Vayak'heil (February 26, 2011)
(20) So the whole community of the Israelites left Moses’ presence. (21) And everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the LORD his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacral vestments. (22) Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to the LORD, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants — gold objects of all kinds. (23) And everyone who had in his possession blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, and dolphin skins, brought them; (24) everyone who would make gifts of silver or copper brought them as gifts for the LORD; and everyone who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought that. (25) And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. (26) And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair. (27) And the chieftains brought lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece; (28) and spices and oil for lighting, for the anointing oil, and for the aromatic incense. (29) Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.
Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
David Wolkin, Coordinator,
Before moving forward with my actual point, let me just point out that Parashat Vayak’heil may contain the only fundraising campaign in human history in which people were asked to stop giving.
But I digress.
There’s certainly something beautiful about the fact that an entire community was moved to give of themselves to make their commanded sacred space into a reality. However, I’ve found that there can be a tendency to think of Bezalel as the only builder of the Mishkan while the rest of the Israelites donated the raw materials. The truth is that we see multiple verses throughout this part of the Torah that refer to the many Israelites endowed with artistic ability and who contributed their skills to its construction. I’m not saying anything that can’t be found directly in the text itself, but it’s important to draw attention to these details because, in my experience, they can get lost in general conversation. Only Bezalel and Oholiab are named when it comes to building the Mishkan; it can be difficult to remember those who go unnamed in the Torah.
I choose to call attention to these people because of the important precedent that they set. From this Torah portion we see that artistic creativity is something valued by God, that creativity is a divine gift. We see that this gift can and should be used in service to the larger community, if at all possible. For me, it’s yet another reminder of a moment in the Torah that contains timeless relevance if we view it through the proper lens. I read these verses as an implicit mitzvah (even if it’s not one of the 613): It is our responsibility to cultivate and support Jewish artists, to provide them with opportunities to hone and share their skills with the community at large. What is implied further by this is that the more opportunities we give to these artists to grow, then what they will share with us only will make our Jewish worlds, our sacred spaces, our Tabernacles even holier.
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