• yehoshua steinberg

Pekudei: The Ring of Servitude ~ Tzvi Abrahams


עֵגֶל: calf

עַגָלָה: cart

עֶגְלוֹן: Eglon, king of Moav

מַעַגַל: circle

עֵגֶל: Calf

אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי מֹשֶׁה These are the accountings of the Mishkan/sanctuary, Mishkan of testimony, accounted for by Moshe.1

According to Rashi, the expression מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת/the Mishkan of testimony, refers to the testimony to Israel that Hashem had forgiven them for the making of the עֵגֶל, the sin of the Golden Calf. The resting of the Shechinah among the Jewish Nation was testimony in itself to Hashem’s forgiveness.

Why in particular was the עֵגֶלchosen as the symbol for their avodah zarah? The עֵגֶלwas one of the gods that the Egyptians worshipped; this is hinted to in the verse: עֶגְלָה יְפֵה פִיָּה מִצְרָיִם/Egypt is a beautiful calf.2When the Bnei Yisrael came down to Egypt, they had to be segregated to the land of Goshen because it was an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians to see their gods slaughtered and eaten by these strange people.

In truth, it was the Egyptians who were the strange people, for in the eyes of Hashem their worshiping of animals was indeed avodah zarah/strange worship. Hashem created animals to serve man, not the other way around.

If we look back to Parshas Ki Sisa, we see that the actual material used for the making of the Golden Calf was golden earrings, as it says:וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ כָּל הָעָם אֶת נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אַהֲרֹן/and the people took off their earrings and gave them toAharon.3(It should be noted that these earrings were specifically from the men, not the women.) The Ibn Ezra explains that they picked up the custom of wearing earrings from the Egyptians and the Ishmaelites.

So the עגלwas made from נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב/golden earrings. The first time נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָבare mentioned in the Torah is in connection to Rivkah: וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ/and the man took a gold ring, a bekain weight.4When Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, saw that his mission to find Yitzchak a wife was coming to fruition, he sealed the deal by giving Rivkah various items of jewellery, one of which was a נֶזֶם זָהָב/a gold ring. The Ibn Ezra mentions that there were two possible types of rings, one for the ears and one for the nose, and since נֶזֶם זָהָבin is the singular, it is more likely that Rivkah was given a nose ring. The bekain weight was equivalent to half a shekel and corresponded to theמַחַצִית הַשֶׁקֶל/the half-shekel given by the Bnei Yisrael in Parshas Shekalimtowards the building of the Mishkan and towards the purchasing of the communal sacrifices for the year. In this way, they helped attain atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The מַחַצִית הַשֶׁקֶל/half-shekel was a mandatory contribution; however, when it came to the non-mandatory contribution towards the building of the Mishkan, the so-called נְדִיב לֵב/donation of the heart, it was the women who stepped up and willingly gave of their precious jewellery, which the Torah goes out of its way to commend them for.

Earrings are round rings and are referred to as עֲגִילִים עַל אָזְנָיִךְ/literally “rings on your ears.”5So we see quite clearly the connection between the עֵגֶלbeing made from earrings called עַגִילִים. As we mentioned earlier, it was the men’s earrings that caused the damage, while the reparations were made through the women’s earrings. There could also be a connection linking עֵגֶל/calf to rings, in that it was customary in many places to pierce a calf’s nose with rings to help keep it under control.

Elsewhere we see that the piercing of the ear represents servitude. If theעֶבֶד עִבְרִי/Hebrew slave, after serving his time, decides to remain in servitude rather than go free, the Torah commands us to draw him close to the doorway and drive an awl through his ear. Specifically, it was the ear that heard at Har Sinai that ‘’the Bnei Yisrael are My servants,” and that they should not be a servant of servants.6What we see from here is that although women wear ear and nose rings as jewellery, the underlying reason for doing so is to symbolize servitude, the need to be subservient to their husbands, where in Hebrew בַּעַלֵיהֶםmeans “their owners/masters.”

A woman who does not serve and respect her husband is like she is discarding her earrings. She is like those men who threw off their earrings and sinned at the Golden Calf rather than serving Hashem. Of course, the husband she is to respect needs to be worthy of respect; no אֵשֶׁת חֶיִל/woman of substance is going to respect a man who does not get out of bed in the morning!

