This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1-38:20.
Think for a moment of a talent that you possess — something that makes unique, that allows you to give back to our world. This week’s Torah portion addresses the quality of human talent. We meet Bezalel, the chief craftsman for the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert:
“Moses said to the children of Israel: ‘See, Adonai has called by name Bezalel … of the tribe of Judah and has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with talent for all manner of craftsmanship’” (Exodus 35:30-31).
Bezalel’s name means “in God’s shadow,” hinting at Bezalel’s muted reflection of the divine. God “fills up” Belazal with ruach Elohim, the spirit of God. This same phrase, appears at the beginning of the story of Creation in Genesis. Only darkness, water and ruach Elohim existed in the universe as God began to create.
Likewise, Bezalal is filled with this spirit as he begins to build the Mishkan. On an infinitely smaller level, the Mishkan parallels the universe. Bezalel’s skill parallels God. And, as God created a home in the divine presence, Bezalel creates a home among the Israelites.
Bezalel’s talent is given to him by God. It is a little bit of God’s spirit placed within him. But, it is not just Bezalel. Bezalel’s assistant is Oholiab, and the text tells us that God also endowed Oholiab with “wisdom of the heart.”
Whereas Bezalel comes from Judah, the strongest and most influential tribe, Oholiab comes from Dan, the lowliest of the tribes. Not only do the strong and powerful have God-given talent in the biblical text, but also the most ordinary of citizens. Not only Bezalal and Oholiab, but “every wise-hearted man into whose heart the Adonai had given wisdom” work on the Mishkan (Exodus 36:1).
Talent is not reserved for the few, but shared with the masses and, I would argue, with each of us. Look your own talent. It is a reflection of God; it is a spark of ruach Elohim.
But what is the essence of that talent? Consider again our original text. God imbues Bezalal “with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge.” The commentator Rashi understands this verse as meaning: “wisdom — that which a person hears from another and learns; insight — that which a person understands from within, from that which he has learned; knowledge — divine inspiration.”
For our talents to flourish, we need innate skill, but we also need to nurture this skill, test it, strengthen it, learn to fully express it.
Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, who taught in Lithuania in the 19th century, compared Bezalel’s skill to Proverbs 3:19: “Skill, ability and knowledge are the three traits with which the world was created, as it is written in Proverbs, ‘Adonai founded the earth by wisdom. He established the heavens by insight. By His knowledge the depths burst apart.’”
Even if our talents are just a murky reflection of ruach Elohim, consider what a gift we contain. Celebrate your talents and the talents of your loved ones. Respect them as you respect God, because they are God’s spirit.
Shabbat table conversation with kids
Ask each member of your family and your friends gathered to name a talent that they possess. If somebody has difficulty coming up with one, certainly the other people gathered will be able to offer suggestions. How does each of these talents reflect God? How can we use them to build a healthier, fuller, more beautiful world? How does nurturing our talents help bring God into our lives?
Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen is director of congregational learning at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac and the author of eight books for children and teens.