Before we jump into this week’s sidra, I would like to share a little of my personal testimony. Please indulge me as I explain my reason for doing so. As I was reading and preparing to write this “Weekly Manna” segment, I found myself referencing many passages from Pirkei Avot (usually translated as “Ethics of the Fathers”, often referred to as simply “Avot”). If you are not familiar with this amazing portion of Mishnah, I would encourage you to become so. It is a fountain of wisdom from Chazal, with timeless meaning and practical relevance for us today. Ok, with that commercial out of the way, let’s get back to the point. As I was looking into several passages in Avot pertaining to this week’s topic, I came across one that moves me every time I read it:
“Make someone into your teacher, acquire a friend, and judge all people favorably.” (Avot 1:6)
We all need a teacher, someone who knows more than we do, and we can all be a teacher to someone, as there are always those who can benefit from our wisdom and experiences. I am a self-proclaimed “book nerd”. It is not unusual to find me with my nose in a book. If I were a Marvel comic superhero, reading would be my super power. If you’re wondering what my point is, let me help you out! Please understand, I do not consider myself a “teacher”, but what I do hope is that I can help you to learn from the real “teachers” of Judaism. All of the concepts I share each week, I acquire through my favorite pastime, reading. I do throw in my own personal experiences and ideas from time to time, but those hold no authority, so take those with a grain of salt!
So, without further ado, let’s see what the amazing Rabbis, through Ruach HaKodesh, have to say about Vayakhel!
“Then the men cane with the women; everyone whose heart motivated him brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, body ornaments – all sorts of gold ornaments – every man who raised up an offering of gold to Hashem.” Sh’mot 35:22
The Daas Zekeinim writes that in merit of the women’s joyful and generous contribution of their jewelry to the Mishakan, which stood in sharp contrast to their refusal to donate their jewelry for the building of the Golden Calf (32:2-3), they merited a personal holiday on Rosh Chodesh, on which they are accustomed not to do work. Wow, ladies, we have a special holiday set aside just for us each and every month!! Rabbi Ozer Alport in his commentary “Parsha Potpourri”, tells us that Rosh Chodesh symbolizes the concept that when all appears bleak, we must hang on and trust in a brighter future – just like when the moon disappears and the night sky seems totally dark, the process of rebirth and renewal continues as the moon returns and grows ever larger, reminding us of the lesson that the women already knew.
We further read that “Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands…..All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goat hair…..Every man and woman whose heat motivated them to bring for any of the work that Hashem had command to make – the Children of Israel brought a free-willed offering to Hashem.” (35:25-29)
The women were inspired. And their inspired, motivated hearts were filled with wisdom!! Ladies, by our very nature, we are often inspired to help others, to give to the cause or project Hashem has placed before us. But we can learn an amazing lesson about using our inspiration, creativity and talents for Hashem’s purposes, from a man name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur.
“Moses said to the Children of Israel, ‘See, Hashem has proclaimed by name, Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.” (35:30)
Bezalel was the grandson of Hur. You might remember Hur as the other man that helped Aaron to hold up Moshes’ tired arms when Joshua led the people in battle against Amalek.
