The Gifts We All Have to Give

By Rabbi Elisa Koppel
In Guest Bloggers

In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, we have been sharing a weekly D’var Torah (word of Torah) where guest bloggers link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion. This is a bonus D’var Torah from Rabbi Elisa Koppel on Trumah.

gifts, MatanThroughout our lives, we receive gifts. Sometimes they are tangible items. Sometimes they come from those whom we expect. But sometimes – perhaps some of those powerful times – they come from those from whom we don’t expect. Some of those, yes, are because we get something (tangible, emotional or spiritual) from someone we didn’t think cared enough to give. But sometimes we receive a gift from someone that we didn’t truly realize had something to give.

We are told in the Torah that the Tabernacle – the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them through the wilderness (the first sacred space constructed) – was made out of gifts brought by the community.

In the Torah portion we read this past Shabbat, Trumah, we read about the building of this Tabernacle. As we read the descriptions throughout the coming chapters, we also learn about Betzalel, the artist who crafted this structure. He was a man who was singled out by God, who was filled with the spirit of God in wisdom, understanding and knowledge in every kind of craft. A man, surely, of unique spirit. God assigns Oholiab to work with Betzalel and other skilled members of the community to help build this holy structure – the Tabernacle.

As I read these texts each year, generally starting in February, Jewish Disability Awareness Month, I can’t help but wonder if maybe Betzalel was someone whose gifts were often overlooked because of other aspects of his person. The Torah doesn’t tell us much else about Betzalel, which gives us the freedom to interpret it, to create modern midrash; really, to write the back story.

And in my midrashic imagination, Betzalel is a man who is singled out by God for his unique gifts, because the community itself might not have noticed the gifts he had to offer.

What a model that offers us. First, he’s given an aide, someone who can help him to be successful and who can make sure he has what he needs. Someone who can offer extra help to negotiate that which is more challenging for him. The community needs to be part of the building, so the whole event is designed in way that Betzalel is truly part of that community with the help he needs. And by calling him forth in front of the entire community to do this sacred work, Moses gives him a place of honor. Moses recognizes Betzalel’s gifts publicly.

Betzalel is the one who gets to have the holy task of creating the holy space; built so that the Divine can dwell with the people in that space.

And, indeed, it is only when we honor the gifts of all members of our community, when we put systems in place so that all members of the community are welcomed, when we have removed the stumbling blocks that no one had noticed were there; it is then that we can truly create holy community. Then we can receive the gifts that each member of the community has to offer. Gifts that are the essence of their spirit. Gifts that others might ignore. Gifts that we need, in order to create sacred space.

May Betzalel be our reminder to create a community – to create a world – in which all are welcome and all are embraced; not despite a disability that someone has, but because we value the gifts that only that individual can bring.

Elisa Koppel, MatanRabbi Elisa Koppel is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX. As a rabbi she is passionate about education, formal and informal, for individuals of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. Personally she enjoys crosswords, social networking, reading anything well written, and a host of generally geeky things. She works hard to integrate the personal and professional in all aspects of life and sometimes blogs about that and other matters at Off the REKord