Friday, February 21, 2014

Parashat Vayak’hal

            This week’s Torah portion is Vayak’hal, in which Moses assembles the whole people of Israel and tells them that it is time to begin building the Tabernacle, the transitory sanctuary in which G-d will reside as they wander through the wilderness. Moses tells the people to bring forth gifts for building materials, and they do so freely and abundantly. The Torah refers to them here as being “generous-hearted” and “wise-hearted” for being so forthcoming with the gifts. This week’s G-dcast, the weekly cartoon interpretation of Torah stories and occasional other Bible or holiday stories, is a beautiful song about this act of generosity and G-d’s promise to dwell among the people if they build this holy space. I highly suggest you all look it up.
            Once the materials are brought out, not everyone among the people is an architect or building contractor or construction worker or artist. Two men in particular are singled out to do the physical work of building, Bezalel and Ohaliab, and they call for other skilled workers to help. In the end, though, almost all of the building is attributed to Bezalel alone. The Midrash Tanhuma, an old book of stories explaining plot holes in the Torah, says that Bezalel simply worked harder than any of the other wise men, so the work is all attributed to him, and the others are all but forgotten.
            That may be so, but isn’t that still kind of demeaning for the others, particularly Ohaliab who is also singled out by name by G-d? We all have different skills, talents, endurance levels, were raised with different work ethics and beliefs regarding with and art. It isn’t particularly fair to hold up one wise man against another. I think we all do it a little bit, at least subconsciously. We get used to a certain level of intelligence, a certain style of art, a certain expectation of work, and when someone doesn’t meet that, we’re disappointed. When someone exceeds that by too much, we feel insecure or threatened, and may even accuse them of being show offs. When someone expects more of us than we are used to or possibly able to achieve, we feel overwhelmed and frustrated with ourselves. When someone expects way less of us than the level we know we can achieve, we feel belittled and patronized. All of those feelings are normal, but they aren’t particularly pleasant and they aren’t particularly fair to any of the people involved. Everyone should be equally recognized for the particular skills and talents they do bring to the project, and conversely, no one should ever be made to feel embarrassed or shy about letting their superiority at a particular skill shine. It’s great that Bezalel was so talented and such a hard worker. He was absolutely correct to embrace that and throw himself whole-heartedly into the work, even if it meant leaving the others in the dust. It’s also fine that the others did what they could and what was asked of them, even if it didn’t quite earn them the recognition it earned Bezalel.
            I hope all of you appreciate your own talents and skills. I hope you find something you feel called to, as Bezalel was called to build the tabernacle. Maybe it will just be a hobby, maybe it will be your favorite subject in school, maybe it will be a job someday. In any case, may you feel comfortable enough with the activity and with yourself to throw yourself whole heartedly into it, and measure yourself by your own improvement, rather than how you compare to others. May you be recognized for your talents and skills and whatever you bring to any particular effort you strive for. And most of all, may those talents, skills, or endeavors bring you happiness. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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