“Joshua did as Moshe said to him, to do battle with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur ascended to the top of the hill. It happened that when Moses raised his hand Israel was stronger, and when he lowered his hand Amalek was stronger. Moses’ hands grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on this side and one on that side, and he remained with his hands in faithful prayer until sunset. Joshua weakened Amalek and its people with the sword’s blade.” (Sh’mot 17:10-13)
We don’t read anything more about this man Hur in the Torah, but the Sages fill us in on the missing parts. Hur they tell us is Moshe and Aaron’s nephew, the son of Miriam. Leviticus Rabbah 10:3 says that Hur was approached first, before Aaron, but when he refused to help them build the golden calf they killed him. It is in his merit that Bezalel, his grandson was chosen. R. Dr. Tzi Hersh Weinreb (The Person in the Parsha on Vayakhel) explains that creative people often see themselves as in opposition to conformity, and that the place of the artist is rarely in contemporary culture, but rather in the counter-culture. Bezalel’s genius, he explains is “in his ability to channel his substantial artistic gifts to the cause of the culture that was being constructed around him. He was not rebellious and certainly not withdrawn. He participated in a national project as part of the nation and not as one whose role was to find fault. He was able to combine creativity with conformity and that is no mean feat.” From Bezalel we learn that one can be highly gifted and use those gifts in a positive and constructive manner, even cooperating with other people who were far less talented. The Mishkan was a joint venture. When we have special talents, Hashem has given them to us to aid in the common good. Special talents don’t make us better than others, just different. Our challenge is to, like Bezalel, participate in the common cause, and by doing so, elevate and inspire the rest of our community to give what they have to offer. The greatness of the Mishkan is that it was a collective achievement. Each individual gave a different thing, and each contribution was equally valued, allowing everyone to feel they were a valuable part of the process.
Maimonides on the unique diversity of we human beings wrote:
“Such a variety among the individual of a class does not exist in any other class of living beings. For the variety in any species is limited. Only man forms an exception. Two persons may be so different from each other in every respect that they appear to belong to two different classes.” (The Guide for the Perplexed 2:40)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells us this is exactly why we need society. He explains that none of us has all the gifts necessary for survival, yet this is also exactly why we have difficulty creating societies, because we are so very different.
“The well-being of society demands that there should be a leader able to regulate the actions of man. He must complete every shortcoming, remove every excess, and prescribe for the conduct of all, so that the natural variety should be counter balanced by the uniformity of legislation, and the order of society be well established.” (Maimonides, ibid)
When there is too much control it crushes individuality. Did you ever see the movie “The Stepford Wives”? And yet, too little control and you risk anarchy. Did you ever see “Escape from New York”? (Rebbetzin will be proud of me for actually referencing movies! LOL!)
There is a saying, although I don’t know where it originated, that I would like us to now consider:
“What one can do, he must accomplish. What one cannot accomplish, has already been assigned to someone else.”
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know what our own strengths and weaknesses are. Yet, I know people who seem to think they are the only ones capable of doing anything right, and they try to do everything. As Rabbi Yehezquel says: “Hashem doesn’t need any Lone Rangers”. We need to understand what our unique gifts and talents are and we need to stay in our lane, focusing on contributing what we are best at.
I take the world’s worst pictures (ok, I was recently told that my Rabbi is known to cut people’s heads out of the shot, and I don’t think I’ve ever done that!). Let’s just say I am not going to volunteer to take your wedding photos. If I do, please don’t let me do it! My point is, I have talents, but so does everyone else. I need to stick to what I am good at and allow others to do what they are good at. Thereby we can all contribute. We need to learn how to share our talents, but even harder sometimes is learning to let others share theirs.
One last thing to think about. Bezalel’s grandfather was killed when he refused to go along with the plan to build the golden calf. I imagine many of us would want to show off and “show them”. Yet, Bezalel is able to swallow his pride and forgive, even to the point of sharing his talents willingly. We too must endeavor to eliminate anger and resentment toward those who have provoked or harmed us. We might even be asked by Hashem to lead them in completing a project for Him. And like Bezalel, we will have to subdue our drive for personal glory.
“Envy, craving, and the drive for acclaim take a person out of the world.” (Avot 4:28)
If we only focus on the short-term, we might think that we can gain by being selfish. But if we think beyond the moment of immediate gratification, the truth will reveal that for long-term sustainable gain we need to consider others, and allow them to help as well. It’s a win-win!
So, ladies, I pray we have inspiration, motivation and wise hearts! I pray we are given opportunities to contribute our unique gifts and talents to Hashem’s project, and that we seize the opportunity. And I pray we are gracious and unselfish enough to allow others, maybe even others we don’t personally like, to help as well. The final results will be a beautifully completed project, where everyone walks away feeling they have played an important role. And ultimately Hashem will be glorified through our actions!
Be inspired and be a inspiration,