CALL HIM INDISPENSABLE – “Vayak-hel Pikudey” – Ex. 35-40 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Constructing the first Jewish house of worship called for special attention, special materials and special skills. Also, special design. Remember, this has to a portable sanctuary, carried on the priests’ shoulders all the way to the Promised Land. This week, we will read first an impressive list of the materials, all to be brought as freewill offerings – gold, silver, brass; blue, purple and scarlet dyes; lambskins and goat’s hair and specific precious stones; oil for the lamps and spices for the incense. Here come the skilled workers volunteering their labor to take these materials and create everything from the Ark and its cover to the pillars and sockets and screens for the exterior. Goldsmiths and silversmiths go to work alongside the ancient carpenters and masons. Women spin the wool and linen, and the specialists among them spin the goat’s hair. Tailors and seamstresses sew the priestly clothing. Who did all this? “Every man and woman whose heart made them willing to [do] all the work.” Truly an outpouring of popular devotion.
But there still was no Tabernacle. Not until one man enters. His name is Betzalel. We first met him back in chapter 31, where he is described as someone Divinely favored with khokhma, binah, v’daas – wisdom, understanding and knowledge. These are the same three qualities we seek daily in our prayers, and their initials spell Chabad, the name of the well-known worldwide Chassidic movement. Yet Betzalel does not function as a religious leader. He has the talent to “think thoughts” – not philosophy, but construction. He understands all about woodworking, metalworking and weaving. And it will be his job to put them all together. No wonder that Jewish galleries in many places now bear his name.
Both Betzalel and his helper, one Oholiab, are also gifted with the ability to teach all those skilled workers what to do. And so in the concluding chapters of Exodus we find Betzalel in charge. He was the indispensable man. He builds it – not one detail, but all the parts of the Tabernacle – getting credit for everything constructed by the entire crew.
Today we’d call him an architect. A super-architect. He designed the Tabernacle by Divine inspiration, and he supervised its construction through his own knowledge.
As Betzalel’s design proved vitally necessary to build the Tabernacle, so each of us needs to call on our own life-design. Our Torah and tradition can provide that. Each of us can supplement it with special training – classes, parental example, personal experience. But the overall design – the architect that is our heritage – that is what we all need to use.
Like Betzalel, call it indispensable.