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It says in Pirkei Avot 5:6 that God made the first pair of tongs immediately before creation.

Could not one have made tongs out of bone or wood wrapped in leather or made with a metal, such as gold, that can be "cold forged" and shaped without heat?

Why is it theologically important that noone could have made tongs without tongs and that God made the first pair?

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    +1, I've wondered this myself. The last question (Tubal Cain) feels like a separate question, but that's just my opinion. – Shokhet Nov 3 '14 at 16:46
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/40944/5323 – Shokhet Nov 3 '14 at 16:46
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    Gold or any cold-forgable metal cannot be used to make a good pair of tongs since it would melt when it hit the fire or came in contact with molten iron. – Charles Koppelman Nov 3 '14 at 17:11
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    I think it comes to show our limited ability of creating. All our inventions are just a binyan on top of what HaShem created,we cannot create anything new. – sam Nov 3 '14 at 17:14
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    With regards to your second question, they were created then, but weren't used until much later. – Menachem Nov 3 '14 at 22:42
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As quoted here from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the theological significance of tongs is that they are preparatory - they exist for the purpose of making something else - and the idea of G-d creating them is that even things which are preparatory to something holy and significant can itself be worthwhile and significant.

As for the second question, creation of new things was limited to the first 6 days. Anything that was going to be made directly from G-d had to be made then. (See Koheles 1:9 and Rashi there).

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    How is that significance theological? Sounds like a moral lesson, not an understanding of God's nature. – msh210 Nov 3 '14 at 20:29
  • @msh210, I understood theological to equal Hashkafic. – Yishai Nov 3 '14 at 21:54
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You need a pair of tongs to make a pair of tongs. So, where did the first blacksmith get that first pair of tongs? HaKaddoshBaruchHu provided the necessary as part of creation. Problem solved. Note that this is in the same neighborhood as the list of other items that, more or less seriously, could not have come about in the normal course of things.

Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbat eve. These are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of [Miriam's] well; the mouth of [Balaam's] ass; the rainbow; the manna; [Moses'] staff; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.

The theological issue is how to account for a list of phenomena that don't fit into the orderly operations of the natural world. And then, at the end, we get, 'some also say', which is a definite weakening. Since it takes tongs to make tongs (if you don't think practically about wooden alternatives), the first pair of tongs is in the same category as the mouths. I tend to see this as a bit of rabbinic wit. The thinkers of Pirkei were, perhaps not entirely seriously, solving the problem of 'tongs all the way down.'

A more serious view of this comes from Be'er Avot:

Tongs, which are made with tongs – The tongs are a metaphor for the human ability to invent. In truth, no invention is really new, for all the raw material and creative thinking needed to develop new technology was given to Man by G-d.

It's important that tongs start from G-d and not from people to make a point, perhaps theological, about ultimate origin of creativity.

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    You use soaked wood for your first pair of tongs. Sure they'll burn but they'll last just long enough. – Joshua Nov 3 '14 at 21:13
  • Yes, of course, which is why I've always perceived some humor in the passage. – bimargulies Nov 3 '14 at 21:21

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