Weekly Torah Portion – The Soul Of A Teacher
Moses is often referred to as “Moshe Rabeinu” (Moses our rabbi/teacher). He was the one who merited ascending Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah from God and transmitting it to the children of Israel.
Parshat Vaykahel/Pekuday: Exodus 335:1-40:38; I Kings 7:51-8:21.
Yet, in the end, Moses is not the one to get to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant). Rather, he is instructed to pass on all of the instructions for this holy project to Betzalel, who was then to instruct and oversee the craftspeople in their respective tasks throughout the project.
For anyone who has ever played the game of telephone (where you whisper a message from one person to another to see how the message changes), this sounds like a disaster.
In the end, there was a brilliance to Betzalel’s appointment. We know that there is a difference in “simply teaching” and “being a teacher.” When one simply transmits information in his head to another person so that person can learn that information, he is teaching — and sometimes that is what is needed. But when you are able to pass on that information to another person so that he absorbs it into his being and in that process you are able to touch his soul and perhaps even allow him to see a little of your own soul — that is when one becomes a teacher.
A teacher must be able to pass on the information as part of a message that goes from soul to soul as part of a relationship built on trust.
When the Torah describes the many artisans that came forward to build the Mishkan, it refers to them as hachma lav or nadiv lav — moved heart or a wise heart; yet when it refers to Betzalel, the Torah states not only was he brilliant at the many types of crafts that he had to use in his work, but it also says belebo ulholrot natan — that God placed in his heart the ability to teach. It was not that he was simply wise in teaching but that God had placed this ability in the foundation of his soul.
The great medieval sage Ibn Ezra comments that there are many wise people in the world who find it incredibly difficult to transmit their skills or wisdom to others, but with Betzalel (and his assistant Oholiab), we find a wisdom in their ability to teach others.
To be teachers, we must be able to engage students in a journey of learning, where we share pieces of our souls and then get to learn from the souls and wisdom of our students.
As Parker Palmer, one of the leading thinkers on teaching, wrote, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”
May we all be blessed to have a teacher such as Betzalel, one who has been blessed with the ability to teach placed in his heart.
Rabbi Shalom Kantor is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.