Here is the sermon that I wrote and didn’t give. Well, I gave parts of it, but not all of it. There were more jokes and more grammar mistakes.
One of the challenges that our tradition presents to us is d’var acher. As Rabbi Zedek is fond of reminding us each Shabbat, there is always another interpretation. That has made this sermon writing business a bit more challenging than my average writing project. Every time I thought I had it figured out, I would make the mistake of talking to another person and add another interpretation to my pile.
The basics of this parasha—B’zalel and Oholiab have been called by name to be the head craftsmen in charge of building the mishkan. Not only are the two men skilled in all areas of weaving, scultpture and carpentry, they are also teachers with an army of willing workers. It is B’zalel that we remember of the two men. When Jews make art we remember B’zalel. The major arts school in Israel is named after him and the retreat that I had the pleasure of teaching this fall was a b’zalel retreat.
When I spoke with David Fleishman, he said that he’s a fan of talking about the second fiddle. He would talk about Oholiab. Hmmm… Okay. And Rabbi Zedek said that the key to this d’var might be in B’zalel’s name. His name means “in the shadow of Gd.” Oholiab’s name means “father’s tent.” Let’s ignore gender neutrality for one moment and recognize that within these two names, we might have the whole story.
The Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the structure they were building was so that Gd might dwell among the people. It was a movable structure made for the cloud of Adonai to rest upon. A tent for, my apologies, the father.
And then after talking to many members of the Emanuel Congregation, I talked to a friend who is a hassidic rabbi. After a beer, he clapped his hands and said, “Can you find the connection between Leah and B’zalel?” This is someone who knows that my knowledge of biblical lineage is not strong and in fact, I wasn’t sure if he was talking about me or the matriarch.
B’zalel, in the shadow of Gd. He did not work for his own glory, but for Gd’s glory. He made sacrifices to complete all of the work and teach all of the craftsmen and women to meet Gd’s exact specifications. In modern times, this is hard to imagine. We have just finished Award Season. The Oscars, the SuperBowl, The Golden Globes. Today we do not celebrate work done in Gd’s shadow or for Gd’s glory, but instead the individual or team accomplishment.
Stay with me.
Leah also spent her life working in a shadow. It was not Gd’s shadow, but her sister Rachel’s shadow. She and Rachel both made tremendous sacrifices for the other. Rachel sacrificed personal happiness and allowed her sister to be married in her stead. Leah suffered as she watched Rachel’s years of childlessness and she suffered as the unloved wife. In Rachel’s shadow, she beared many children, cared for her family, provided strength and we know recognize her as a matriarch.
As she lived in her sister’s shadow, she also lived in Gd’s shadow. Her sacrifices were for the good of the whole family. B’zalel worked in Gd’s shadow, providing a place for Israelites to experience Gd as they moved through the desert.
So what? What does this mean to us?
Whose shadow do you sit in when you are at your desk every day? As you stand in front of your classroom or pick up your tool box? Do you complain that your true measure is being hidden because you are in the shadow of another person?
Step away and look from B’zalel’s perspective. How can being in the shadow of another person be turned into being in the shadow of Gd? Gd is source and we are all connected to source. It does not have to be a constant evaluation or seeking recognition, but a pause… “Do I recognize that I can bring Gd into my work? Can I create a connection to Gd through the work that I do?”
In my own 9-5 life, I do research on behalf of brands at a public relations firm. It is very easy to fall into a trap of being overshadowed by brands and senior executives. But if I shift my focus ever so slightly, I can see that there Gd in my research. I am looking for connections that lie just beneath the surface. It is not a matter of dealing with Gd at work in a proselytizing way, but in a “This can matter” way.
When I came to Rabbi Zedek with the first draft of this d’var, he told me a story. No big surprise there, right? He referred to the great Talmudic scholar of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein. When asked what the hardest instrument to play is, LB said, “Second chair violin. I can get anyone to play first chair, but second… that’s the hard one.”
If you can remember, that it is much easier to feel another person’s shadow than it is to feel Gd’s shadow, find a way to recognize them and the work they do. By recognizing that a friend or colleague might be feeling like Leah or Oholiab, you will be embracing source and truly working in Gds shadow.
Now if you’ll indulge me, I need to make my Oscar’s acceptance speech. So many people have helped me get here, that I would be remiss if I didn’t try and thank at least some people here.