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    Oholiav ben Achisamach – Ki Tissa

    Tabernacle MishkanLet us look at Oholiav ben Achisamach of the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:6), the colleague of the Tabernacle’s master craftsman, B’tzalel. There is not much about him in rabbinic writing, which seems to indicate that he did not appeal to the imagination or arouse the admiration (or displeasure) of the sages to an important degree, but the Biblical text gives us at least a modicum of information.

    His name seems to mean “tent (tabernacle) of my father” or possibly “master tent-maker”, understanding av (“father”) as founder, leader or master (e.g. Gen. 4:20, which calls Yaval “the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle”, and Gen. 4:21, where his brother Yuval is “the father of those who handle the harp and pipe”).

    Oholiav was clearly a talented person – “an engraver and a clever workman, and an embroiderer in blue, in purple, in scarlet and fine linen” (Ex. 38:23). Like his leader B’tzalel, but unlike many others whose abilities are more limited, he was not only a good worker himself but was able to teach others (Ex. 35:34 and Ibn Ezra on Ex. 36:1).

    The text implies that like the others who were employed in building the Tabernacle, Oholiav was “wise-hearted”, and the rabbinic sages comment that God implants wisdom in the hearts of those who are already wise-hearted (Ber. 55a). Samson Raphael Hirsch remarks, “Jewish truth knows nothing of that miracle of God which suddenly makes the simpleton of yesterday into the wise and inspired genius, the man of God of today” (Commentary on Gen. 31:6).

    It seems that Oholiav’s connection with the tribe of Dan was more than accidental, since centuries later when the Temple was built, King Solomon also utilised people from that tribe as expert craftsmen: “And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre (who) was filled with wisdom and understanding and skill to work all works in brass” (I Kings 7:13-14). Though Hiram’s father was from the tribe of Naphtali, his mother was from the tribe of Dan (II Chron. 2:13).

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