Between the Lines—Va-yakhel / P'kudei

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה נ

ד"א ויעש בצלאל וכי בצלאל עשה לעצמו שבכל דבר ודבר הוא אומר ויעש בצלאל אלא על שנתן נפשו עליו ביותר לא קיפח הקב"ה שכרו ופרסמו הכתוב על כל דבר ודבר

Another explanation of "And Bezalel made": Why does it say in connection with every single thing, 'And Bezalel made'? Did he then make the things by himself? No; but since he performed everything with self-sacrificing devotion, God would not deprive him of his reward and mentioned his name in connection with each article. (Exodus Rabbah 50:4)

Who gets the credit for a job well done? The work of the Tabernacle was not a solo endeavor; indeed Exodus 31:6 tells us that Oholiab ben Ahisamach and "all who are skillful" were enlisted for the undertaking. The rabbis' populist bent seeps through the midrash here and elsewhere as the work of the Tabernacle is discussed. Just a few sections after ours, the midrash points out that "Everything that Moses made was done through others, as it says "The Tabernacle of the Testimony, as they were rendered according to the commandment of Moses through the service of the hands of the Levites, by the hand of Itamar, the son of Aaron the priest" (Exodus Rabbah 51:6). A job well done deserves praise, but the rabbis are concerned lest the "little guy" be left out, and his (or her) contribution ignored. They are bothered that Bezalel's name is mentioned repeatedly while "all who are skillful" are left in anonymity.

The tension centers around leadership. Leadership is a difficult quality to define and here the rabbis equate it with the fact that Bezalel was נתן נפשו עליו ביותר, literally that he "gave the utmost of his soul" (translated above as "self-sacrificing devotion"). In religious terms, it seems obvious that this should be the most important trait to consider in God's choosing and praising leaders of the community. In secular terms, too, loyalty and the self-sacrifice of hard work in tough times merit praise. But the tension that the rabbis note is everlasting, and we can all learn from the example that the rabbis put before us to remember that cooperation and the talents of many are part of any leader's success.