Parshat Vayakhel-Pekude, Exodus 38:21-40:38
Every time I have to draw a picture, especially of the map of Israel, my students laugh. I am not an artist. Art was a required course in high school and I learned the basics, but I cannot draw decently, nor sculpt — instead of soap, my mom bought me a block of salt, and it took forever to turn into nothing — nor can I put something on canvas. My knitting is fair, although I did win a blue ribbon one year at the Westmoreland County Fair for a sweater I made. My sewing, crocheting and other handwork are not very good. Although I consider myself a very good baker, I am lousy at braiding challah. I am just not an artist.
Our Torah portion for this Shabbat mentions two very artistic men. As the Torah tells us: “See the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur of the Tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood — to work in every kind of designer’s craft and to give directions. He, and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the Tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work — of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer in blue, purple, crimson yarns and in fine linen and of the weaver — as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs.”
The job of Bezalel and Oholiab was to oversee the building of the Tabernacle.
While it is clear that Oholiab was talented and so were all those artists who worked under Oholiab and Bezalel, it is Bezalel who stands out and whom we remember. It is Bezael whom the Torah describes as “endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft.” It is Bezalel who became the name of Israel’s academy of art, established in 1906 by Boris Schatz, and which has produced outstanding artists in all areas.
Bezalel literally means “in the shadow of God.” It suggests that as great as Bezalel might have been, his talent was nothing compared to what God creates. I believe talent is a gift from God. I also believe that we all have talents, if not in the creative arts, then in other areas. Whatever our talents, we should recognize that they are indeed a gift from God. Perhaps that is why one of my favorite prayers is the “Yotzer,” the morning creation prayer that recognizes that God creates all.
We might not be as endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft, but in some measure we are all Bezalel, talented in our own ways, but also in the shadow of God.
Rabbi Sara Rae Perman is the rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg. This article is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.