Yom Rivii, 17 Tishri 5780
Hol Hamoed Sukkot Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Parashat Vayak'hel-Pekudei 2013

Parashat Vayak'hel-Pekudei
Rabbi Sandra Kviat

8 March 2013

Flat pack Tabernacle

If you have found the last several chapters of the Book of Exodus difficult to read, you are not alone. It reads a bit like an IKEA catalogue complete with descriptions of curtains and cloths, wooden structures and silver sockets, and golden ornaments but without the enticing photos. Unless you love deciphering building manuals or are a fan of Grand Designs it can be tedious reading.

The buildings of the mishkan was a major design and engineering feat and obviously of great importance in the story and so all materials are punctiliously described. Some argue that the writing down of these details was a way for Moses to have full transparency and thereby avoid accusations of possible pilfering.· What is fascinating though is the lack of mention of how the Israelites got on with this building project. Anyone who has ever tried to build an IKEA wardrobe will know that it requires plentiful patience and apologies for you inevitably end up arguing. But in this week’s Torah portion the Israelites, who are not known for being meek with their criticism, don’t seem to have any ‘advice’ for the two master builders Bezalel and Oholiab. The people are so eager to please after the case of the Golden calf, that they have to be told to stop donating materials. Surprisingly, no one is complaining or dispensing advice.

We know a little about the two project managers;·
‘And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of·skill, ability, and knowledge in every craft…He and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work…’ (Exodus 35.30-31,35.34).

Bezalel was of the tribe of Judah, a large and important tribe whereas Oholiab’s tribe of Dan was small and insignificant. Some midrashim suggest that Bezalel was only 13 year old but he was given the honour because his grandfather Hur had been killed while trying to stop the building of the Golden Calf. Their genealogy seems to suggest then that the project management team was made up of representatives from across the tribes of Israel and that youth was not a reason to discriminate. But genealogy and family position are not enough when you are planning to erect a structure whether it is a bookshelf or a bungalow and so the narrator of the text specifies the qualities of Bezalel, the teenage prodigy. Bezalel had wisdom (hokhmah), understanding (tevunah), and knowledge (daat). Wisdom, according to Rashi, is the knowledge we learn from others, it comes from shared experience and from being part of a community. Understanding is partly innate in that it comes from our own heart and soul. Once a lesson is internalised, insight and understanding will come. Knowledge is a gift from God, according to Rashi, a consequence of God’s inspiration.

Bezalel, despite his youth, knew that he had to learn from others, knew how to learn from successes and mistakes, trusted his common sense, and was divinely inspired. Quite a tall order for a 13 year old. Yet this is also the list that we read as part of the daily Amidah. We ask in the daily liturgy ‘By your grace we gain knowledge and grow in understanding. Continue to favour us with knowledge, understanding and wisdom, for You are their Source’ (Lev Chadash p.55).

Though we are not all master builders, prodigies, or in the constant process of building flat pack wardrobes, we all need the qualities of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Perhaps it is not such a tall order to wish and work on these after all.