Parshat Vayakhel Pekudei

In Parshat Vayakhel we come to the construction of the Tabernacle, with Bnei Yisrael taking an active role, both bringing materials and being part in the workforce. The plans had already been laid down earlier and now, seemingly after the dreadful episode of the golden calf, Bnei Yisrael are able to be useful and club together to get passionately involved in an impressive task.

One of the central themes that we find in the description of the project is the enthusiasm of the people. The use of the heart, the Hebrew word lev, to describe the willingness and workmanship appears constantly throughout the text. The request to bring is described as “nediv lev” willing hearted, the act of bringing “nisa lev” lifting of the heart and ability of the craftsmen as “chochmat lev” wisdom of the heart. The heart rather than the brain is used throughout the Torah to describe the human experience, from Hashem hardening Pharaoh’s heart, to the request in the Shema to love Hashem with all our heart, soul and strength. Similarly, in English we often express ideas such as heartfelt sympathy, from the bottom of my heart, a heart of gold.

Our heart is the central part of our being and we cannot function without it, but we more readily associate our intelligence and feelings with our mind and brain. Rav Soloveichik takes on this challenge, based on the Midrash which asks where does wisdom lie, R Eliezer says in our head and R Yehoshua in the heart and the Midrash sides with R Yehoshua. The Rav explains that there is no conflict here and the human soul lives with this duality. Mankind has always had a drive in the search for knowledge and intellectual achievement and this is very apparent within the Talmudic and subsequent halachic domain and we can be proud of our efforts over the ages.

However, in the Rav’s view the Torah wishes to express and stress the second part of our being, our feelings and emotions and capabilities, which do not actually live in heart as an organ in our body, but are an essential part of our personality. When Moshe pleads with Hashem to forgive after the golden calf, Hashem presents Moshe with the thirteen divine attributes – merciful, graciousness, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth….. there is no mention of wisdom, yet we were created in his image.

Looking at the Parsha we can see there is more than just wisdom, there are individual capabilities, which we can almost say each of us are born with, which others will struggle to achieve. The first example we have here is the choice of Bezalel who is blessed with architectural vision and ability. The Midrash tells us of Hashem’s request to build a menorah, and despite the detailed description Moshe cannot grasp what needs to be done, and Hashem shows him a vision in fire. However, when Moshe goes to Bezalel, he immediately understands what needs to be done. The second is the cleverness of the women who spun the different cloths. Rav Hirsch understands that the men had tried to do this but were just not able to get the same quality and finish, and the task was handled by the women.

Here we have a people brought out of slavery, with few having learned any trade and Hashem had endowed inbuilt wisdom, to each individual, in their own way. As Hashem tells Moshe with Bezalel “I have filled him with heavenly spirit with wisdom, insight…” Even when King Solomon requests wisdom Hashem responds “I have given you a wise and understanding heart.”

What a contradiction, in the week of Vayakhel, which means getting together we are told to stay apart. However, in the modern age, we can find ways of virtually getting together. We have just had a get together using the Zoom application with our children and grandchildren. Each grandchild had something to contribute. Some played their instruments, one demonstrated proper handwashing and another how to make pancakes. Try it, if you have not done so already.

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