Parashat Vayakhel

And The Loveliest Of All Was The Unicorn

The many interpretations of the Tachash remind us to look beyond surface appearances for spiritual intensity.

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1. Do you see the definition of Onkelos as the Talmud understood it, surface here?

2. What has been added?

3. Rabbi Yehudah made a point of saying it was a kosher animal, why?

4. Does Rabbi Nehemiah consider this fact important?

5. According to Rabbi Nehemiah, why does the fact that the skins needed to be thirty cubits long require a miracle?

6. Do Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nehemiah disagree? If so, how? In yet a further discussion in the Jerusalem Talmud, and other places the Tachash was not considered a kosher animal.

Combining these different points of view, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, one of the great modern Hasidic masters, viewed the Tachash as a metaphor for the layers of meaning behind a person's speech. He saw the hide of the Tachash as something that was unattractive--even impure--on the outside, but magnificent on the inside.

He likened this to the nature of humor. Sometimes, he said, a joke can be seen as frivolous and lacking any spiritual value whatsoever, but often, it has the power to penetrate a person's consciousness and lead him to an awareness of heaven in a way that is completely surprising. What seemed to be a distraction from the work of the spirit ends up being spiritual work of the highest order.

Many times spiritual magnificence is cloaked within the garments of that which may not seem so kosher. The jokers are often the most serious among us. The idea that the Tabernacle where God dwelled includes this lesson reminds us that the deepest connections are not necessarily those that seem most apparent.

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Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.