Parshat Pekudei: Each Person Matters

Rabbi Andy Gordon
Rabbi Andy Gordon (Courtesy of Gordon)

By Rabbi Andy Gordon

This week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, is the last portion in the Book of Exodus. The Torah addresses the building of the Mishkan, the outdoor Tabernacle, the Israelites’ movable worship space in the desert. We learn about all of the objects the people built, including the menorah, the curtains, the tent flaps, the table and the ark of the covenant. Not only does the Torah address the objects that were created by the Israelites, but reminds us of the two individuals who oversaw the construction of this massive project.

Bezalel, son of Uri, is the man in charge. Bezalel is from the tribe of Judah, the largest, most powerful and most prosperous of the 12 tribes. It makes perfect sense that the chief architect of this House of God would be from the most respected and honored Israelite tribe. This is everything that we’d expect.

On the other hand, the Torah also mentions another individual, almost equally important to this project, Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, from the tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan is the smallest, least powerful and least respected tribe. Why would the Torah recommend Oholiab to be by Bezalel’s side throughout this endeavor? Why does the Torah make such a point of mentioning that Oholiab comes from the smallest and least powerful tribe?

Our rabbis teach that exceptional talent is not restricted to one group of people. Indeed, God’s insistence to bring a person from the largest and smallest tribes serves as a reminder that all should be involved, not just the powerful or the prosperous. More importantly, we should not let our assumptions get in the way of our work. We must say goodbye to all our stereotypes, so that all are able to prove themselves by the talents they possess.

I can’t think of a more apt time to address this lesson from our tradition. It sure seems that our society is broken. This is a scary time for our future as a Jewish people and as a country. It seems that our politics are increasingly becoming about exclusion and breaking us apart, rather than bringing us together. There is a loss of civility and respect, while old wounds and stereotypes from the past seem to be making their way more and more into our conversations.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that we can’t assume a person’s talent or worth solely because of their background. Yes, Oholiab was from the smallest and least respected Israelite tribe. However, he was just as valuable as Bezalel, a man who hailed from the largest and most powerful community. If the Israelites assumed Oholiab was not up to snuff because of his background, our community would have lost one of its greatest artistic geniuses.

As Bezalel and Oholiab oversaw the building of the Mishkan, that Tabernacle of God, they turned around and requested that the entire people get involved in its construction. All whose hearts were moved brought the gold, silver, yarn and other precious possessions needed to make this home for God. All who had a talent of any kind, stood up to help in its construction.

At this moment, may we as a Jewish community and a country do the same. May we do our part to foster community and lift up one another’s skills, talents and worth. Instead of assumptions, may we take a step back and reflect upon each other’s character. May we listen to one another, learn from one another and grow from one another.

Rabbi Andy Gordon is the rabbi at Bolton Street Synagogue.

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