The Leader, A Partner

Would you ever consider Rembrandt a leader? How about Mozart, or Frank Lloyd Wright?

Each of them was certainly a leader in his own field, but none of them was an individual who had a public following, or who had an influence upon a nation or community. Rembrandt deserved his fame as an artist; Mozart, as a master composer of beautiful music; and Frank Lloyd Wright, for his architectural accomplishments. But none of them is considered a leader, notwithstanding their superior creative talents.

In this week's double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38) we encounter a brilliant artist, architect, and artisan. Arguably, he was at least as gifted as the aforementioned geniuses. I refer, of course, to Bezalel. We were first introduced to him one week ago in Parshat Ki Tisa, but his considerable talents are again described in this week's parsha, and it is this week that we learn that he accomplished his mission and that he was congratulated for his work by Moses himself. Let the sacred text speak for itself, beginning with Moses' words as he introduces Bezalel:

"And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft… He and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work… Let Bezalel and Oholiab and all the skilled persons, whom the Lord has endowed with skill and ability to perform expertly all the tasks connected with the surface of the Sanctuary, carry out all that the Lord has commanded." (Exodus 35:30-36:1)

Betzalel's divinely endowed artistic genius is emphasized here. What is so striking is that he is assigned a partner, Oholiab, from a different tribe, who is also extremely talented, albeit probably not quite as gifted as Bezalel. We must also take note of the fact that an entire team of "skilled persons" is also engaged in the holy, and daunting, task of designing and crafting the Tabernacle and all of its components.

The ensuing several dozen verses all begin with phrases such as "they made," "they matched," "Bezalel made," and then, more than twenty times, "he made."

Our Sages do not regard Bezalel as merely an artistic genius, nor even as the supervisor of a team of lesser geniuses. Rather, they reserve for him the title of "good leader," or literally, "good sustainer." In a most fascinating Talmudic passage in Berachot 55a, they refer to him as the ideal "parnas tov," the person who supports and nourishes the community at large.

Here is the passage: "Rabbi Yochanan said: There are three things which the Holy One, Blessed be He, Himself announces. They are a famine, a period of prosperity, and a parnas tov, a good leader… As it is written [Exodus 31:1-2], ‘And God said to Moses: See that I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri…'"

What is the significance of the notion that the Almighty Himself "announces" something or someone? The commentators explain that the Lord "announces" only that which is unusually unique and extremely important. Famine is thankfully a rare occurrence, but it is a terrible one; great prosperity is also quite rare, and it is a wonderful phenomenon. Hence the Almighty reserves for Himself the right to "announce" them. Apparently, a parnas tov, a good and giving leader, is a most unusual person, hard-to-find, and a very special blessing to his followers.

Rabbi Chaim Zeitchik, a Holocaust survivor who left us with numerous sensitive essays on topics of morality and ethics, wonders about the basis for the Talmud's assumption that Bezalel was in any way a leader. "Was he a teacher, or a spiritual guide, or a judge?” he asks. "True, he constructed the Tabernacle, and but even that was for only a limited time. What is the evidence of his leadership capacity?"

Rabbi Zeitchik finds the answer to his question in a passage in the Midrash. It reads: "Rabbi Levi taught in the name of Rabbi Chanina: We find that when the Tabernacle was built, representatives of two different tribes were partners in its construction: Bezalel from Judah, and Oholiab from Dan. Similarly, in the construction of the first Holy Temple, the son of a widow from among the daughters of Dan partnered with King Solomon of the tribe of Judah." (Yalkut Shimoni, Kings I, paragraph 185)

Rabbi Zeitchik teaches us that from an ethical and moral perspective, all of a person's actions can be assessed by his readiness to accept a partner to assist him in his work and responsibilities, and to share his power and his fame. The great leader is not afraid that someone else will also achieve recognition. He is not concerned that another might stand in the limelight with him and get the credit for some of his accomplishments. The readiness to accept a partner is the litmus test of a truly good leader.

What made Bezalel the parnas tov was neither his artistic genius nor his management abilities. Rather, what made him the parnas tov, deserving to be "announced" as such by the Almighty Himself, was the fact that he readily accepted Oholiab as his full partner in this sacred undertaking.

Rabbi Zeitchik adduces another Talmudic text to expand upon his point. He refers to a passage in Tractate Yoma that praises a number of individuals and families who generously gave of their fortunes and wisdom to help in the construction and in the function of the second Holy Temple. It refers to them as tzaddikim, very righteous people.

But that passage continues and lists families, such as the House of Garmu, who possessed the expertise necessary to properly bake the lechem hapanim, the holy shewbread; and the House of Avtinas, who knew how to mix the ingredients of the holy incense. Shamefully, neither of these families was willing to disclose its secret knowledge with others. They wished to be known as the only possessors of the sacred secrets. They wanted glory to be theirs, and theirs alone. Not only are these glory seekers not labeled as parnasim tovim, good leaders, but the very derogatory term resha'im, wicked people, is applied to them. Their names are recorded in the history of our people to their eternal shame.

Only the Holy One Himself can judge alone, and only He can lead alone. Human leadership requires partnership. This lesson is exemplified by Bezalel in the earliest days of our people's history. Sadly, it is a lesson that few throughout our history have sufficiently taken to heart. It is a lesson that is evermore important in our critical times.

May our current and future leaders learn the lesson exemplified for us by Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah, the parnas tov.