Rav Kook Torah

VaYakheil: Two Layers of Wisdom


Two woven coverings stretched out across the roof of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle designated for worshipping God in the wilderness. The inner covering was a resplendent work of fine linen and colorful wool, dyed indigo, purple, and crimson. The outer covering was a simpler affair, made solely of goat wool. One might think that the magnificent inner covering was the greater of the two. The Talmud, however, notes that weaving the outer wool covering required greater wisdom.

The Torah describes the women involved in spinning the colorful inner covering as being “wise-hearted.” Regarding the simpler, outer covering, on the other hand, the Torah indicates that the women employed an especially lofty wisdom. They were “women whose hearts uplifted them in wisdom” (Ex. 35:25).

What was this special wisdom? According to the Talmud in Shabbat 99a, the wool was washed and spun — while still attached to the goats!

Abstract and Practical Wisdom

The Sages compared the building of the Mishkan to the creation of heaven and earth. The details of how the Tabernacle was constructed correspond to the configuration of the universe, both physically and spiritually.

Rav Kook explained that these two Tabernacle coverings relate to two spheres of wisdom in the world, the basis of Divine influence and holiness. The first level of wisdom is abstract and general, while the second is practical and detailed. The abstract wisdom shines with brilliant flashes of the intellect and variegated hues of the imagination. This wisdom deals with inner, sublime matters, and therefore corresponds to the colorful inner covering.

Practical wisdom, on the other hand, would appear to be a simpler matter, serving primarily to protect and watch over the abstract concepts of the inner wisdom. But in truth, the practical wisdom of how to apply abstract principles in everyday life is profound and rare. Spiritual abstractions may be revealed through prophecy and Divine inspiration. But the practical Torah of mitzvot could only be revealed through the unique clarity of Moses’ prophetic vision.

“The women whose hearts uplifted them in wisdom” — these women were blessed with the gift of the highest wisdom. By virtue of its profound insight, their “hearts were uplifted,” thus elevating all feelings and emotions, all actions and deeds, all aspects of life. Their wisdom was so great that “they spun [on] the goats.” They were able to elevate the material world — even life’s vexing aspects, as symbolized by a mischievous goat — binding and tying it to the lofty eternal light.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 245-246)