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29 Adar I 5784 - March 9, 2024

Shabbat Mevarchim - Parshat Shekalim - Vayakhel

Rabbi's Reflections

-Every Person a Leader!-

Pirkei Avot teaches us, "In a place where there is no leader, strive to be a leader" (Avot 2:6). While one should always seek to comport oneself in a modest, humble fashion, one should remember that humility does not mean hiding oneself from attention. Rather, a truly humble person is one who knows their strengths, skills and talents very well, and when needed, demonstrates those attributes for the greater good of their community. In other words, "In situations where true leaders are lacking, where the interests of the community suffer for lack of proper leadership, and where, in default of adequate support, goodness and truth remain unrecognized and unrealized, it is your duty to strive to become a person qualified to act as a leader and spokesperson, and once you have acquired these skills, endeavor to take part in affairs where articulate leadership is needed. For under such conditions reticence would not be modest but downright criminal" (Rav Hirsch on Pirkei Avot 2:6). The mark of humility is not to avoid acting for fear of recognition. Rather, a truly humble person is one who has the courage to act when no one else will, and we see this lesson demonstrated in this week's parsha


Parshat Vayakhel teaches us about the restrictions of building the Mishkan on Shabbat, the gifts the Jewish people brought for its construction, and the leadership role that Betzalel and Ohaliav played in that construction, as it says, "Moshe said to the Children of Israel, 'See, the Lord has proclaimed by name Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah. He filled him with Godly spirit, with wisdom, with understanding, and with knowledge, and with every craft – to make artistic designs..." (Shemot 35:30-2). It seems that the construction of the Mishkan depends on the divinely endowed abilities of Betzalel and Ohaliav. However, if this is so, why then, even before Betzalel was named the leader of the construction project, does the Torah tell us, "Every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the Lord has commanded?" (Shemot 35:10). In other words, if the building of the Mishkan was the special, sacred duty of Betzalel and Ohaliav, why were the entire Jewish people commanded to build it even before the Torah mentioned Betzalel's special role? Who is really in charge -Betzalel and Ohaliav, or the Jewish people?


To help answer this question, I would like to turn to the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein, who explains, "It seems that this comes to teach us that every single individual who has the ability to build the Mishkan is obligated to do so. The implication of this, is that even if Betzalel did not build the Mishkan for whatever reason, a person could not say that he or she is not obligated to build it, because only Betzalel can. Therefore, the Torah commanded the entire people to construct the Mishkan even before mentioning Betzalel" (Sefer Kol Ram, Parshat Vayakhel 4:434). The greater lesson we can learn from this, says Rav Moshe, is that when or if our appointed leaders fail us, it is the obligation of the individual to step forward and make sure the work gets done. 


While we might think that the construction of the Mishkan was meant only for the divinely chosen – that the average person could never possibly accomplish that which Betzalel and Ohaliav could, Rav Moshe teaches us that we must always view ourselves as leaders in potential – that should our leadership not rise to the occasion, we must. In other words, "In a place where there is no leader, strive to be a leader" (Avot 2:6).

This Shabbat, as we consider the role that Betzalel and Ohaliav played as leaders in the construction of the Mishkan, let us also consider that because God desires to dwell among the Jewish people, it is the responsibility of the Jewish people as a whole to ensure that the Mishkan be built. This Shabbat, let us reflect on the idea that all of us are leaders, all of us have the ability to rise to the occasion and take on leadership positions when we see a need that is not being addressed. The greatest sign of humility is acting on behalf of others when no one else will. May we always strive to act out of a sense of humility and duty to our community. May we always recognize the gifts we possess which can help strengthen our community. May we never be afraid to demonstrate those gifts when necessity dictates, and may we always strive to do the work that needs to be done, for the greater glory of us all.  

Shabbat Shalom!

-Rabbi Dan

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