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Home » Uncategorized, Vayakhel

If You Have Skills, Use Them

Submitted by on March 2, 2024 – 8:00 pmNo Comment | 201 views

Among the Jews who left Egypt, there were many artisans with special skills. When it was time to build the Tabernacle, they all came forward. The goldsmiths and silversmiths, the weavers and spinners, the builders and carpenters, the blacksmiths and chemists all volunteered their services.

The Torah makes specific mention of one group of artisans. A group of women who possessed an unusual skill with a very exclusive market. They knew how to spin a goat’s hair while it was still attached to the goat.[1] This required exceptional spinning and animal management skills. They had to keep the goats calm and in place while they worked laboriously with the hair on their backs.

A goat’s hairs are not as soft and luxurious as a sheep’s wool. However, if the hair is spun while still alive, it is somewhat softer than after it is sheared.[2] This was a time-consuming task that required unique skills. These threads fetched a high price. Only very wealthy people who could afford the luxury and who cared for the subtle improvement in quality would pay the steep price.

When it was time to build the Tabernacle, these women stepped forward. They could have sat back and let ordinary spinners spin the goat hairs for the coverings of the Tabernacle. But they would not hear of it. If they had a skill, they wanted to use it for G-d’s home. Firstly, G-d’s home deserves the very best.[3] Secondly, if they had something unique to contribute, they did not want to be left out. In other words, they wanted to beautify G-d’s home with the best artistry there was to offer.

Not only did they step forward; they stepped forward with alacrity. Despite the laboriousness of their task, their threads were completed before the ordinary spinners completed their treads. As a result, the goat hair coverings of the Tabernacle were the first to be woven and completed.

Not A Storybook
If you are still with me at this point, I am assuming you found this story interesting. And while I write with an eye toward engaging the reader, G-d did not write the Torah that way. The Torah is not a storybook. It is a book of guidance and life lessons. Considering that most of us do not spin goat hairs and certainly not while they are attached to goats, what can we learn from this?

Moreover, the cloth coverings were only featured in the Tabernacle. Once the Temple was built in Jerusalem, the ceiling was made of stone (with a few wooden beams but no cloth). How does this story teach us a lesson about daily life? Most importantly, how does it teach us to be a better Jew?

The Lesson
It is incumbent on parents to teach their children a skill. Today, we send them to school to learn a skill. It can be a trade or an expertise, but whatever it is, it is a skill with which they will support their families. In addition, we teach our children life skills. There are ordinary skills like baking, cooking, sowing, etc. Then there are rarer skills, such as how to fix a leak, how to change the oil, or how to renovate a home.

We are accustomed to thinking of our skills as something we use for ourselves and, on occasion, for others who might be in need. By teaching us about these women, the Torah reminds us that our skills are not for us first and for others second. They are for G-d first and for us second. Whatever skill we might have, we must ask ourselves, how we can use it for G-d?

If G-d and nature were separate systems, if nature were organic and G-d were inorganically imposed upon nature—making demands of our natural bounty and skills, we would be the ones to decide whether to use our skills for G-d. If we chose to be generous, we could share our skills; if not, we could keep it for ourselves. It would be our right, for the skills would naturally be ours.

The Jewish view is that G-d and nature are not parallel systems, one supernaturally imposed on the other. G-d is the creator of nature, and everything in nature is organized by G-d according to His will. It follows that our skills are granted to us by G-d. They don’t belong to us. They belong to G-d; He gave them to us.

Of course, we get to use them for ourselves. But since they are His and on loan to us, our first priority is to ask how we can use them for G-d. Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Sometimes, we have to dig a little to figure out how to use our skills for G-d.

Examples
If you have writing skills, write articles for your local Jewish journal. If you have teaching skills, teach children or adults about Judaism. If you have administrative skills, volunteer at a Jewish organization.

If you have an audience, for example, if you have a large following on social media or if you have a column in online or print media, use your forum to spread G-d’s word. Inject Jewish values into your writing. Speak from the standpoint of Jewish faith. Use your platform for G-d.

If you came across a bundle of money, you sold a hot stock, you made a good business deal, you came into an inheritance, an insurance claim, ask yourself what you can do for G-d with this money. Who needs a little help in the community, and how can I help them? If you are a doctor or a lawyer, ask yourself what you can do pro bono to help the people in your community. Can you offer free legal services to your synagogue? Can you open your home to fellow Jews on weekends for a quick doctor’s visit?

The key is to remember that our skills are given to us so we can use them to help G-d. That is the priority. Everything else, including our own interests, is secondary. It doesn’t mean we can’t be the primary beneficiary of our skills and bounty. It means we give G-d’s portion first and then take our own.

Sometimes, the skills we have are duplicated by others. It is easy to sit back and say, let the other person take care of G-d’s needs, while we focus exclusively on us. Along come the women mentioned in our Torah portion and tell us differently. There were many weavers out there who could have woven the goat hairs. But they were not content with letting ordinary weavers build G-d’s home. G-d’s home deserves the best.

If other people with your skills are helping, find a way to do it better, to do more, and to be more extraordinary so that G-d’s community can receive the best. For yourself, you can decide if mediocre is enough. For G-d, nothing less than extraordinary will ever be enough.[4]

 

[1] Rashi, Exodus 35:26.

[2] Seforno, Ad Loc.

[3] Not only was it a higher physical quality, but it was also a higher spiritual quality. Just like there were animal offerings and meal offerings in the Temple service, so were there inanimate and organic donations to the Tabernacle. The only animal donations used in building the Tabernacle were the goat hairs that were spun while the hairs were attached to the goats. Once sheared, the hairs are no longer animal offerings. They are inanimate offerings.

[4] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos 16, pp. 451–456.

skills