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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel Pekudei 5781

Parashat Hashavua: The Great People Who Could

Rav Daniel Mann

Throughout our many lands of dispersion, many Jews excelled as fine craftsmen, as we have learned through history books, stories, and family names (whether it be Goldsmith, Cooperman, or Chait). It would have been wise for the Egyptians, with access to free Jewish labor, to have developed some of our forefathers into fine craftsmen who could have contributed to society. This would have come in handy for us, when we were on our own, especially when we had the opportunity/necessity to build the Mishkan. It would have been min hashamayim (based on a fortuitous divine plan) to have used skills learned in Egypt to further our own national goals. Yet, I am unaware of statements of Chazal and the commentators that speak of the artisans of the Mishkan having such training, and the p’sukim imply the opposite.

The p’sukim speak of Betzalel and Ohaliav and “all of the men with a wise heart” as those who “Hashem gave wisdom to know how to do the work of the holy tasks” (Shemot 36:1). Chazal do speak about special qualities of Betzalel, who knew for example how to “connect the letters with which the heavens and earth were created” and that he had been in “the shadow of Hashem” (Berachot 55a). Indeed, Betzalel and Ohaliav were “called by name” by Hashem as those chosen to lead the lay efforts of the building of the Mishkan (Shemot 35:30). Regarding their staffs, not only were the people not listed in the Torah by name, but the p’sukim indicate that they were not appointed by Hashem. Nor was it like the elders who were selected based on their previous experience (Bamidbar 11:16). Rather the Torah describes the group as “all whose heart raised him up to draw close to the work to do it” (Shemot 36:2).

Thus, the criterion seems to be that whoever found it within himself to step forward was the right person. As far as talent, the Torah describes them as “the wise of the heart to whom Hashem gave wisdom in his heart” (ibid.). One could understand that no experience or talent was needed, as Hashem provided all. On the other hand, the gemara (ibid.) says in this context that Hashem gives wisdom only to those who are already wise. Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht (my rosh yeshiva at Kerem B’Yavneh) used to explain there are two types of wisdom: there is base wisdom is the desire to obtain wisdom, which then allows one to receive the divine wisdom he uses; the people mustered up their own base wisdom.

In our context, we can suggest that those who stepped forward did not just have a theoretical desire or even just davened for the wisdom. Rather, “they raised their hearts to draw close.” In other words, they didn’t just want to be chosen by Hashem – they stepped forward with the conviction that they could do it. Perhaps they were no different in experience and talent from others, but their desire, conviction, and their confidence, based not on haughtiness but on a belief that Hashem would enable them to succeed, made them uniquely qualified to be the wise ones to whom Hashem gave wisdom
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