Parshat Vayakhel: Exodus 35:1-38:20; I Kings 7:40-50.
After the plans are all laid out, it is time to get to work. That’s what Parashat Vayakhel tells us.
For several weeks, we’ve been hearing about the plans for building the mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Jewish people will carry with them on the trip to the Land of Israel. Even the incident of the Golden Calf, which we read last week, couldn’t derail the plan. And now it is time to get building.
After the most successful fundraising campaign in history (check out the parasha for that), we learn that God has appointed two people to be the lead craftsmen and to work with the people. God has singled out Bezalel, “endowing him with a divine spirit, skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft.” Oholiab will be Betzalel’s assistant in leading the work.
Our tradition describes Betzalel’s skills as even superseding those of Moses when it comes to certain aspects of building the Tabernacle. His name, Bezalel, meaning “in the shadow of God” gives us a sense that he had special access to artistic inspiration.
In particular, Moses seems to have had a difficult time envisioning how the Menorah should look. God even showed him a vision of the Menorah, but Moses still had trouble. Eventually, God told Moses to go to Betzalel who made it with ease.
Perhaps less noticed, but crucial nonetheless, is the fact that Bezalel is described as a person who can give direction and can teach. Bezalel was able to share his skill and ability with others. This isn’t always the case. People with extraordinary skill can often create exquisite work, but not all of them have the ability or willingness to share their process with others so that they can also make the most of their own skills.
Some might even wonder if teaching is the best use of Bezalel’s time and energy. After all, this is a person at the top of his field, so to speak. Wouldn’t it be better to leave Bezalel to his work so that he could focus on this project? After all, Bezalel wasn’t even working on his own behalf; this project was for the good of the entire people.
Ultimately, the Torah tells us that part of Bezalel’s uniqueness is his ability to teach others how to create. Teaching is part of his greatness.
These past few years have been extremely challenging ones for teachers. These people have shown great strength and creativity in sharing what they know with people of all ages under challenging conditions. We owe a great deal of gratitude for their teaching even under normal circumstances, but especially now.
Ultimately, perhaps it wasn’t his artistic craft that informs Bezalel’s name as one who is “in the shadow of God,” but his ability as a teacher. Seen that way, all teachers learn their craft from God, the original Teacher.
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein is rabbi of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield.