Who was Oholiab?

Insights into People in the Torah Series. The Torah Portion of VaYakhel- Pekudei Exodus 35:1–40:38

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

After G-d forgives the people for the sin of the Golden Calf, He commands to begin the construction of the tabernacle. Hashem chooses two  individuals to orchestrate the building of the tabernacle.

“Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise hearted man into whom G-d had imbued wisdom and insight to know how to do, shall do all the work of the service of the Holy, according to all that Hashem has commanded." (Exodus 36:1)

Betzalel whose name means in the shadow of G-d seems like a natural choice.

“Moses said to the children of Israel: "See, Hashem has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. “(Exodus 35:30).

Betzalel's grandfather Hur is the son of Caleb and Miriam, a family of nobility. Furthermore the reason we are told that Betzalel is the grandson of Hur is because of the tragic circumstances of his death.

The midrash explains;" Hur, the son of Caleb, arose and chastised them. They immediately arose and killed him. (Tanchuma T'zaveh 10:10).


Hur’s passion could not let him stand back and allow this desecration of the Golden Calf to occur. He stood up to them and paid with his life. Betzalel his grandson was to create the Divinely inspired alternative to the simplistic shortcut built by those 3000 sinners.

Oholiab on the other hand does not come from the important tribe of Judah but rather from the smaller tribe of Dan. On the surface level we can understand the message that the greatest sanctification of G-d's Name can only occur when the strongest and the weakest members of the community join together to sanctify Hashem. It necessitates a partnership between the tribe that leads the procession through the wilderness and the tribe that makes up the rear guard.

Yet there is a deeper level to the spiritual message ensconced with the choice of Oholiab be Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.

When the forefather of the tribe of Dan is born we read the following.

"And Rachel said, "G-d has judged me, and He has also hearkened to my voice and has given me a son"; so she named him Dan."( Geneasis 30:6)

The words "He has also hearkened to my voice " will prove to be critical to the character of the tribe of Dan

Furthermore, when Jacob blesses his children he interjects a phrase into the blessing that seems to be out of place.

" I  yearn for your deliverance, O Hashem."( Genesis 49:18)

This "Hearkening by Hashem " and the "Yearning for Hashem's deliverance" will be a cornerstone of the spiritual legacy of Oholiab and the tribe of Dan to this very day. That characteristic ensconced in the spiritual makeup of Oholiab in particular and the tribe of Dan in general is a critical necessity for the people of Israel as a whole and of the Tabernacle in particular.

Without the power of yearning mixed with the power of purpose and royalty, the place that symbolizes G-d's Presence in this world could not have been built. Without those two ingredients all the tribes of Israel would flounder and lose their way.

That spiritual power in Oholiab continued throughout his descendants and his tribe throughout the generation.

 The Rabbinic scholar of the 16th century called the Radbaz(Rav David B. Zimra, ) declares that "those who come from the land Cush (Ethiopia) are without a doubt the Tribe of Dan..." He declares the Halachik ruling that the Beta Israel community from Ethiopian  are fully Jewish. The Ethiopian Jews of today have clearly exemplified those spiritual qualities of Oholiab. As a community they embody the humble nature and discipline of the Biblical tribe of Dan.

Yet most importantly even after 2500 years of exile and persecution they have never stopped yearning for Jerusalem and redemption. I was told the following story of a large group of Beta Israel living in the Gondar province of Ethiopia in the 1930's. One of the important Kesim (spiritual leaders) felt a calling to begin the redemption of his people. Abba Mahri gathered many young people wand with staff in hand they began the treacherous trek through the Sudanese desert. Many did not make it. Yet the group finally arrived at the shores of the sea.

Abba Mahri with great spiritual intent raised his staff and waited for the sea to split. When that did not happen some of the young people , including the great grandfather of the man who related this story jumped into the sea. It still did not split. Mordechai Baruch then described how the group including his great grandfather made the treacherous march back to their village.

Yet in spite of their deep disappointment they never lost hope. Mordechai's great grandfather himself became an important Kes in the community and tirelessly encouraged and prepared the people for the Aliya that they knew would happen."  I yearn for your deliverance, O Hashem."( Genesis 49:18)

Every year many thousands of species of birds fly for the northern countries , they stop over  in Israel and then continue on to Africa

When one of those types of birds, the Stork, would fly over their Ethiopian Jewish villages in Gondar or Tigris province the people of Beta Israel would look up lovingly to the skies and sing to it hoping for regards from their beloved city Jerusalem.

Shmella, Shmella, agerachin Yersalem deh na?

Stork, Stork how is our beloved Jerusalem?

It is that unending passion of yearning that enabled one of the lost tribes to return home. It is that humility of spirit and unrestrained yearning that will be the lessons that the Beta Israel will confer on their brothers in the land that so passionately needs to regain those strengths.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther