God gives us abilities for a purpose. 


Ki Tissa
For the week of March 7, 2015 / 16 Adar 5775
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 30:11-34:35
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 18:1-39

Purposeful Skills

Purposeful Skills

And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you. (Shemot/Exodus 31:6)

The Torah teaches that creative skill is derived from God. The Hebrew word for skill is "ha-ham'" (with two aspirated "h" sounds) and is often translated "wisdom." Wisdom is the ability (the word used in our translation of the verse I read) to apply knowledge in effective practical ways. So in English, if referring to a life decision, ha-ham is wisdom; if business strategy, it's shrewdness; if making things, it's skill.

In the context of this week's Torah portion, we see how in this case God gives skill to certain people for a stated purpose: "that they may make all that I have commanded you." What he commanded here was the making of the various items for the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the mobile structure dedicated to the sacrificial service of Israel.

The way this translation phrases it got me thinking. Is it possible that "that they may make all that I have commanded you" is applicable to every skill each one of us possesses? Clearly God gave these particular craftsmen a skill for a specifically stated purpose. But is every skill God bestows on all human beings given to us solely for his purposes? While we may accept God as Creator and that nothing exists that doesn't originate with him, how personal does this get?

Torah teaches that the creation is not impersonal and random. On the contrary, it is the result of God's intentional design. Humans were brought into being for an expressed purpose, which according to Bereshit/Genesis 1:26 was to take care of the planet, a mandate that has never been rescinded - thwarted by evil, but not rescinded.

Is it not reasonable then to assume that the creator God would instill in people the abilities necessary for the fulfillment of his purpose? Since ability isn't derived from nothing, it must have its origins in the Creator. Skill can be enhanced through training, but the core ability from which skill is derived must be present in potential form first, a potential given to us by God.

Some say that humans possess unlimited infinite potential and that we can untap that potential at will. This is what must be behind the concept of we can do anything we want to if only we would put our minds to it. I accept that many, if not most, of us can do far more than what we think we can, but anything at all? Not everyone could or should be a brain surgeon or an accountant, to name just two examples, no matter how much they want to.

But sheer talent is not the same as possessing the necessary wisdom required to use our talents effectively. This might be the key to discover how best to use our God-given talents. Skill is more than simply performing tasks well, but performing tasks well within the context or contexts God has ordained for us. The Mishkan's craftsmen could have used their skill for all sorts of things and would have most likely done excellent work, and there were likely times before and after the building of the Mishkan when making other things would have been appropriate.

But what constitutes appropriate? That takes us back to the general mandate in Genesis. Until we receive specific directives like those received by the Mishkan craftsmen, we need to remember that the abilities entrusted to us are gifts of responsibility to serve the overall purpose of God. And since wisdom too is God's gift (James 1:5), then we would do well to diligently seek him regarding the use of our talents. You might be surprised at the clarity you receive, if you are open to receive it.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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