The Torah in Parashat Vayakhel describes Benei Yisrael’s enthusiastic and generous response to Moshe’s call for the donation of materials for the construction of the Mishkan. Amidst this description we find mention of two groups of women who brought spun wool. The first group consisted of “kol isha chokhmat leiv” (“every wise-hearted woman” – 35:25), and they brought wool dyed in the various colors required, as well as the necessary linen fabrics. The second group is described as “ha-nashim asher nasa liban otana be-chokhma” (“the women whose hearts stirred them with wisdom” – 35:26), and these women spun the goats’ wool. This wool was required for the yeri’ot izim – the curtains that formed the second of the four layers of cloths that covered the Mishkan (36:14).
Rashi, citing the Gemara (Shabbat 74b, 99a), explains that this second group of women were exceptionally skilled, and managed to spin the wool while it was still on the goats’ bodies. Conventionally, of course, the wool is first sheared from the animal and then processed before it can be spun. These women, however, managed to spin the wool directly from the goats’ bodies.
Various theories have been offered to explain why such an unconventional method of spinning was necessary. Some, including the Maharsha (Shabbat 98b), Rav Yehonatan Eibshitz (Tiferet Yehonatan) and Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen of Dvinsk (Meshekh Chokhma), suggested that this method was followed to allow even women who were ritually impure (due to menstruation) to participate. Woolen fabrics are susceptible to tum’a (ritual impurity), but wool is not susceptible to tum’a as long as it is still attached to the animal’s body. Therefore, even those who were impure were able to produce the woolen fabrics by spinning the wool directly from the animal.
Others explained that this was simply a matter of zerizut – alacrity. These righteous women wanted to complete the work as quickly as possible, and they thus found a way to accelerate the process by skipping the stage of shearing.
A different approach is taken by Seforno, who explains, quite simply, that the less wool is handled, the fresher and whiter it is. The women therefore spun the wool directly from the goats in order to minimize the amount of handling that would be necessary to prepare the curtains, thereby enhancing its appearance.
This approach is followed by Rav David Pardo, in his Maskil Le-David, who notes that this explains why this method was used only for producing the goats’ wool, and not for the sheep’s wool. All the sheep’s wool, Rav Pardo notes, was dyed in various colors (“tekheilet,” “argaman” and “tola’at shani”), and thus nothing was gained by maintaining its pristine, natural white color, as in any event it was all dyed. The goats’ wool, however, was not dyed, and thus the aesthetic quality of the Mishkan was enhanced by the preservation of the wool’s natural color as much as possible.