How richly parashat Vayakhel speaks to us. So many things and ideas that I hold near to my own heart are mentioned.
Parashat Vayakhel surely teaches us about being together as a community and how working together helps to both create and enrich our community. We lean how the work we do all week long seems to divides us, and that Shabbat is our opportunity to come together again.
What a lesson we learn about giving. Imagine if giving more than is needed was commonplace! Generosity is good. (And it's okay to give heartily even if part of the motivation is concern with past behaviors.)
For me, parashat Vayakhel clearly teaches us that women are equal partners with men. (How the rabbis have managed to refute the obvious in this portion and justify the exclusion of women from so many things continues to confound me.)
Details. Details. Details. How many of us rush through the detailed descriptions in the this parasha? Why do details frighten and bore us so? And if we look deeper in the text, we discover that the power in the details is not just what, but the why.
It teaches us the significance of Shabbat. It is both a gift from Gd and also our gift to Gd.
It teaches us to value the artist. For what would the mishkan have been without Bezalel's artistry?
It teaches us to use our talents - whatever they may be. Read the words of Exodus 36:1 and know that we must surely use the particular skills and abilities that Gd has given us.
"Let, then, Bezalel and Oholiab and all the skilled persons whom the Lrd has endowed with with skill and ability to perform expertly all the tasks connected with the service of the sanctuary carry out all that the Lrd has commanded." (JPS)
Though I live these words daily in my life, it has always been a struggle for me to understand how and why it seems to work. Here I am, a generalist in a world that values specialists. I am fortunate (and grateful) because Gd has blessed me with a variety of useful skills and talents. Years ago, I made the very conscious choice to use as many of those skills and talents for sacred purposes. And while I may have shifted my life's emphasis from the world of theatrical production to the world of religious education and other sacred Jewish tasks, there continue to be ways of weaving in musical, theatrical, computer and other skills into the sacred work. Though in context of the parasha the "sacred task" might seem to be only the construction of the tabernacle, I am certain that the implications are more far reaching. Tikkun Olam need not be an abstract concept, but a very practical and do-able one.
Before what I can only describe as a Jewish awakening in myself, I did not doubt that the work I was doing in music and theatre served a meaningful and useful purpose for society. (Yes, theatRE - theatre is a profession, an art. A theater is a place where theatre is presented!) The search for meaning that brought me to where I am today was not the result of an absence of meaning in my life-rather it was a focusing and intensification of the abilities I already possessed and was using for secular and quotidian purposes toward the realm of the sacred.
I consider myself fortunate that many of the skills I possess are quite easily used in service to Gd. I suspect that we all have such skills, and no matter how unrelated our skills may seem to sacred service, I suspect there is very little that we are able to do that cannot be put to sacred use. Yet there are particular skills that seem easier to connect with sacred work-and that is because they represent a particular kind of wisdom.
It is because true wisdom is not in our brains. In Exodus 36:1, the words being translated as "skilled persons" are "ish khakham-lev," that is, people with wisdom of the heart. That is where the ability to do sacred works comes from. I tell people that sometimes I might be playing my piano for a service, and don't really know how I've gotten from one end to the other as I was so elevated to a special place I wasn't aware of the mechanics of making the music happen. While it may be easy to attribute the ability to keep the mechanics going to brain-related things like muscle-memory, the reality, for me, is that the technical skills are being controlled not from the brain, but from the heart.
I know this flies in the face of so much of what we understand about how the human body and brain work. How can the heart be a center of wisdom? Yet for thousands of years our tradition has persisted in maintaining this somewhat antiquated understanding of biology. The heart is just a really sophisticated pump. Perhaps the reality is that there is a part of our brains that function in reality as that metaphorical heart function of things like wisdom, love, etc. Or perhaps the cells and nerves of our hearts really do more than just make our blood circulate.
Gd has granted all of us wisdom and understanding of the heart to know how to do all the work necessary for the "sacred work." This Shabbat, we can look inside ourselves and learn what skills Gd has blessed us with that we use in sacred service. Look deep in your heart and find it-that khakham-lev, that wisdom of the heart. You may even discover skills you never knew you had.
© 2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha:
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Pekude 5763-Redux 5760-Pronouns
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