In the Gemara in Sotah, it says that the Mashiach will come to a chutzpah-dikgeneration. This is all too apparent in today’s generation, and one of the reasons for this is that many women are the dominant party in the relationship. Since the children are raised in a house where respect is not given to the proper place, it is not so difficult to understand why they are chutzpah-dik. These are the repercussions of the women’s liberation movement, which sought “equality” for women.7We live in an upside down world where women literally wear the trousers! It is not for nothing that the Gemara refers to the woman as the בַּיִת/house, because her place is to build the house and make it a loving environment for the children to flourish. Judaism is by no means chauvinistic; men and woman have equal importance but just have different roles, just like in the army, where both the battlefront and homefront units are equally important.

So when Rivkah accepted the nose ring, she was really taking on the mission to serve her husband. On the other hand, it says: נֶזֶם זָהָב בְּאַף חֲזִיר אִשָּׁה יָפָה וְסָרַת טָעַם/like a gold ring in the nose of a pig is a beautiful woman who lacks reason,8meaning no matter how precious a gold ring is, it won’t make the pig beautiful. In the same vein, a woman may wear jewellery to beautify her face, but it won’t help her if she is ugly inside. The symbolism of the nose ring hints to us the idea that one of the key aspects to a beautiful woman is that she respects her husband. Perhaps for this reason Rivkah is described by the Torah as being not just beautiful but טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד/extremely beautiful.

Interestingly Rivkah’s death is alluded to in the Torah immediately after Yaakov builds a Mizbei’ach/altar in Beis El and offers up korbanosto Hashem. Before Yaakov is able to build the Mizbei’ach, he first issues a command to his sons to remove and bury all of the idolatrous booty that they had taken from Shechem after killing all of the males in revenge for the raping of Dinah. The Torah makes specific mention of the earrings, הַנְּזָמִים אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם,9perhaps hinting to us that the death of Rivkah, who perfected the wearing of the earrings/nose rings לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם/in the purest sense, was a כַּפָּרָה/atonement for the misappropriation of the earrings of avodah zarahby the sons of Yaakov. We see this concept of כַּפָּרָה/atonement similarly with the juxtaposition of the death of Miriam with theParah Adumah/red cow, where Rashi says that just like the cow atones, so too the death of tzaddikimatones.10

עַגָלָה: Cart

According to world opinion, man’s greatest invention was the wheel.עַגָלָה/cart is so-called because it functions through the מַעַגַל/wheel. Now we can better understand the meaning of the words that are said in Kaddish:בַּעַגָלָא וּבִּזְמַן קָרִיב, where עַגָלָאmeans “quickly,” because the circle represents movement; we see this with the advent of the wheel, which helps us to move quicker. Perhaps the עַגָלָהalso comes from the עֵגֶלbeing used to drive the cart especially with heavy loads, because the עֵגֶלis much more powerful than a horse.

עֶגְלוֹן: Eglon, King of Moav

Eglon got his name because he was so obese that he was compared to a fatted calf. It was so hard for him to get up that he was rewarded for arising to hear the word of G-d just before a knife was thrust into his belly, causing his fat and guts to be spilled over the floor. The reward was that the Mashiach would descend from his daughter Ruth.

מַעַגַל: Circle

Elements in nature are round. טַבַּעַת/ring comes from the word טֶבַע/nature, whereas straight edges like squares, rectangles, and triangles are man-made. Everything in the Mishkan (besides the Menorah) was shaped and cut by man. It can be said that Hashem gives us a ball (i.e., planet Earth), and it’s up to us to give it shape.

A circle represents a continuum, seemingly with no beginning and no end. It is very much a pagan belief that the world has always existed. A circle therefore can represent avodah zarah; if you believe there is no beginning or no end, then you are going around in circles with no goal, no destination, and therefore no meaning. For this reason, many pagan temples were round (e.g., Stonehenge).

On the other hand, יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק/Hashem guides the paths of the righteous.11Even though we live within the circular concept of a year, Hashem gives us control to sanctify the chodesh, which in turn gives shape and structure to the year. Just like every week has a beginning, middle, and end, building up to the Shabbos, so too the world is on course for the day that is eternally Shabbos,יוֹם שֶׁכֻּלוֹ שַׁבַּת. For the pagan lifestyle, the week is just another continuous series of circles within circles; in fact, if you were to ask an atheist why there are seven days in a week, he would be hard pressed to give you an answer. We are עַם מְקַדְשׁ שְׁבִיעִי/the people who sanctify the seventh day. Shabbos breaks up the circle and gives shape and meaning to our lives. It is a time when we are told to rest and to rest our animals. While the rest of the world keeps on going around and around in a seemingly monotonous cycle, for us the wheel stops and we step into the timeless zone of Shabbos, מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא/a taste of the World to Come.

