Parshat Vayakhel - Everyone Counts

I wrote this d'var Torah just about a year ago. The content speaks for itself...


This has been a very trying week for me. Last Saturday night one of my closest friends suffered a massive heart attack. He's 55, and right now he's in a bed in the critical care unit at the largest tertiary care hospital in western Massachusetts. He's in a medically-induced coma, out of which he will be brought slowly to keep the pressure off his brain and heart. We all hope he will recover and are praying for this. Our synagogue community and his and his wife's greater community of friends have all pulled together in myriad ways to make this ordeal manageable.

So, how does this relate to this week's parsha? Vayakhel recounts the guidelines for the construction of the tabernacle in minute detail, but it also includes two other accounts - the contributions made by the community at large, all of whom made offerings according to their heart's desire, and in particular the parsha recounts the contributions made by Bezalel, a very, very skilled craftsman, but a craftsman nonetheless.

I have always found it a bit odd that a parsha would include what amounts to a shout-out by God of a person as commonplace as a builder or craftsman. Bezalel is not a prophet like Moses; he's not a priest like Aaron. While the arc of the narrative could very easily just enumerate the various characteristics of the tabernacle and we could all assume that it got built with love and care and meticulousness and artistry by someone or by some group, in fact that's not what's recorded. I've thought a lot about this, and what I've come to is the following:

People matter and so do their individual efforts, and while not just anyone can be an Aaron or a Bezalel, everyone can be something. I am very much struck by the fact that the Hebrew for the word "skilled" is hacham-lev, or wise-hearted. In the parsha Moses points out to the Israelites that God has singled out Bezalel and endowed him with "a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge." What I take from this is that we all have a divine purpose here, and when we find it, we can bring skill, ability and knowledge together to do something beautiful from which the community will greatly benefit.

I saw two doctors in our community launch into action at the party where my friend succumbed, administering CPR until paramedics arrived; I have seen another friend organize coverage such that my friend's wife is never alone; I have seen yet another put up a Caring Bridge website in a matter of a few hours; I have seen people provide all manner of care and support to the family in the last several days and I know that will continue. My friend's heart is broken; all of our hearts are broken open. People offer what they can, and when those offerings are infused with the wisdom of the heart, we can build a tabernacle, a holy place, in time or space.

Epilogue: My friend did wake up when medical staff raised the temperature of his body, and after a lot of hard work on his part and incredible support from family and friends, he today is back at work full-time, is exercising once more and has resumed a normal life full of activity.