Metaphors in the Torah: “Vayakhel” (Exodus 35:1 – 38:20)


Illustration: "The Creation of Light"
By Gustave Dor'e

*** Correction: This morning I was thinking about something and I realized that Dan is NOT the second son of Leah's servant: Zilpah, but is the first son of Rachel's servant Bilhah. Accordingly, I have amended the end of this article to reflect these facts.

The weekly portion Vayakhel begins by again repeating the commandment not to work on the Sabbath, but this time a different element is added: fire.

In previous articles we have discussed that work is a metaphor for studying and that food is a metaphor for knowledge. Hence, when the commandment says that we should remain in our place on the Sabbath and not search for food, what we are really being told is that on the Sabbath men should stop trying to attain a higher level of understanding  thru the efforts of their own scholarship and should allow God to communicate to them. Accordingly, we mentioned that Abraham, Lot and Jacob were described as sitting near the entrances of their tents or city and we contrasted this to Esau who was described as a hunter who actively searched for meat which we explained was a metaphor for a religious sermon.

In modern times, fire has something to do with desire. In the Old Testament fire is associated with the voice of God. We have the voice coming out of the burning bush in Sinai, but we also have, in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, a story about “a tongue of fire” coming out of the sky and “lapping up” the wood and water Elijah’s offering (In the New Testament there are many references to “tongues of fire”).

One of the major themes that we have discussed throughout this series of articles in the Jerusalem Post is that the function of God is to teach, so, for example, we mentioned that “Mount Moriah” is also called: “God’s Mountain” and that the root of the name: “Moriah” means “teacher”. In addition we discussed that this root also means: “to shoot an arrow” and that the Hebrew word for: “sin” is an archery term which means: “to miss the mark”.

Finally, we talked about “cooking” in relation to Jacob taking Esau’s birthright and blessing and Joseph arriving in Egypt with a spice caravan and being sold to Pontifar who was Pharaoh’s: “cook” (The title in English translations: “Captain of the Guards” is incorrect):


It is my conclusion from all these references that: “fire” has something to do with: “the desire to teach”. Hence the commandment not to make a fire on the Sabbath means: “Don’t preach sermons on the Sabbath”. In other words: the Sabbath is the time when men are supposed to listen to God, not teach what they think God means. Furthermore, compounding the problem, in today’s synagogues the rabbis usually don’t even teach what they think God means. Instead the rabbis teach what they think other rabbis think about God. So in the end most sermons are, in reality, Talmud commentaries, not Torah commentaries.

Regardless, fire is something associated with God and the Torah then goes on to explain that this must be a pure fire without anything added to it. Later we shall see that Aaron’s sons are immediately killed for adding incense to their fire pans and this apparently meant that they were adding their own personal thoughts to God’s messages or that their motives for desiring to teach God's word were not pure.  

Another theme that we see repeatedly throughout this Torah portion, as well as earlier Torah portions, is the use of the phrase: “wise heart” (We also mentioned in other articles that the reason David was selected to be king was that God saw his heart). In the article about: “sin” we discussed that: “the soul is in the blood” and that the blood has the ability to speak. We also mentioned that it was forbidden to eat the blood.

If food does indeed represent knowledge, then eating is a metaphor for learning. Actually, there is very little doubt about this because the prophet Amos speaks about: “a famine of God’s word” coming to the land and we have shown again and again that the land is a metaphor for a school.

So, eating the blood from the meat of an animal appears to be a metaphor for studying and accepting the spiritual teachings of others. In other words: God must be the sole source of spiritual teachings, not other men. Hence, it is okay to listen to men’s opinions on other subjects, just not spiritual subjects which claim God as their source.

The last thing we will discuss are the names of the two workmen assigned to build the tabernacle and produce the clothing of the priests. In other articles we mentioned that a person’s clothing represents the source of their teachings, thus the items in the clothing of the priests must somehow reinforce the idea that God is a teacher. We also noted that the tabernacle is the place where God communicates with his people and that the continual light, provided by pure olive oil, symbolized that the tabernacle was a source of enlightenment.

Thus, the first man selected to build the tabernacle and to manufacture the priests’ garments is named: “Bezalel” which some translators say means: “the shadow of God”. My personal opinion is that his name should be associated with the popular movie now showing in American theaters: “Fifty Shades of Grey”, thus his name should mean: “ A shade of the whiteness of God”. In other words: God is pure white and pure enlightenment, Bezelel, however, is a man who is a shade of grey which is very close to the white color of God, but not pure white.

In addition to this we are told that Bezelel is “the Son of Uri” and the name: Uri means: “My light” or: “My fire”. We have discussed many, many times the Holy Day of Shavout and the connection between the first born son, first fruits of the land and the word of God. Hence, “my first born son” is a metaphor for: “the authorize source of my word” and this is why the Children of Israel, as custodians of God’s word, are described as God’s first born son.

So, Bezelal is a source of the word of God’s teachings, but not as pure a source as God himself.

We are then told that Uri is the son of Hur. The name Hur means: either “to start a fire” or “to whiten with age”. Either way, we can see that his name has something to do with fire and purity.

Finally, we are told that Hur is from the tribe of Judah. Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah and his name means: “to praise God”. Since the waters of Noah’s flood lasted for 40 days and nights and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, we can safely assume that the number “4” has something to do with “cleansing” or “purification”. It is my personal opinion that the name Judah means (or,  at least, implies): “praising God will purify our souls”.

The second man selected to help with the construction of the tabernacle was named: "Oholiab" and this is quite appropriate since his name means: "the father's tent" and, in the beginning, the tabernacle of God was indeed a tent.
His father's name was: "Ahisamach" whose name means: "My brother supports" or "the support of my brother". In my personal opinion a brother means: "a co-religionist", hence if Abram had described himself as Sarai's husband, he would then have been identified as a priest and killed, but because she told Pharaoh that Abram was her brother, it meant he was merely her co-religionist and posed no threat. 
***  The final piece of information we are given is that Oholiab comes from the tribe of Dan and the name "Dan" means: "judge". Here, since Dan is the first son of slave of the second wife of Jacob, it is my personal opinion he should be associated with the number: "11" . The number "11" should be interpreted as "10" plus "1" . Thus "10" should be first compared to the ten commandments as well as the ten hits (i.e. plagues in English). The number "1" should be associated with Leah's son Reuben whose name means: "see a son" which in my opinion is a metaphor for: "to understand God's word".
Jacob compares Dan to a snake and the snake is also associated with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thus "Dan the Judge" is a person who represents: "a person with deep understanding of God's laws."
My conclusion is that knowledge of the law supports God's tabernacle, but teaching the law is not the main function of the tabernacle...