Name your favorite parsha. I bet you didn’t say Vayakheil. I submit that Vayakheil falls under many people’s radar. It is viewed it as a recapping of what came before and little more. Speakers feels challenged on this Shabbos. Some will present talks this week in which they sneakily quote from previous sections.
One of my favorite topics, the tension between individual and group, is a prominent theme in Parshat Vayakheil. Let’s take a look.
Rav Elimelech Bar Shaul cites the Medrash that quotes two seemingly contradictory psukim. On the one hand we're told in reference to the stars - "HaMOTZTI B'MISPAR TZVAOM, L’KULAM BESHEIM YIKRA - He brings out their host by number. He calls them all by AME." (Yishayahu 40:26). On the other hand is the following pasuk -“LeKULAM SHEIMOT YIKRA - He calls them all by their NAMES." (Tehillim 147: 4). The Medrash explains that 2 scenarios are referred to here. One is that G-d calls all of the heavenly hosts as one cohesive unit. At other times He calls each individually by its own name.
The Medrash applies this duality to man, turning to Parshat Vayakhel for a proof text - "See Hashem has called Betzalel by name” (Shmot 35:30). It is a key concept in life that we are all chosen with specific potential to fulfill. There is also an aspect of our identity as part of a community. These two roles create constant tension because while one encourages us to develop our unique character, the other obliges us to subordinate ourselves to the needs of the community. We struggle regularly to discern when we are divinely called BSHEIM - individually, and when we are called BESHEIMOT- communally.
It is not by accident that this Medrash uses the metaphor of stars to represent the Jewish People. This is one of two images conjured by G-d in telling Avraham of his descendants. The other is the image of sand. It is relevant to the topic of individual versus communal potentials to ask why 2 similes were given to represent one idea.
The answer lies in the subtle difference between sand and stars. When you look stars you see a large uncountable number. But you can point to each one and identify it as a lone star. Grains of sand however, all blend into one entity. This represents the dual nature of every Jew as an individual and as part of a nation.
Another Medrash on our parsha states that Hashem pointed to Betzalel's name in a book which listed every person in the world who ever was or will be born. From within all those names Hashem chose that of Betzalel and told Moshe that he was the chosen one. Why? Rabbi Neal Turk suggests that the message was that just like Betzalel had his specific purpose for which he was chosen, so too every person that was or ever will be born has their unique calling as well.
Rav Moshe Feinstein notices the fact that Betzalel's talents were spotlighted within a context of service of G-d. Similarly we should all realize our calling and harness our abilities for the
service of G-d. This is perhaps the true meaning of the Gemora, which states that
2 comedians merited Olam HaBA (eternal reward) because of their craft. The reward
was not simply for making people laugh, but for their understanding what their unique
talents were and using them solely for the sake of heaven.
May we all be so blessed.
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann