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Va-Yakhel 5768

Parshat Vayakhel
(1 Kings 7:40-50)
24 Adar 1 5768
March 1, 2008

Much like this week\’s parashah, the haftarah seems like an exhaustive list of the varied and different appurtenances crafted by King Hiram for King Solomon and by Solomon himself for the Temple. The inventory is quite detailed, naming the utensils, from what they were crafted and their exact specifications, as for example: \”All of the vessels in the House of the Lord that Hiram made for King Solomon were of burnished bronze (nehoshet memorat)\” (Verse 45)

The exact meaning of the word \”memorat\” is an open question which is further complicated by the fact that in the parallel version of this passage found in the book of Chronicles a different word is used: \”nehoshet maruk\” (2 Chronicles 4:16) which literally means \”well scoured bronze\”. The apparent intention of both terms seems to be that after the utensils were fashioned, they were carefully polished to a fine shine. (See here Ezekiel 21:15 \”barak morata – polished) Another possibility is that this term is indicative of a high quality of bronze. This definition seems to be the one chosen by Josephus, who describes the bronze utensils in the Temple in these words: \”and all the remaining bronze vessels had the appearance and beauty of gold\” (Antiquities 8:88, Shalit ed. p. 275) (Y. Kil, 1 Melakhim, Daat Mikra, p. 150) This explanation is in agreement with Targum Yonatan which translates these words: \”good bronze\”. Rabbi David Kimche similarly explains: \”pure and clean from rust and any impurity.\”

This question is also dealt with in the Talmud, in a passage notable for a number of curiosities: Our Rabbis taught: There was a pipe in the Sanctuary which was smooth and thin, made of reed, and from the days of Moses, [and its sound was pleasant]. The king commanded to overlay it with gold, whereupon its sound was no more pleasant. Then its overlay was taken off, and its sound was pleasant again as before. There was a cymbal in the Sanctuary from the days of Moses, made of bronze, and its sound was pleasant; then it became damaged. The Sages sent for craftsmen from Alexandria of Egypt, and they mended it, but its sound was not pleasant any more. Thereupon they removed the improvement and its sound became as pleasant as it was before. A bronze mortar was in the Sanctuary, from the days of Moses, and it would mix the spices. When it became damaged the Sages sent for craftsmen from Alexandria of Egypt who mended it, but it would no more mix the spices as well as it used to. Whereupon, they removed the improvement, and the mortar mix them well again as before. There were two vessels left over from the first Sanctuary, and after they had been damaged there was no remedy for them. It is with reference to them that David said: \’They were of burnished brass\” (above verse 45), and \”bright brass\” (2 Chronicles 4:16). In connection with them it is said also: \”And two vessels of fine bright brass, precious as gold\” (Ezra 8:27).\” (Arachim 10b)

Four things stand out in this passage: 1. The passage clearly sides with the latter definition of \”memorat\” as fine bronze, while the debate over distinguishing the difference between the term used in Kings and the term used in Chronicles continues on in the medieval commentators on this passage; 2. We find an awkward identification of the verse from Kings with David – a historical impossibility already identified and corrected by the medieval Tosafot who identify the source of the verse as \”scripture\”; 3. The passage identifies the utensils dealt with in these verses as a cymbal and a mortar; 4. The lesson of the passage, however, seems to focus on a more \”folksy\” message. Some things are better off not be altered, adulterated, or \”improved\”.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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