The Symbolism of Bracelets

I am especially intrigued by words that are found relatively rarely in the Torah, because the connections between those examples are always illuminating.

This week, for example, I was struck by a phrase in the text, that the Jewish people had somehow “become attached” to the gods of Baal Peor (Nu, 25:3). The actual Hebrew word for “become attached” is quite odd: it is the verb form of the word “bracelet,” tzimid.

That word is first found when Abraham’s servant decides that Rebekah is the person Isaac is supposed to marry. He gives her two bracelets, as something of a pre-engagement gift. Bracelets, of course, are worn on the wrists, so they are connected with our actions and choices. These bracelets can be seen as a way to connect Rebekah to Isaac, or at least like a modern engagement ring: with the heavy bracelets, Rebekah is promised to Isaac, and thus is denied to other men.

The other thing Jewish men use to bind our hands are tefilin, which we use in daily prayer to recommit to G-d. A bracelet is a connection to another person, just as tefillin are a connection to our Creator.

Which means that when some of the Jewish people became “braceleted” to the idol Baal Peor, they had chosen to exclude G-d from their lives. They committed idolatry just as an engaged woman who slept around would be committing an offense against her relationship.

The other key time this word is found in the Torah is when discussing whether a vessel is contaminated by a dead body:

וְכֹל֙ כְּלִ֣י פָת֔וּחַ אֲשֶׁ֛ר אֵין־צָמִ֥יד פָּתִ֖יל עָלָ֑יו טָמֵ֖א הֽוּא׃

and every open vessel, with no lid [bracelet] fastened down, shall be unclean.

This example reinforces this understanding: a lid/bracelets separates a thing from its environment, preserving the state of its object from any non-designated influences. That could be good (in Rebekah’s case) or not good (as with the seduced men).

By using these words in this way, the Torah reinforces the countless parallels between adultery and idolatry: marriage between man and wife is due the same sanctity and exclusivity as the relationship between mankind and our Creator.

[@iwe and Eliyahu Masinter]

Comments are welcome!