Cantor Eyal Bitton shares a few thoughts on the parasha of the week.

Being our Best

2024-03-09 Vayakhel

The first artist I remember admiring was Michelangelo. I was around seven, and had been shown his magnificent statue, Moses. Years later, as an adult, I stood before this monumental work at the San Pietro in Vincoli church in Rome. I then stood, in awe, in front of his towering David in Florence. I was also lucky to gaze upon his breathtaking work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the Vatican. This man was God-kissed. His talent was unparalleled during his lifetime, and, indeed, it was because of his superior talent that he was commissioned to create these works. 

Our Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, shows that excellence and merit are prized over entitlement or other values. This week’s parasha, Vayakhel, repeats one of my favorite passages, which is also found in Parashat Ki Tisa:

“And Moses said to the Israelites: See, God has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft.” (Exodus 35:30.)

In Exodus 31, God tells Moses that God has singled out Bezalel for his artistic gifts. In our parasha, Moses tells the people that God has singled out Bezalel for his artistic gifts. There is a difference. It’s one thing for the leader of a people to understand that one individual is better than everyone else at a particular thing. It’s quite another to tell the people, to tell everyone, that there is one individual who is better than they are at a particular thing. Certainly, in our day.

Sameness is not equality. 

Bezalel is selected to lead the artistic project of our people’s holiest site, the sanctuary. He is identified,in no uncertain terms, as being better than everyone else. The entire people is permitted to participate in ways that they are able to. Some can help out as artisans. Some can help out by offering donations. But only one has the artistic vision and only one is charged with overseeing the project: Bezalel.

In the Torah and the entire Tanakh, there is a consistent message about people being chosen for their ability, for their merit. Joshua is chosen to succeed Moses, not one of Moses’ children. Remember, the Israelites have been a part of Egyptian society for hundreds of years, and leadership in that land was determined by lineage, not merit. So Joshua being selected is highly significant.

Deborah is chosen by God to be a judge and a prophetess not because of her identity or social status but because of her character and wisdom. 

David is chosen to be the second king of Israel. His father is not the king. He isn’t chosen because of lineage, nor is he chosen for who he is. He is an unexpected champion, even within his own family. But God understands his abilities and sees his future potential. Even so, even though David is anointed, David does not suddenly inherit the throne; he earns it. He earns the mantle of leadership through years of proving his mettle.

Let us strive for excellence. Whatever our achievements in life, may we know that those achievements were earned and well-deserved. May we be humble enough to admire those who are better than we are in various areas of life. We are all made in God’s image. We are equal. And we can applaud and admire the particular ways in which God has blessed the people around us.