Betzalel in Charge: Vayakhel 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: Do you consider yourself a leader? If so, what is your leadership style? Do you stress over every aspect when overseeing a project? Do you delegate well? Do you share responsibility and blame fairly?

Our portion re-intoduces us to Betzalel, the head artisan of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle for Israelite worship in the wilderness. But there is disagreement about the extent to which Betzalel took the sacred work upon himself.

The Pitch: “Betzalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. …” (Exodus 37:1)

Commentary #1: “Whereas with all the other objects, Betzalel presumably limited himself to more or less directing and guiding the other works, the ark he made with his own hands; for it is the principal object for which the whole sacred Dwelling Place was erected.” – Samson Raphael Hirsch

Commentary #2: “Betzalel’s achievement, while great, is not comparable to that of the Creator. He makes the Mishkan from a plan, with the help of thousands of Israelites, from materials donated by the entire community. As we have insisted throughout, it is a collective effort. (In fact, the classical commentators all state that the reason for the second presentation of Betzalel by Moshe is that the community must assent in his appointment as the chief craftsman.)” – George Robinson, Essential Torah

Commentary #3: “Now, how old was Betzalel when he made the Tabernacle? Thirteen years, for it is written, ‘And all the wise men, that wrought all the work of the Sanctuary, came every man from his work which they made’ (Exodus 36:4).” – Sanhedrin 69b

Late-Inning Questions: The tractate of Sanhedrin tells us that Betzalel is remarkably young to be chief artisan of the Mishkan. While Robinson tries to downplay Betzalel’s individual contribution to the Mishkan’s construction, Hirsch emphasizes that Betzalel is personally responsible for the Ark itself.

If Betzalel were a young man leading a project at today, would he be more of a delegator or more of a “helicopter leader” (hovering over every detail)? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both styles? Are there particular jobs that lend themselves to one style or another?

On Deck at Emanu-El: We can’t wait to welcome yet another tremendous musical experience to Emanu-El. On the Shabbat of April 1-2, we will be joined by two women who help lead a service known as “Shir Hadash” at the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver. The Shir Hadash minyan is an innovative prayer service unlike anything we’ve seen in Charleston. I hope you will join us, and I encourage you to listen to some of the tracks at to get learn more about this exciting service.

The Big Inning at the End: Much like the discussion above, there is a continual debate over the efficacy of different baseball managers. Some dugout leaders, such as Joe Torre and Terry Francona, are known as “player’s managers,” known for keeping a loose rein on his players. Others, like Tony LaRussa and Buck Showalter, have been successful by obsessing over their players’ every moves. Which kind of manager would you like to play for? 

Shabbat Shalom!