Being Smart is Secondary (Vayakhel)

Being Smart is Secondary (Vayakhel)

Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the construction of the Tabernacle, God designates Bezalel as the master architect. The verse states:

“See, God has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft.”

The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 35:30 highlights the fact that Bezalel is singled out by “name.” He then proceeds to quote the Mishnaic dictum of “It’s better to have a good name than good oil,” which is classically interpreted to mean that it’s better to have a good name as an upstanding person than wealth and riches.

He then draws a comparison between the good name the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi possessed versus the good oil, the anointing oil, that was used to anoint and consecrate Nadav and Avihu as Kohens, as priests in the Tabernacle.

Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, went too far in their roles when they brought the strange, unasked-for fire in the Tabernacle and were promptly struck down by God with a divine fire. Conversely, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were unharmed when they were thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

The Chidushei HaRim interprets the analogy of “oil” as being wisdom. He would interpret the dictum as “It’s more important to first possess good character before wisdom.” He claims that while Nadav and Avihu were extremely intelligent, their characters were not yet developed and mature enough as compared to their intelligence. Therefore, their intelligence was on a rocky foundation.

Their father, Aaron, possessed both character and wisdom which is hinted at by the verse in Psalms:

“It is like fine oil on the head running down onto the beard, the beard of Aaron, that comes down according to his character traits.” -Psalms 133:2

May the strength of our character always be a foundation for whatever intelligence we’re blessed with.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the safety and wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

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