the women are referred to as "skilled" and in verse 26, they are called "very skilled." Why is it that those women who weave with goat hair are more praiseworthy than those who weave with fine linen and beautiful cloth?

Rashi, picking up on the fact that the Hebrew literally says that "they spun the goats," claims that these women had a more difficult task because they were weaving the goat hair as it was still on the goats. So zealous were they to begin the task, that they could not wait for the goats' hair to be taken off their bodies.

Another explanation that is less mythic and humorous is put forth by Midrash HaGadol. It claims that the goat hair was very fine and coarse which made the material more difficult to work with. Even though the goat hair may not have been as beautiful as the fine linen and the task may not have been as "prestigious," God found the task to be more praiseworthy.

Often we judge the quality of one's work based upon the final products that we see. However, we are often given different raw materials when we begin our work. Goat hair, on the face of it, will never be as beautiful as crimson and fine linen. However, the love of the women given goat hair and the obstacles that they overcame were much greater than the women who were given an inherent advantage.

This week, let us aspire to have the discerning power that God possesses when evaluating the work and the efforts of others. We must look closer at what we see and be more generous when examining the lives of the people around us. Sometimes the quality of the final product is really all that matters in the end. However, most of the time, it is the effort and endurance of those who have created the craft that deserve our attention and adulation.

Shabbat Shalom.