Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – Erev Shabbat 20 March 2020
Week of 15-21 March 2020
Torah portion: Exodus 35:1-40:38 Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18
Theme: Honoring the Artists Among us and the Artist Within

Parashot Vayakhel and Pekudei are combined this year to fit the number of weeks. Vayakhel means, “and he convoked,” and Pekudei means, “amount of,” which are the first distinctive words of the two Parashot. The former describes the construction of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. The latter is an account of the manufacture of the priestly vestments.

What I wish to highlight in this Torah portion are the artisans. Bezalel was appointed the chief artisan, whom God “singled out by name” and “who was endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft.” (Ex 35:30-31) The three words used to describe Bezalel’s gifts as an artisan are hokmah, t’vunah and da’at. Etz Hayyim comments using the differentiation provided by Rashi of these words, “Rashi defines ‘skill’ (hokmah) as what a person learns from others, ‘ability’ (t’vunah) as the result of one’s own insight and experience and ‘knowledge’ (da’at) as divine inspiration – ideas that suddenly come to a person from an unknown source.” (Etz Hayyim, 555)

The name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” We can hear the resonance of b’tzelem Elohim, “in the image of God” in Genesis 1:27. His abilities as an artisan or creator do not arise out of himself but are inspired by God and this God is generously creative! Julia Cameron writes, “Looking at God’s creation, it is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know when to stop. There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee. No two alike. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative ventures.” (Cameron, 107)

Bezalel did not do the task alone, in fact, along with contributing his personal gifts, he was also asked to give directions to the community of artisans. The Torah called skilled men hakham lev, and the women hakmat-lev, which means, “wise-hearted.” (Etz Hayyim, 556) All of these persons were producing beautiful pieces of artwork with their hands and are considered wise. This is very different from how artists are regarded in our society today. The artists among us do not seem to enjoy equal status with those who engage in academic pursuits such as the sciences. Even theology has become an academic discipline.

After a conversation with my mentor about the topic for my Doctor of Ministry comprehensive paper, she asked me to write a poem or do cartoons. But I could not seem to do that shift easily. Creativity is very much the work of the heart. The Torah’s term is accurate; lev (heart) must be part of it. This is not the first time that I was advised by a friend to develop my creative side. Sr. Maureena Fritz gave me a book, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I might be missing out on something really important in my life, I figured. I am grateful for the courage of the artists among us who continue to challenge the way we look at the world.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How do you express yourself creatively? 2. How does the way of the artist nourish your spirit and your relationship with God? 3. Who are the artists who have challenged the way you conceive the world?

Bibliography: Cameron, J. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (New York, 2016); Lieber, D.L., ed. Etz Hayyim. Torah and Commentary (New York: 2001)

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