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Parshat Vayakhel

This week’s parsha post was written by Dori Robinson, Assistant Director for Programming at UMass Hillel. Yahel partnered with UMass this year to run a service-learning program with the Druze community in Maghar.

In this week’s parsha, Moses reiterates to the people the commandment of keeping Shabbat. Also, we continue to learn about the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – a holy place for God to dwell. Why hear these points again? Didn’t we learn them in the previous parashot? In studying Torah, there is always a reason for the repetition of a word, a phrase, or a lesson.

In these portions, we again learn how the Israelites donate their best belongings to the project: gold, silver, copper, dyed wool, goat hair, spun linen, wood, olive oil, herbs and precious stones. So much is given that Moses tells the people to stop. At this point, there are plenty of materials. Now it is time to begin the work, and an enterprise such as this requires an architect, and Bezalel is named for the task:

Moses said to the children of Israel: “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship to do master weaving, to work with gold, silver, and copper, with the craft of stones for setting and with the craft of wood, to work with every [manner of] thoughtful work.

This is the first time in the Torah that we hear about an artist or a craftsman. Other skills and attributes have been widely proclaimed – from wit and cunning, to strength, to oration, and even dream interpretation. Suddenly there is great value in being able to work copper and wood, to weave, and design.

Not just any artist will do, however. Several times throughout the portion, Bezalel is named as having chochmah (skill), tevunah (ability), and da’at (knowledge). These are skills that we read about in other passages. In Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer points out:

In ten sayings the world was created…and in three it was finalized. And these are they: Chochmah (Skill), Tevunah (ability), and Da’at (Knowledge); as it is stated: “The Eternal with Chochmah founded the earth, by Tevunah established the heavens, by His Da’at the depths were split asunder” (Proverbs 3:19-20). With the same three, the Mishkan was made, as it states [about Bezalel the craftsman for the Mishkan]: “I have filled him with the spirit of God, in Chochmah, Tevunah, and Da’at” (Exodus 31:3)

Skill, ability, and knowledge – these qualities are echoed in the manner in which God creates the world. In short, these are the needed qualities if you want to create something from scratch. To innovate, to fashion something from nothing, an idea or thing never before formed – you need skill, ability and knowledge.

These are qualities we hope to see in leaders. What’s most interesting, however, is how God wants these to be applied:

And He put into his heart [the ability] to teach, both him and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He imbued them with wisdom of the heart, to do all sorts of work of a craftsman and a master worker and an embroiderer with blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen and [of] weavers, those who do every [manner of] work, and master weavers.

Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise hearted man into whom God had imbued wisdom and insight to know how to do, shall do all the work of the service of the Holy, according to all that the Lord has commanded.”

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise hearted man into whose heart the Lord had given wisdom, everyone whose heart lifted him up to approach the work to do it.

God gives Bezalel the ability to teach; the needed element to do so is wisdom of the heart. What does this say about teaching? We often think of teaching as a banking system – the teacher makes a deposit in a student’s brain, then asks for a withdrawal come test time. But the parsha makes it clear that a true teacher needs wisdom of the heart. A teacher needs to connect with the people and the task at hand. A teacher needs to think of the potential of each individual, and the group as a whole. Think back to a favorite teacher of yours, someone who might’ve inspired you: what do you remember about them? Did they only teach the lesson, or were they also engaged, inspired, and encouraging?

There is a connection here between artists and educators – both are fields that deal with inspiration. To this end, Moses calls upon every wise hearted man “whose heart lifted him up to approach the work.” Moses only wants the artists who are inspired; without inspiration, the craftsmen would simply be fulfilling a task – their kavannah (intention) would simply be to get the work done. But often for artist and educators, the work is more than a linear process; rather, it is a way to uplift the soul. First the inspiration begins in the heart of the educator or artist; then by sharing that process with others, the inspiration is shared as well.

This speaks volumes about the process of building the Mishkan. It’s not simply a project that needs to be completed. Rather, it’s the act of creating a holy place. You cannot buy it ready made, or expect only a few individuals to contribute. For the Mishkah to truly be a holy place where the Eternal can dwell, it must be a labor of love. First, the Israelites are required to bring their best belongings. Then, they must contribute by building with their hands. There is one last level, and that is the contribution of the heart. The act of teaching, and of developing art, is the work of inspiration. The people donated possessions and in exchange they received life lessons and a connection with a place that can never be broken.

Ask yourself this week: what, and how do I contribute to my community? In what ways do I give? Who are the teachers in my life? What inspires me? What lessons have stuck with me, and why? Find the places where learning and inspiration intersect, and that will be the place where you can make your best contribution.


Dori A. Robinson is an educator, writer, and director. She holds a Masters from New York University Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre program, and a Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University in Theatre and Near Eastern Judaic Studies. Dori has been an experiential educator for twelve years, teaching at such prestigious organizations as: Chicagoland Jewish High School, the Park Avenue Armory, the Theatre Development Fund, the New York Student Shakespeare Festival (CUNY), the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the North American Federation of Temple Youth. Most recently she developed education programs for Ayelet Tours (Israel, Poland, and the Ukraine). Dori is dedicated to community engagement and outreach, and her work has taken her to Israel, Massachusetts, Kansas, Chicago, Ireland, and New York. When not at Hillel, Dori can be found hiking, drinking coffee, or reading Shakespeare in the library.

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