Sharing Torah Insights

I am, therefore I must think.

Posted on כ״ו באדר ה׳תש״ע (March 12, 2010) | in Pekudei, Vayakhel | by

Descartes was wrong. He said “I think, therefore I am,” but in this week’s Parsha we see otherwise.

This week, we have a double Parsha of Vayakhel and Pekudei. In Vayakhel, it talks about how Hashem filled Betzalel, Oholiav and all of their helpers with the wisdom necessary to construct the Mishkan and its vessels.

In multiple places the Torah stresses that Hashem was the one who granted the the wisdom, knowledge and understanding of how to properly complete the construction.

וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה.

And He filled [Betzalel] with the a divine spirit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and [a talent for] all types of craftsmanship.
Shmot 35:31

…וּלְהוֹרֹת, נָתַן בְּלִבּוֹ:  הוּא, וְאָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן-אֲחִיסָמָךְ
…מִלֵּא אֹתָם חָכְמַת-לֵב, לַעֲשׂוֹת

[God] also gave to him and Oholiav son of Achisamakh… the ability to teach.
He has granted them a natural talent for all craftsmanship…
Shmot 35:35-36

וְעָשָׂה בְצַלְאֵל וְאָהֳלִיאָב וְכֹל אִישׁ חֲכַם-לֵב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְהוָה חָכְמָה וּתְבוּנָה בָּהֵמָּה

Betzalel shall thus do all that God commanded, along with Oholiav and every other skilled individual, to whom God has granted the wisdom and understanding…
Shmot 36:1

If all of the people were granted their wisdom from Hashem, what was it that made Betzalel and Oholiav special that they deserved special mention in the construction? They too were just granted their abilities to do the construction by Hashem.

In Melachim II chapter 4, we are told of the story of Elisha and the destitute widow. The widow complains to Elisha that she has no possessions left, save one jug of oil. Elisha instructs her to borrow as many pots as she can from her neighbors, close the door, and then pour from the small jug she has into all of the pots. Miraculously, this small jug manages to fill all of the pots in the house.

What is interesting about this story is that the miracle had to occur from an existing jug of oil. Even though Hashem could just as easily have miraculously filled her house with money, He instead chose to operate in such a way that the miracle stemmed from an existing item, the small amount of oil she had left in her house.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher in his work Torah Sheleima quotes the Midrash Tanchuma which notes that the Torah uses the word מִלֵּא – filled, when discussing Betzalel and Oholiav. Just as in the story of Elisha and the widow, where there had to be some initial oil with which to fill the pots, in the case of Betzalel and Oholiav, there had to already be some existing talent and ability. All Hashem had to do was just “top them off,” so to speak.

Of course, their initial “natural” abilities were given by Hashem as well, so once again, what made Betzalel and Oholiav different?

What differentiated Betzalel and Oholiav is that up to the point when they were tasked with the building of the Mishkan they had made the most of the gifts Hashem had given them. They recognized that they, as with everyone, were granted innate talents, and they made sure to make the most of them. When the time came for Hashem to choose who to grant the additional knowledge and expertise to, he knew he just needed to fill up Betzalel and Oholiav and didn’t need to fill the empty tank of someone else.

The Jewish approach, therefore, is not “I think, therefore I am,” but rather “I am, therefore I must think.” We must take full advantage of all the innate skills and abilities we have been granted, and daven daily for the increased capacity to know how to best connect to Hashem and better ourselves.

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