Today I returned home from the Pearlstone Retreat Center and the Balfour Brickner Rabbinic Fellow program. Despite having to cut it short due to weather, it was an amazing three-and-a-half-days of study, prayer, bonding with colleagues, learning from Tsvi Blanchard and exploring how to meaningfully improve my Social Justice and Advocacy work was nourishing and challenging in the best sense of the word.
I'm hoping to share more after I've processed a little bit. For now, I'll share with you the d'var torah I wrote intended for tomorrow (gave it today instead).
The Eternal One Spoke to Moses: See I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the Tribe of Judah. I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft." (Ex. 31:1ff)
R. Johanan said: There are three things which the Holy One, Blessed Be, proclaims exclusively, namely: famine, plenty, and a good leader. "Famine" as it is written: The Eternal has called for famine. "Plenty", as it is written: I will call for the corn and will increase it. "A good leader", as it is written: The Eternal One Spoke to Moses: See I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri (ibid). --Bavli Berachot 55a
When I first read this midrash, I thought, "well, that's depressing", especially if we think of ideas like famine and plenty as reward and punishment (I'll let you decide where to place leadership).
However, I think there's another way to look at this, which is that there are things, like lack and plenty, that are out of our control. There is tremendous lack in the world, for no cause of their own. Likewise, many of us have experienced tremendous privilege, equally unearned. Too often we look at a person's situation and assume they earned or deserved it (good and bad), when in truth both were out of anyone's control.
What we can control is our actions, what we do in response. Many of us were gifted with skills and abilities, and we chose--or felt called--to use those skills to respond to that lack in the world, to encourage others to share their resources with those in need.
We are faced with famine and plenty. We have been singled out--by our communities, by our work, by our calling--to do the sacred work needed. May we be like Bezalel, filled with ruach Elohim, God's spirit, to strengthen us and guide us in our tasks.