Parashat Tetzaveh 5782

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

A D’var Torah for Parashat Tetzaveh
By Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04)

The final fifteen chapters of the Book of Exodus are devoted to the building of the Mishkan. This comprises over one quarter of the entire book. This year, since it is a leap year, we will spend a full five Shabbatot reading about this, in exquisite detail, in our synagogues. The midrash connects the completion of the Tabernacle with Creation itself. The story of Creation and the story of the construction of the Tabernacle are the only places in all of scripture where the verbs “to complete”, “to sanctify” and “to bless” are used together. (Midrash Tanhuma Pekudei 2:3) Yet it is striking how much more time the Torah spends on the building of the Tabernacle compared to the relatively succinct description of the creation of the universe in the Book of Genesis. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l suggests that this reflects the relative ease with which God created a home for man versus the extraordinary effort it took for man to create a home for God.

We are told that God chose two men to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle. Those men were Bezalel from the tribe of Judah and Oholiav from the tribe of Dan. We are further told that God endowed them with a divine spirit of wisdom, חכמה; insight, תבונה ; and knowledge, דעת.

The careful reader will ask the question: “What is the difference between wisdom, insight, and knowledge? The Biblical commentator Rashi explains it this way: “‘Wisdom’ is that which a person learns from others; ‘insight’ is that which one understands from the heart; and ‘knowledge’ is a gift from God.” In modern terms we might invoke the theory of multiple intelligences to understand this verse. Let me explain. This theory of multiple intelligences challenges the idea that humans are endowed with only one type of intelligence. The theory postulates eight different types of intelligence. In the case of Bezalel and Oholiav, wisdom might be analogous to spatial intelligence, the ability to picture the world in 3D. This would be important in translating the detailed architectural plans for the Tabernacle that God gives Moses into reality on the ground. “Insight” might be ‘interpersonal intelligence’, the ability to sense people’s feelings and motivations. This would be essential in harnessing the energies of others to cooperate in building the Tabernacle and its furnishings.  “Knowledge” is perhaps synonymous with ‘linguistic intelligence’, the ability to find the right words to describe what one means. This too is an essential intelligence for the task at hand. The medieval Spanish Biblical commentator Ibn Ezra notes that “there are many wise individuals who find it challenging to teach others.” (commentary to Exodus 35:34) Thus, “linguistic intelligence” or the ability to communicate clearly what one means, would also be an important type of intelligence to possess.

Recall as well that Bezalel is from the tribe of Judah, whereas Oholiav is from the tribe of Dan. The Tribe of Judah is the most prominent of the 12 Tribes of Israel, marching in front as the Israelites travel through the wilderness, first to go into battle (Judges 1:1-2; Judges 20:18) and destined for leadership (Genesis 49:8-12) . The Tribe of Dan is the least distinguished of all the tribes. Whereas the Tribe of Judah marches in the front as the Israelites are traveling through the Wilderness, the Tribe of Dan takes up the rear of the procession through the Sinai Desert. (Rashi on Numbers 10:25) Their job is to pick up everything that the other tribes ahead of them drop by accident!

Therefore it is significant that the two men responsible for overseeing this communal enterprise are from these different social strata in Israel. The tribe of Judah marches at the head of the procession. The Tribe of Dan takes up the rear. This is a model of inclusivity, a symbol of broad participation. In building a community everyone’s voice and talent is welcome and required — the wealthy, the poor, the clergy , the congregants, men, women, LGBTQia+, people of color, the younger, the older, the religious, the atheist…and so forth.

Thus the choice of Bezalel and Oholiav as leaders of the building of the Tabernacle imparts an important message for us. Constructing a home for God requires the range of skills, talents and intelligences that emerge only when we involve the diversity within our Jewish community. Whether in Biblical times or today, building a home for God demands the inclusion of everybody and a spiritual embrace of all.
Rabbi Marc Rudolph (’04) is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville, Illinois and is the current President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.