As a director of a Jewish overnight camp, the topic of inclusion is often on my mind. Today, in settings of education and youth development, inclusion is broadly defined. It encompasses not only differences in ability, but ever more gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, skin color and further. Inclusion is becoming the secular expression of the Jewish value, b’tzelem Elohim, the belief that each person no matter their difference is a sacred being, having been created in the divine image.
Parasha Vayakhel offers us an inspiring example of b’tzelem Elohim in action, through the hands of Bezalel and Oholiab, two artisans who lead the construction of the Tabernacle. God singles out these men by name and lineage, and endows them with the necessary wisdom and skills for this most sacred task: “The skill to do any work – of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer, and of the weaver – as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs.” (Exodus 35:35).
Bezalel and Oholiab were deeply creative, multitalented and complex. Rashi, the Medieval French commentator, explains that God gave them a combination of knowledge, “chochmah - the wisdom we learn from others; t’vunah – the understanding we gain from life experience; and da-at – mystical intuition.” It’s easy to see the theme: the most skilled among us learn from everyone and everything, and maintain a spiritual foundation, too.
Our parasha goes further though when God announces Bezalel and Oholiab by their family names and lineage. Why? Rashi suggests that these men represent the value of inclusion. Bezalel was from the tribe of Judah, one of the strongest and greatest of all the tribes, but Oholiab was from Dan, “the lowliest … being descended from one of the maidservants.” In building the tabernacle, the seminal place of Israelite worship, God places Oholiab and Bezalel as equals, “to fulfill the verse,
‘(God) is not partial to the princes; the noble are not preferred to the wretched; for all of them are the work of (God’s) hands.’” (Job 34:19 as quoted in Rashi, Ex. 35:34).
The tabernacle, the original Israelite sanctuary, is built by artists who represent the entire community and out of gifts to God from each and every person, “whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 35:5) It is truly a place for all, who come to be their true selves. This feature of earnest welcome is what I love about camp, too … that each camper and staff member helps to create the magic of camp through actions of inclusion. When we bring close all who feel different, awkward, or outcast, and when we welcome in all those with different abilities and struggles to the community – through these actions we build our sanctuary. Through openness, God comes to dwell.
Rabbi Dan Utley is director of Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Camp Wise in Claridon Township.