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Vayakhel

"And all the skilled women spun with their own hands" Exodus 35:25

    For the ultimate in interior design, God chose Bezalel, from the tribe of Judah, to oversee the construction, design and colour scheme of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Enthusiasm for the project was overwhelming; Moses's call for donations of materials resulted in an abundance of gold objects, fine linens, animal skins and acacia wood.

    Everyone whose "heart stirred" offered to work for this holy site (35:21) and Ramban comments that "a person who felt in his nature that he knew how to do such skills came before Moses and said to him 'I will do all that my lord speaks'". Inspired by their inner motivation, Ramban suggests that they discovered new talents and were compelled to create things. And who gave their items of worth? "Men and women, all whose hearts moved them" (35:22). It is a democratic process - God does not ask for the most intelligent or the most wealthy to contribute - everyone has the opportunity to contribute by sole virtue of their heartfelt yearning.

    Then the text focuses on the activities of some of the women: ve'kol ishah chochmat-lev - the phrase chochmat lev which literally means "wisdom of the heart" is interesting. According to Rashbam, a grandson of Rashi, this means a smart woman, while according to the Rambam, this refers to a skilled craftswoman. Perhaps there is a synthesis of these two views - the women who were able to combine intelligence with their skill in what we now call emotional intelligence.

    Women are constantly working with their hands, from the mundane tasks of childcare to the holy rituals of lighting Shabbat candles. A woman's busy-ness in the domestic sphere has traditionally excluded her from the intellectual sphere, yet a woman with chochmat lev is able to traverse this artificial boundary.

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