February 27, 2014
After the Torah describes in detail the making of the Mishkan and its vessels, it makes the following concluding statement.
32. All the work of the Mishkan of the Tent of Meeting was completed; the children of Israel had done [it]; according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so they had done.
לב. וַתֵּכֶל כָּל עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהֹוָה אֶת משֶׁה כֵּן עָשׂוּ:
Rashi: the children of Israel had done: the work; according to all that the Lord had commanded, etc..
ויעשו בני ישראל: את המלאכה ככל אשר צוה ה’ וגו’:
Rashi’s comment seems to be quite simple, even uninformative. But after examination we will see its cleverness and what it teaches us.
First notice the style of this comment. Rashi weaves his two words (“the work”) in between the Torah text.
What is he adding by making this addition? It seems to tell us exactly what the verse itself says.
There is a redundancy here.
It says “And the Children of Israel did” etc., and then it repeats and says “and so they did.”
By Rashi’s two words he enlightens us about a very subtle point. The Hebrew “vaya’asu” can have two meanings.
“And they did.”
“And they made.”
What does the first “vaya’asu” mean? (Translated in English Chumashim as “and they did.”)
It means “and they made.” That is why Rashi adds the crucial words “the work” to tell that they “made (not did) the work.”
The second time the word “asu” is used in this verse, it means “they did.”
But we have another point of verbal confusion here. Why does Rashi say “hamelachah” (the work) when the verse earlier had used the word “avodah” for work?
The answer is that here too, these Hebrew words have two different meanings – even though in English they are both translated as “work.”
“Hamelachah” is a noun and means crafts – the product of creating something.
The word “avodah” is a verb and means, “to work” to do some labour.
Now we can see the precision of Rashi’s choice of words. He says “The Children of Israel made (not did) the artifacts (not work) as God had commanded Moses, so they did.”
Now there is no redundancy in this verse.
With two words Rashi clarifies a subtle point, that is missed by all the translations of the Chumash.