Torah Portion: Vayakhel/Shekalim
Book of Exodus
In my senior year of high school I was required by the State of Washington to take a test purporting to list the occupations I would more, and less, likely succeed in. I suppose the purpose was to avoid my wasting time pursuing a career that would inevitably end in heartbreak and failure! The test concluded my greatest aptitude was architecture! I laughed knowing I could not even draw a straight line, much less design a structure. Years later, when studying chapter 35 of the Book of Exodus, I understood architecture required more than just a left-brain skill (logic, mathematical calculations, etc.). A successful architect also needed strong right-brain ability (creative energies).
In anticipation of finally constructing the ancient Tabernacle/Sanctuary in the desert, Moses turns to the Israelites and says, “All among you with a ‘cha’cham leiv’ (lit. “heart of wisdom”) come and construct all that God has commanded.” (Exo. 35:10) The medieval bible scholar Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak) defines the Hebrew word Cha’cham as meaning “skill”. Combining it with the word Leiv, meaning “heart”, he understood this as a reference to people who are skilled technically, creatively, and emotionally. These chosen individuals met the qualifications to construct an ancient sanctuary reflecting the spiritual presence of God.
A building or home is more than just a foundation with four walls, a few windows, and a roof. It is a source of inspiration to both the residents and the passers-by. It tells us something about a population’s culture and society. It is both a place of comfort and security. The architect needs to balance his requisite skills in design with a heart-felt understanding of the people who will occupy this home. He must be a creator, visionary, artist, and technician. It requires more than just the ability to draw a straight line!
The qualifications to design and oversee the construction of the ancient sanctuary may be understood as a metaphor for all careers and life pursuits. One should see their vocation-whether it be a professor of physics or Starbucks barista-as an opportunity, in one’s own special way, to open hearts and minds to the task of building stronger families, more cohesive communities, caring nations, and a better world. It all starts with a cha’cham leiv/heart of wisdom!
Rabbi Howard Siegel