Table for Five: Tetzaveh

Unique Talents
February 22, 2024

One verse, five voices. Edited by Nina Litvak and Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest.

– Ex. 28:3

Miriam Mill-Kreisman
President, The Tzaddik Foundation

What an incredibly profound parsha!

In a single sentence, the essence of our existence is encapsulated, revealing the profound connection between all that we possess and the divine source — Hashem. This revelation carries a deeply humbling message. We know of great biblical figures such as Moshe, Aaron, Yosef, Betzalel, and Daniel, who credit Hashem with the abilities that spiraled them to greatness. This parsha extends this concept to every individual, regardless of whether their names are etched in history. It beckons everyone to recognize that their unique talents are divine gifts, bestowed upon them by Hashem’s benevolence. 

The desire for recognition is universal. For once I would just love to hear the contemporary icons of success, be they Grammy, Emmy, or Super Bowl superstars, express gratitude to G-d for their extraordinary talents as the norm and not the exception. Imagine a world where acknowledgment of Divine endowment precedes accolades and where these talents are channeled toward serving Hashem. This parsha, in essence, becomes the quintessential mission statement for every Jew, asserting that each person is blessed with unique gifts to use to illuminate the world, infusing it with the light of life by the teachings of the Torah — the guide to a meaningful and purposeful existence. It emphasizes the responsibility we all share in contributing to the greater luminosity within our individual spheres, thus fulfilling the divine purpose set forth by Hashem.

Abe Mezrich
Author, “Words for a Dazzling Firmament”/ abemezrich.substack.com

Now the skillful and gifted, and not anyone else, will tailor the vestments in which Aaron will serve. This is after everyone — all the wide masses — are called to donate the materials for those vestments, the colored threads and dazzling jewels. 

The masses will keep donating even after the skilled artisans are well underway, and nobody needs materials anymore, and the artisans and Moses will ask everyone to stop giving. Later Moses will erect the Mishkan, but at the moment that God’s Glory descends, Moses will not be able to enter. And Aaron and his sons will wear the vestments to serve in the Mishkan where even the artisans will not be allowed to go. 

Nobody can inhabit the world they’ve made. 

Of course this is a tragic story. But can’t it also be a beautiful one? Beautiful the way parenting is beautiful, and the way certain kinds of progress can be beautiful. We can’t inhabit the world we’ve made because we’ve succeeded, because we’ve elevated the world so much, because we’ve given to a world that’s now holy and amazing beyond our wildest dreams.

Rabbi Chaim Tureff
Rav Beit Sefer at Pressman Academy and author of “Recovery in the Torah”

Anyone bound for greatness has a list of people along the way who helped get them where they are. Prominence does not happen overnight. One does not become a world leader, surgeon, star athlete, or a top-notch educator by oneself. Even Moses, the greatest prophet of all time, had Miriam, Yocheved, Yitro and others that helped him along the way. 

The commentaries note that those who made the priestly garments needed to have spiritual awareness of what they were doing. Meaning if they didn’t, Aaron’s garments would have been unfit for use and unable to facilitate his service as the Kohen Gadol. Each step along the way towards greatness has someone that helps move the person forward. 

As an educator, I have taught over 1,000 students. For those that become successful, I, along with a slew of educators, role models, and family members play a role. I think that the Torah is teaching us a lesson in this parsha about Hakarat Ha’Tov (gratitude). Many people who become successful forget how they got to where they are. They feel that their hard work and talents are self-sustained. They obviously play an important role, but it is not a solo act. One who has gratitude not only demonstrates a holy attribute, but scientific studies show that people who practice gratitude have more optimism, positive emotions, better health, fewer aches and pains and experience positive lasting effects on the brain.

Rabbi Scott N. Bolton
Congregation Or Zarua, New York, NY 

Wardrobe check: The Israeli Defense Forces’ uniforms, medical professionals’ and disaster recovery and emergency specialists’ gear, and l’tza’areinu, to our sorrow, burial shrouds ready. There are no splashy or flashy adornments on army uniforms in use just now. Nobody is peacocking on the battlefield. There are no precious stones, but there are Hebrew letters like those that were written along the tzitz, the special headwear of the Kohen HaGadol. Even though the writing is the acronym tzaddik/hey/lamed, TZAHAL, Tzava Hagana L’Yisrael [Israeli Defense Forces] the Hebrew letters shine forth the same message that was on the Koheinic headgear: Kodesh L’Hashem, holy to God — and to us. 

Today people of skill are making the protective vests, uniforms and helmets for our soldiers, rescue workers, medical professionals and nation-builders. As I write from New York during a fashion week that saw the triumphant return of couture clothing and garments printed by 3D machines, I cannot help but contrast the simple shrouds too many of which have had to be used since Oct. 7. Rabban Gamliel of the Second Temple era saw how we were burdened by runaway spending on burials. He asked to be buried in simple, linen garments. To this day we use tachrichim, simple linen shrouds that affirm everyone’s humanity and holiness. People of incredible skill tie special knots during the purification ritual of tahara, a priestly, dignifying ritual. As we dress in appropriate wear for the holy tasks we seek to accomplish in life, we also dignify our beloved with pants, shirts, and wrappings for their journeys beyond. 

Niva Taylor
Freelance Writer

The Torah defines skill here with distinct phraseology. One might imagine that artisans appointed to weave the glorious priestly vestments would have received years of training in the intricacies of this delicate craft. But the quality G-d is seeking here is intangible; it’s an internal attribute that could never be quantified on any resume. G-d commands Moshe to instruct all those who are “wise of heart” to create the garments Aharon and his sons would wear to serve Him. 

What does it mean to be wise of heart? Someone who lives with constant awareness, or awe of G-d, is said to possess this lofty trait, according to the Netziv’s 19th century commentary, Haamek Davar. Beyond this requisite spiritual awareness, these craftsmen were to engage in their holy endeavor lishma, for its own sake, without any extraneous motivations, Rabbeinu Bachya (circa 1300 C.E.) explains. As they wove, they would be suffused with Divine purpose, understanding that their work would enable the Kohanim to achieve atonement for Klal Yisrael. 

Today we cannot grasp the elevated work with which these artisans were tasked. But by finding the lishma in our own daily functions, we can acquire some measure of wise-heartedness, too. Driving carpool, cooking a meal, putting in hours at the office, and even getting a good night’s sleep can become holy work when we understand Who we are serving and what He wants of us. Like these holy artisans, each of us, in our own way, can bring glory to His Name.

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