In this week’s parsha, Vayakheil-Pekudei, God fills the visionary leader Betzalel with “Godly spirit, with wisdom, insight and knowledge, and with every craft” to perform the design and oversee the construction of the Mishkan, the traveling Sanctuary in the wilderness. While Moses and Aaron led “from the top” [famously, Moses oversaw leaders of thousands, hundreds and tens among the Israelites], Betzalel would lead “from the middle,” inspiring all Israelites whose hearts motivated them to give of themselves and contribute to the Sanctuary’s construction. God gave Betzalel “the ability to teach” as well as to do. As a leader, he showed the people how to help most effectively, and also to do the work himself when he needed to. He inspired a culture of participation and giving.
Over the last five years, I have striven as your rabbi to lead collaboratively. I have striven to seek out people’s interests and talents and to encourage members to apply these to the benefit of the community. To the extent that we’ve had any success, it’s because of this approach in working together as a community. I believe, and I have been sharing with our current rabbinic candidates, that now more than ever, there is even more openness to new ideas, new volunteers stepping in to create new energy in the congregation, whether this relates to social action, musical services, demographic-specific groups or leadership development. There is, of course, much more work to do. Our work of preparing the synagogue for the future is far from over, our Mishkan far from complete.
The culture of Temple Sinai must be one of both sustained commitment and creative openness to new models of leadership. Moses knew that he did not have the skill-set to oversee this most important project of constructing the Mishkan in this week’s Torah portion. Those of us who have been around at Temple Sinai a long time need to ask ourselves, how can we see what we do not currently see? Can we recognize that the “way we’ve always done things” is limited in its scope and needs to be cracked open? How do we reach beyond our own circles and habits to adapt for a new generation?
Luckily, we have the model of Betzalel leading from the middle. The first step is to trust one’s spiritual leader, whoever it is the congregation chooses for this holy task. The next step is not to be afraid to discuss and hone the process necessary for cultivating wise hearts, this being at the root of the sacred relationship between rabbi and lay leaders. And the next is to draw from the talents and interests of our community, to create a culture of spiritual fulfillment and genuine giving and receiving of each other’s talents – as Betzalel did. The goal for all of us must be to learn from one another, under the guidance of a visionary leader, with sacred partnership and trust between rabbi and congregation at the core. That trust must be earned. But it must also be prioritized by everyone in the community.
With blessings for our community at this sacred moment of transition and discernment about how best to move forward.