Where Do We See ‘π’ in the Torah?

וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת הַיָּם מוּצָק עֶשֶׂר בָּאַמָּה מִשְּׂפָתוֹ עַד שְׂפָתוֹ עָגֹל סָבִיב וְחָמֵשׁ בָּאַמָּה קוֹמָתוֹ (וקוה)וְקָו שְׁלֹשִׁים בָּאַמָּה יָסֹב אֹתוֹ סָבִיב And he (Solomon)made the sea molten, ten amosfrom one edge to the other, a circular surrounding, and five amosits height, and a line of thirty amossurrounds its circumference.12

When we want to make a circle straight, we use the value of π (pi).Interestingly, the number of π is encrypted in the above verse. The copper wash basin, used by thekohanimin the Temple, is described as a circle measuring ten amosin diameter with a thirty amoscircumference. Given that the formula for the circumference of a circle is 2πr, and given the above measurements, π works out to be 3, yet we all know, having studied elementary mathematics, that π approximates to 3.142. This leaves a discrepancy of almost one-and-a-half amosfor the measurements given in the Torah for the circle of the wash basin. The Vilna Gaon gives the following explanation: In the abovepasuk, the word for “line” is pronounced differently to the way it is written, קָוinstead of קוה. By dividing the numerical value of קוה[111] with the value of קָו[106] and then multiply by 3 (the biblical value for π), it equals 3.142, the exact number of π to the fourth decimal point. Amazing!

Around this time of the year, we read פַּרְשַׁת פָּרָה/Parshas Parah, the segment dealing with the פָּרָה אַדוּמָה/red heifer, which was used to purify different kinds of tumah. The reason given in the Gemara in Megillahfor the reading of פַּרְשַׁת פָּרָה around this time was in order to prepare ourselves to be in a state of purity so that we would be able to bring the korban Pesach. There is a well-known Midrash that gives a parable for the symbolism of the פָּרָה אַדוּמָה, where after entering the palace, the son of a maidservant makes it dirty, upon which the king calls upon the mother to clean up the mess.13Hence, the פָּרָה/cow being the mother of the עֵגֶל/calf is appropriately the one to fix up the sin of the Golden Calf.

As we approach Pesach, the מַעַגַל/circle of the festivals begins again with the sanctifying of the first of the new month of Nisan, as it says: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.14At Pesach we were commanded to take the korban Pesachand slaughter the Egyptian god, thereby breaking out of the ring of servitude of Egypt, of strange worship, in worshiping the מַעַגַל, the circle of nature, where we emerged straight, the nation known as Yisrael — Yasher-El/straight to G-d. The true ring of servitude is represented by the Mishkan, the place that was sanctified with the nediv lev/donation ofעֲגִילִים/earrings of our holy women, who incidentally were given the reward of Rosh Chodesh, perhaps because, as we said above, Rosh Chodesh is what shapes the year. So too the Mishkan, with all its straight edges, symbolizes where we broke out of the circle and gave shape to a world where the Divine Presence can rest.

The word תַּפְקִיד/tafkid, meaning purpose, is connected to the word פְקוּדֵי, which we translated above as “accounting.” Life has a purpose, and just like everything had to be accounted for in the building of the Mishkan, so too we have to account for all that we do in our personal תַּפְקִידof building our own individual Mishkan, where hopefully the Divine Presence will come to rest within us, giving testimony to the fact that Hashem has forgiven us for any misdeeds that may have caused us to be outside the ring of servitude.

1Shemos 38:21.

2Yirmiyahu 46:20. See Malbim.


4Bereishis 24:22.

5Yechezkel 16:12.

6See Rashi to Shemos21:6.

7Heard in a shiurgiven by Rabbi Ephraim Kahana.

8Mishlei 11:22.

9Bereishis 35:4.

10Mo’ed Katan 28a.

11Tehillim 23:3.

12Melachim I7:23.

13Midrash Tanchuma, Chukas8.

14Shemos 12:2.

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