Parshat Vayakhel Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Our Parsha is one of the five final parshiot of Sefer Shemot; their subject is the building of the Mishkan and the indwelling of G-d's presence upon Am Israel.
Our Parsha deals with the final stage of the construction of the Mishkan, the national project of Am Israel. For this purpose it became necessary for the first time to appoint a public leader, Betzalel. His responsibility would be to lead and direct the planning, design and construction of the Mishkan and all that it contains, to optimize the use of the offerings and resources given by the nation, and to effectively manage the large workforce that came to take part in the construction. The Talmudic sages regarded the manner in which Betzalel was chosen as a strategic model for choosing leaders in Am Israel.
Our Parsha describes the way Betzalel was chosen for the role: "And Moshe said to Bnei Israel, see, G-d has called by name Betzalel…and He has filled him with G-d's spirit, in wisdom, understanding and knowledge and of every craft". (Shemot 35:30)
Despite the fact that the selection of Betzalel is mentioned earlier (Shemot 31), G-d then addressed Moshe, and now Moshe speaks to the nation: "And Moshe said to Bnei Israel…"
The sages learned from this the necessity of consulting with the nation when making a public appointment (Talmud Brachot 55a): "Rabbi Yitzchak said: a public leader cannot be appointed unless the public is consulted, as it is written: 'And Moshe said to Bnei Israel, see, G-d has called by name Betzalel…'" (See Orach Mishpat, Hilchot Omanim 20)
There are three participants in the appointment of Betzalel: G-d, Moshe and the nation.
The Talmud continues: "G-d said to Moshe: Moshe, do you consider Betzalel worthy? Moshe answered, Master of the world, if he is worthy in Your eyes then certainly he is in mine! G-d said: Even so, 'go say to Israel…' The nation responded: Moshe Rabbenu, if he is worthy in G-d's eyes and in yours, then he certainly is in ours!"
One reason that the nation is involved in the selection of Betzalel is purely practical. The people will accept his leadership and authority only if they are consulted! And the sages said (Talmud Brachot 55a): A public leader cannot be appointed unless the public is consulted, as it is written: And Moshe said to Bnei Israel: see, G-d has called by name Betzalel. "See" meaning: see if you agree to his being chosen. Since it is fitting that every leader be appointed only with the consent of the public, in order for his authority to be accepted. (Tzror Hamor Shemot 35:30)
But why did the public need to be consulted at a time when they were being led directly by G-d, and through Moshe, His prophet? Wasn't G-d's choice of Betazalel and His opinion that he was the proper man for the task sufficient? Wouldn't the nation accept him just like they accepted G-d's choice of Moshe Rabbenu? (The Rif on Ein Yaakov, Brachot 55a)
We can say that involving the nation in the choice was rooted in principle and not just in practicality. A leader is a "shaliach tzibur" – the agent of the community and the representative of the common public entity. So the community which "sends" its representative must be that which chooses him.
However, Rabbi Kook learned from the Talmud's description of the choosing of Betzalel the unique strategy of leadership in Am Israel. Our leadership is assessed in three dimensions: character, management and interpersonal. (Ein Aya"h Brachot Part.2 p.262, 28) This is the reason that there are three "partners" in the selection of Betzalal: G-d, Moshe and the nation.
The dimension of character includes the spiritual and moral level of the leader, as well as the motivation behind his leadership. This criteria is fundamental and of the highest importance for a leader in Am Israel. However, this can only be discerned by The Holy One, Blessed Be He, "who scrutinizes the kidneys and heart" (every man's inner nature). This is very difficult for flesh-and-blood men to ascertain.
The management aspect includes administrative skills, astuteness in organization and maintaining control, setting goals and planning the optimal way to achieve them. Moshe, who was himself a wise and capable leader, was in the best position to assess this.
The interpersonal quality of a leader includes charisma, the ability to communicate with the nation in its language and to motivate it to follow him. Only the nation itself can rate a potential leader on this point.
Rabbi Kook explains that the criteria for choosing Betzalel appear in the Talmud by order of their importance: first and foremost character, and only afterwards management and interpersonal skills.
"Indeed, when is the guidance of the leadership complete and worthy? When every one of its qualities is manifested according to its true value. And the most central point is wholeness in relation to G-d, the righteousness of the leader and his true moral fiber, and his setting for himself higher standards than those demanded of a regular man. Second to it is wisdom and intuition. And the third, the external, human quality. Then the lower quality is secondary to one more elevated than it, and the leadership will succeed in guiding the public in the ways of good and life." (ibid)
This three-dimensional model is very different from what we see today, when leaders are chosen primarily on the basis of their interpersonal skills, charisma and management ability. The character dimension too often is nonexistent, and instead of the image of the leader as he really is, the public sees his "image" as manufactured by public relations experts.
Today, when we don't have G-d's direct guidance and we don't have a prophet like Moshe, and we don't have the luxury to consult with them regarding the first two qualities of leadership, the public and its representatives are required to recognize these to the best of their ability, albeit with limited human means. Therefore the public has to be consulted when appointing a leader!
"And if we don't have clear testimony (from G-d) regarding the holiness of the soul (of a potential leader), then instead we must rely on his good name and his reputation for righteousness and good deeds as evidence of those qualities which are critical and indispensible in a public leader." (ibid)