The first time we are introduced to Oholiab is during the building of the Tabernacle:

The L‑rd spoke to Moses, saying: "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have imbued him with the spirit of G‑d, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship . . . And, behold, with him I have placed Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and all the wise-hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom, and they shall make everything I have commanded you.”1

The chief architect was Bezalel, and he was helped by many wise-hearted people. But only one of his helpers gets a special mention: Oholiab.

The Lowest of the Tribes

We meet Oholiab again in in the portion of Vayakhel:

Moses said to the children of Israel: "See, the L‑rd has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah . . . And He put into his heart [the ability] to teach, both him and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.”2

Rashi on the verse says the following:

[Oholiab was] of the tribe of Dan, of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the handmaidens [Bilhah and Zilpah. Dan was Bilhah’s son]. Yet G‑d compared him [Oholiab] to Bezalel for the work of the Tabernacle, and he [Bezalel] was of the greatest of the tribes [Judah], to fulfill what is said: “and a prince was not recognized before a poor man.”3 4

What a beautiful thought. A representative of the highest of the tribes joined forces with a representative of the lowest of tribes to represent equality and companionship.

Interestingly, when the first Temple was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon, it was also built by a representative of the tribe of Dan. In the words of the Talmud:

Rabbi Johanan said: From where do we know that a man should not change his occupation from the occupation of his ancestors? As it is said: “And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass.”5 The Master taught on this verse: [Although his father was from the tribe of Naphtali,] his mother6 was of the tribe of Dan, of whom it is written: “And, behold, with him I have placed Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.”7

It stayed in the family, as it should.

What Do We Know About Oholiab Himself?

According to Ibn Ezra, “Oholiab was equal to Bezalel in all areas of work and skill.”8

The Malbim goes deeper into his role: There are times when G‑dly inspiration comes to an individual for the sake of his own wisdom or for his own prophecy. Then there are times when the inspiration is in such abundance that the person is merely a vehicle through which the light passes on to others. In our case, Bezalel was so filled with inspiration that it overflowed to Oholiab, who was a ready and worthy recipient, and from him, it flowed to all the others.

Oholiab was the vessel through which the Divine inspiration for building the Tabernacle flowed forth to all the builders and craftsmen.9

Meaning of His Name

The Kli Yakar offers an insight into the name. Oholiab can be split into two words, ohel av, “a tent for the father.” It was he—together with Bezalel—who built an abode for our Father in Heaven here on earth.

His father’s name, Ahisamach, can be split into two words as well, achi samach, “my brother is close,” referring to our relationship with G‑d as the relationship between two brothers. Through the Tabernacle, the Divine Presence and the Jewish people became “close.”10

Mystically Speaking

Rabbi Mordechai Cohen, a kabbalist from Safed and a student of the Holy Ari, refers to the mystical “four worlds” in his book the Siftei Cohen.11 He shares that the regular craftsmen built the Tabernacle based on their spiritual level, Asiya (the lowest of the four worlds), Oholiab built it on his level of Yetzirah, Bezalel on the level of Beriah, and Moses on the level of Atzilut.

The Zohar12 teaches that Bezalel and Oholiab complemented each other not only in skill but in Kabbalistic character as well. Bezalel’s soul was rooted in the right side of Divine attributes, those of kindness and love. Oholiab’s soul, on the other hand, was from the left side of judgment and discipline. To build the Tabernacle, a perfect balance of the two sides of the attributes were needed, and that was brought about by Bezalel and Oholiab.


Oholiab’s message is one of empowerment: G‑d gives each of us the opportunity and mission to build a home for Him. We can become the beginning of our lineage. Oholiab might not have come from the highest “stock,” but it was he who was vice architect of the Tabernacle, and it was his descendant who took part in the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Our past truly doesn’t define us.