The Women’s Wisdom

V’chol ha’nashim asher nasa liban osanah b’chachmah tavu es ha’izim (Shemos 35:26)

Rashi writes that the women displayed special skills and wisdom in spinning the goats’ hair while it was still attached to the goats. Why did the women spin the hair in this seemingly awkward and inefficient manner, and what unique intelligence did they display in doing so?

The Ostrovtzer Rebbe explains that the women feared that they would be exempt from the mitzvah to build the Mishkan. As it may not be built on Shabbos (Rashi 35:2), it is considered a positive time-bound commandment, in which women are not obligated. Although a person who is exempt from a mitzvah and nevertheless performs it receives reward for his actions, the Gemara in Kiddushin (31a) teaches that the reward for a person who is obligated in a mitzvah is much greater.

The reason the Mishkan may not be built on Shabbos is that the creative labors involved in its construction are forbidden on Shabbos. However, it is Biblically permissible to perform the 39 forbidden activities in an unusual way. Therefore, the women specifically spun the goats’ hair in an unconventional fashion that is Biblically permitted on Shabbos in order to demonstrate that it is possible to work on the construction of the Mishkan even on Shabbos. If so, it is no longer considered a time-bound commandment, which would mean that the women were obligated to assist with it, thereby making them eligible for a much larger reward.

The Ksav Sofer, Pardes Yosef, and Harav Shlomo Kluger all explain that the women of the generation desperately wanted to contribute to the building of the Mishkan. However, they recognized that Jewish law views any acquisition of a woman as belonging to her husband (Sanhedrin 71a), apparently leaving them without any possessions of their own to donate.

However, the women realized that the Gemara in Kesuvos explains (47b) that whatever a woman produces, which should rightfully be hers, belongs to her husband as a result of a Rabbinical decree requiring him to provide her with food to eat. Recognizing that in the desert they were miraculously sustained by the mann that fell daily, the women had no need to receive food from their husbands. Therefore, they wisely chose to keep what they produced — including the goat-hair — for themselves so that they could donate their own possessions to the Mishkan.

Q: The Torah records (Shemos 35:10) that Moshe commanded the “wise of heart” to make everything necessary for the Mishkan. Hashem earlier told Moshe (31:6) that He had placed wisdom into the hearts of those who are wise to allow them to do so. From this latter verse the Gemara in Brachos (55a) derives that Hashem only gives wisdom to one who already possesses it. How did these wise-hearted individuals escape this apparent dilemma, and from where did they attain their initial wisdom?

Q: Rashi writes (35:27) that the tribal leaders were punished by the removal of the letter “yud” from their titles. They decided that after the people had completed their contributions for the building of the Mishkan, they would donate whatever was missing. Why was Moshe not similarly punished for his lack of contribution to the Mishkan? To the contrary, Rashi writes (39:33) that because Moshe had not participated in the Mishkan, Hashem miraculously arranged that nobody should be able to erect it except Moshe in order to give him a part in its construction.

A: The Baal HaTurim answers that the initial wisdom refers to the fear of Hashem, as Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim (111:10). This is hinted to by the fact that the phrase chachmei lev asher has the same numerical value as yiras. Harav Chaim Volozhiner explains that fear of Hashem serves as the storehouse that allows a person to preserve his Torah learning. It is for this reason that Hashem gives wisdom only to those who already possess the fear of Hashem, because without a suitable storehouse, the wisdom will quickly be lost.

Harav Chaim Shmulevitz suggests that the Midrash (Tanchuma 2) implies that the initial wisdom that Hashem seeks in a person is respect for and pursuit of knowledge, so that if He imbues him with wisdom, it will be used productively. Harav Avraham Pam adds that this explanation is alluded to in Mishlei (4:7), where Shlomo Hamelech writes that the beginning of wisdom is the desire to acquire it.

A: Rav Avraham, the brother of the Vilna Gaon, explains that the Torah emphasizes (25:3) that the primary prerequisite for contributing to the Mishkan was nidvas ha’lev — a motivated heart. However, this was only applicable to a person who felt that he owned items and was inspired to generously donate them. Moshe, on the other hand, had so negated his entire essence to Hashem that he didn’t view himself as possessing anything that he could be moved to contribute.

The Mishmeres Ariel suggests that on the way out of Egypt, the Jewish people became rich by borrowing the gold and silver of their Egyptian neighbors. The Gemara in Sotah (13a) teaches that Moshe spent that time preoccupied with the mitzvah of retrieving Yosef’s bones. As such, he didn’t have any precious metals that he could donate to the Mishkan.

Alternatively, Harav Berel Soloveitchik answers that Moshe served as the treasurer who accepted all of the donations for the Mishkan. Contributing to the cause required the giving over of the item and the transfer of its ownership from its owner to the treasurer. Because Moshe was the treasurer, he had no means to give his possessions to himself and was therefore unable to donate.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email