Vayakhel: Team of Two

Betzalel was intelligent, highly talented and a scion of the best family in Israel; so what does he need a partner like Oholiav for?

3 min

Rabbi Lazer Brody

Posted on 21.03.23

"…and Oholiav the son of Achisamach from the tribe of Dan…" (Exodus 35:34).


Imagine that you're a graduate of the Ivy-League's best medical school, you interned at the Mayo Clinic and did residency at Sloan-Kettering. Today, you're one of the world's best upcoming oncologists. In addition, both your parents are world-famous physicians with iconic reputations in their respective fields. You're about to open a prestigious new clinic in downtown Boston; would you take a partner who comes from a family of South Carolina sharecroppers who did his internship and residency in small-town Mississippi hospitals? It's highly unlikely…


Hashem imbued Betzalel with a unique gift of wisdom and artistic dexterity to enable him to perform his task of crafting the utensils of the Holy Tabernacle. As the right-hand man of Moses in the design and construction of these holy accessories, Betzalel was filled with a spirit of holiness. He was also a blueblood. From the admirable tribe of Judah, he was the son of Uri and the grandson of Hur, which made him the great grandson of Miriam, Moses's sister. As such, Betzalel was the great-nephew of Moses.


Betzalel has every wonderful quality a person could desire – talent, intelligence, understanding, the best lineage and a holy spirit as well. His technical and creative aptitudes were unprecedented. Yet, Hashem commanded Moses to appoint an assistant to Betzalel, Oholiav the son of Achisamach from the tribe of Dan. Rashi explains that whereas Betzalel had the best Jewish pedigree imaginable, Betzalel came from the tribe with the lowest social status. Despite the fact, the Torah puts Oholiav on an equal footing with Betzalel.


We ask ourselves, why on earth must Hashem provide an assistant to Betzalel, who is imbued with every apparent talent necessary in the preparation of the Holy Tabernacle? If I'm not mistaken, Hashem is teaching us a lesson for posterity in Jewish unity.


Betzalel represents those fortunate and privileged people who were born into Torah-observant homes, the “FFB” or “frum-from-birth” community. This is hinted to in Betzalel's name, which means, “in the Lord's shadow”, for Betzalel – the FFB – was born within the boundaries of holiness.


Oholiav, on the other hand comes from the tribe of Dan, from the rear of the Israelite encampment and low on the social Totem Pole. His name means, “my father's tent.” His father is Achisamach, which means he leans on his brother. Oholiav is symbolic of the newly observant Jew, the baal teshuva or BT.


Putting the above metaphorical puzzle together, we see that Hashem wanted to pair the FFB with a BT. Although each one has qualities of his own, they can only attain perfection if they work together.


Betzalel, born in Bnei Brak, learned to read at age 3; some of the first words he spoke were modeh ani. He grew up in Torah learning and prayer. But Betzalel is prone to a spiritual disease known as melumada – regularity. Since he knows his prayers by heart and has been saying them ever since he learned to speak, they are many times rote and devoid of fervor and intent. Betzalel has learned the entire Gemara eight times already; he loves it like he loves his wife, whom he has been married to for the last twenty years. He knows that he can't live without either, but the fire and enthusiasm are just not there. If Betzalel the FFB doesn't constantly refuel, strengthen and rejuvenate his emuna, then his Torah, his Judaism and his marriage are liable to become mechanical. If he's not careful, Betzalel can go to work, engage in shady transactions, then run to pray Mincha and learn Bava Kama like nothing wrong happened. Betzalel needs a partner like Oholiav to keep himself inspired and motivated in serving Hashem. Why?


Oholiav comes from a non-observant family. As a child, he didn't know much about Judaism, for his head was filled with football, NFL and his dream of being an F-16 pilot. He majored in physics, excelled in university and became a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. After a very dangerous mission, he discovered Hashem and made teshuva. Now, all the dedication that he put into athletics, academics and his military career, he pours tenfold into Torah and serving Hashem.


Oholiav needs a Betzalel to teach him how to learn Torah and behave like a proper Jew. But Betzalel needs a strong dose of Oholiav to maintain his motivation, dedication and enthusiasm for Judaism. Together, these guys are a prodigious team of two. No wonder Hashem put them together.



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