When Jesse Owens ran, or Baryshnikov danced, or Judy Garland sang, it was clear to those who witnessed them that they were destined to perform at the highest level. Sure, they had to work hard to achieve fame, but they began with a gift of raw talent, genius, a calling.
Apparently, when the Biblical artist Betzalel picked up a paintbrush, the same was true. In Parshat Vayakhel, the Torah teaches us that God “has singled out by name” Betzalel to be the chief artisan of the Mishkan (Exodus 35:30). The Hebrew term translated as “singled out” is kara, which literally means “called.” In the words of Eliyahu Munk, author of the fittingly-titled The Call of the Torah: “The artist called to his work for which he is predestined by his natural talents. His calling is innate in him. He is filled with the spirit of God, the source of all talent, exceptional strength and creativity.”
But one need not be an entertainer of the masses or an artist responsible for decorating a sanctuary in order to have a calling. From the time I decided to apply to rabbinical school (my JTS interview was February 25, 1991–20 years ago), people have often asked me why I chose this career path. My standard answer is “I couldn’t do anything else.” Lest you think that answer is flippant, let me assure you that I mean it in all seriousness. Though it wasn’t my initial career choice (witness my undergraduate degree in journalism), it became clear to me in my college days that I was meant to be in service of God, Torah, and the Jewish People, with the synagogue as the natural venue for performing that service. It’s all in the inflection: “I just couldn’t be anything else.” It was my calling.
And one need not be a member of the clergy to have a calling. For some, it’s a profession or the ownership of a business that enhances the lives of others and benefits the community. For others, it’s a role within a family as nurturer or role model. For still others, it’s a commitment to volunteer work. Everyone has a calling. It was easy for God to imbue each of us with a talent. The only difficulty lies in our search for that calling.