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Biblical Personalities: Oholiab

“No tribe was greater than Judah (Betzalel) and none lesser than Dan (Oholiab). Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “Let them (Dan) come and join Judah so that he will not be despised and so that no person will become haughty, for great and small are equal before God (Shemot Rabbah 40:4).”

The unknown, and seemingly insignificant Oholiab, of the tribe of Dan, was called by God to counterbalance Betzalel, to prevent him from becoming haughty as the person in charge of the Mishkan’s construction. It is difficult, when placed in such a position of honor, to not allow the position to get to your head.

There was an additional message to Israel that all, great and small are equal before God.

Oholiab took these ideas one step further: “He did no work alone. All that he did, he did it together with Betzalel. (Zohar II 223a)” He took advantage of his appointment to attach to the great Betzalel to learn from him. Oholiab understood that his position was to send a warning against arrogance to Betzalel, and a message of inclusion to all of Israel. He saw his job as an opportunity to become greater through his exposure to, and work with, Betzalel. He didn’t simply view the statement of equality before God and accept who he was. He saw the opportunity to become greater. Oholiab had the ability to accept that all were equal before God and still appreciate God’s call to become greater.

This is why the Midrash teaches: “And with him was Oholiab the son of Achisamach.” This was a credit to him, a credit to his father, a credit to his family, and a credit to his tribe. (Sifra, Emor 18)

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