‘Parallel Processing’ Parashat Vayakhel 5782

The Jewish People are commanded to donate towards the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) that will house G-d’s Infinite Divine Presence in a finite corporeal world. The required materials include precious metals – gold, silver, and copper – and other raw materials to make the clothing of the priests (Kohanim) who will administer in the Mishkan: blue, purple and crimson yarn, and the finest linen and wool. The Jewish People, in a precedent that has since been repeated countless times, open their hearts. The extent of their donations and the rapidity in which they are made complete the fund-raising drive and then some. The people donate more than the builders require and Moshe must literally stop them from giving.

The Torah describes the donations in a seemingly innocuous verse [Shemot 35:23]: “Everyone who had in his possession blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine line, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins and tachash[1] skins brought them”. Rashi, the most eminent of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century, makes an even more innocuous comment: He notes that everyone who had in his possession blue[2] or purple or crimson yarns or ram skins or tachash skins – all of them brought whatever they had. What is Rashi’s innovation? Did anyone really think that only a person who owned everything – blue and purple and crimson yarns as well as ram and tachash skins –  brought donations? Did anyone really think that a pauper who owned only blue yarn was barred from donating it to the Mishkan? This question is asked by the Siftei Chachamim, an amalgam of supercommentaries on Rashi. The Siftei Chachamim answers that as blue, purple, and crimson yarns are always woven together[3], and that as ram and tachash wool together formed the cover of the Mishkan, one might have thought that these materials needed to be donated together. Rashi’s addition of the word “or” comes to pre-empt this kind of hypothesis. In this essay, we will explore an alternate solution.

Our journey begins with the Princes of the Tribes. After discussing the donations of the ordinary people, the Torah segues to the Princes [Shemot 35:24]: “The Princes brought lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastplate”. The “stones for setting” – avnei ha’miluim” – are the precious gems set in the breastplate of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol), used as a sort of Delphic Oracle. The Torah reveals the names of these gems but there is a large amount of disagreement as to their true identity. Nevertheless, all agree that these gems were worth a fair sum of money. Rashi, quoting from the Midrash, makes a scathing accusation: “What reason did the Princes have to make their contribution at the dedication of the altar first of all the people, whereas at the work of the Mishkan they were not the first but the last to contribute? [The answer is that] the Princes said [at the Mishkan] ‘Let the community contribute all they wish to give and what will then be lacking we will supply’. But when the community gave everything that was needed in its entirety… the Princes said ‘What can we do now?’ and therefore they brought the precious gems.” Rashi attributes their behaviour to arrogance and to sloth. I would like to suggest an alternate reason for the behaviour of the Princes and to show how their error at the building of the Mishkan was rectified by their behaviour at the dedication of the altar.

Anyone who knows anything about computers knows about Moore’s Law that projects that every two years the computing power of computers doubles[4]. Since Gordon Moore, then the CEO of Intel, made his projection in 1975, computing power has indeed followed Moore’s Law. Right around the turn of the twenty-first century, however, the increase of the speed of a computer’s Central Processing Unit (CPU) began to slow down. In 2002, computers with CPU speeds of 2 GHz were available for a modest cost while today, the fastest computers have CPU speeds of about 4 GHz, an increase of only one hundred percent. How have computers kept up with Moore’s Law if their processing speed has hit a speed bump? The answer has to do with parallel processing. Until the late nineties, most computer CPU’s had one “core” and all processing had to go through that core serially, in one straight line. The only way to increase the processing power was to increase the speed of the CPU. In the early two-thousands, parallel processing hit the streets. Parallel processing increases the CPU processing power by adding cores, enabling the CPU to divide tasks between the multiple cores. Dual cores were followed by quad cores followed by today’s octo-core processors. And so while the speed of the processing has only risen slightly over the last generation, the amount of data that is processed at each tick of the clock has skyrocketed.

The Princes of the Tribes were not supercilious nor were they lazy. They believed that the service of G-d should be performed serially: The “man on the street” would reach whatever spiritual level he could reach and then the more spiritually advanced would fill in the gaps. They were mistaken – the service of G-d must be performed in parallel. Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik, who served as the religious leader of North American Jewry in the second half of the previous century, defines a “prayer community” in which all Jews find true fellowship, true communion, with G-d and with others. While each person connects with G-d on his own level and while each one prays for his own needs, we pray together in a synagogue and we read from the same prayer book. The Princes should have brought their donations together with everyone else. They should have filled out the same forms and stood in the same lines, as part of one community.

The Princes of the Tribes rectify their error at the dedication of the altar. They do not push to the front of the line, as a cursory reading of Rashi might indicate. Instead, they donate in parallel and not in serial. This is clearly seen in the content of their gifts [Bemidbar 7:3]: “Six covered wagons and twelve oxen [pulling them] – a wagon for every two princes and an ox for each one”. Instead of giving individual gifts, the Princes join together with each two Princes donating one wagon. Their individuality merges into a community, worshiping G-d as one. G-d tells Moshe [Bemidbar 7:5] “Accept it from them” because this is exactly the gift I want: it is a gift from “them”.

Beside the wagons, each Prince brought an additional gift that was to be offered on the altar. Strangely, they all brought the exact same items, including a bull, a ram, and a lamb in its first year. While our Sages in the Midrash explain how the offering of each Prince reflects the history and the future of his own tribe, I suggest that the Princes purposely offered identical offerings. Further, I suggest that they wanted follow the parallel processing to its conclusion by offering one communal offering on one day. And yet, G-d divides them up, preferring to receive twelve identical individual offerings over twelve days. G-d tells Moshe [Bemidbar 7:11] “Let them present their offerings for the dedication of the altar, one Prince each day” with the phrase “one Prince each day” repeated twice for emphasis. Why does G-d prefer separate offerings over one joint offering? There is a certain tension between the individual and the community. Had the Princes given one communal offering, it would have blurred their individuality. The Jewish People simultaneously possess both a national and a personal relationship with G-d. One does not come at the expense of the other, rather, the “one” is nourished by the “other”.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5782

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Geisha bat Sara.

[1] The identity of the tachash is unclear. The JPS translation on the Sefaria web site translates tachash as “dolphin”. Our Sages in the Midrash posit that whatever it was, the tachash had a translucent skin. They bring a number of suggestions as to its identity, including a unicorn.

[2] If we’re already talking about the Sefaria website, allow me to vent one gripe: its translation of scripture and its translation of commentators come from different sources. For instance, while the translation of scripture talks about ‘blue, purple, and crimson yarns”, its translation of Rashi talks about “blue purple, red purple, and crimson (without the word “yarn”)”. This makes simple cutting and pasting nearly impossible.

[3] See, for instance, Shemot [28:6] and [28:15].

[4] This is actually a corollary of Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law, as originally stated, refers to the number of transistors in an integrated circuit.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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