Perkei Avot teaches us in the second mishnah of the first chapter that the world stands on three things: Torah (learning), Avodah (service) and G’milut Hasadim (acts of kindness). Shimon the Righteous taught his own set of three: that the world is held up by people who learn, by people who give and work, and by people who give of their hearts to one another. The Christian community has the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three different identities that make up the Divine being. These are just a sampling of the many conceptual trilogies in community thought and practice. Our school even has our own trio of attributes, “inspiration, knowledge, character.” Those three words sum up our school, our teachers, our students and our families.
The question we must ask ourselves is how we use each of these pieces of our being. What are we inspired to do? What do we do with our knowledge? What kind of character are we building?
The parshah this week, parshat Vayakhel, details the building of the mishkan, the artistry involved, the outpouring of gifts the Israelite people bring, and the artists who fashion the piece together. For the construction of this precious piece, God has singled out Be’tzalel to be the builder. Chapter 35, verse 31 teaches that God has “endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft.” Chochmah, T’vunah, Da’at: these are the words used to describe Be’tzalel. This is the combination needed for a person to construct a holy vessel, the types of attributes a rounded person must possess.
These words – wisdom, understanding and knowledge – are oddly similar in their meaning. Elsewhere they are translated as skill, ability and knowledge. Rashi, the great 10th century commentator, sought to understand the difference between each of these traits. He taught first onChochmah, skill. “Skill is what a person learns from other.” That is to say that skill is not something that we are born with, but rather something we learn from working with others, from acting in the world. Be’tzalel’s ability was not just working with his hands, but also listening to others, sharing opinions, working together on a team.
Rashi defines T’vunah, ability, as the result of one’s own insight and experience. In order to be a great leader, a person must be able to listen to one’s self. This is a reflective practice that involves looking at experiences and searching for learning, searching for what could be done differently next time, what “I” did well. A leader must not only work well with and listen to others, but also listen to their conscience, their inner monologue that guides them through right and wrong.
Finally, Rashi teaches that Da’at, knowledge, is divine inspiration, ideas that suddenly come to a person from an unknown source. Knowledge is knowing that there is something bigger than us out there, being open to new ideas, being open to the divine.
Parshat Vayakhel is about Moses bringing the people together as a community so that they can each learn from Be’tzalel to be engaged in chochmah, t’vunah and da’at, to learn from one another, to find their own voice, and to allow God’s inspiration to flow through their hands as they create themishkan.
A chair with only 2 legs cannot stand. The world rests on 3 things, whether it is on learning, service and acts of kindness, or on working together, listening to ourselves and finding God, or on inspiration, knowledge and character. The challenge is to find the balance in the three, find the balance in our own needs, those of the community and in our relationship to God so that the works of our hands bring us closer to our community.
Family Discussion Questions:
- Our ‘ethical covenant’ teaches us that the world stands on 7 middot. How can you use your “skill”, “ability” and “knowledge” to create a sense of each in the world?
- What three “things” does your family stand on?