Parashat Va-Yaqhel – Pekudei 5766/ March 25, 2006
Lectures on the weekly Torah
reading by the faculty of
Bezalel , Builder of the Tabernacle
“And Moses said to the Israelites:
See, the Lord has singled out by name
Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur,
of the tribe of
Why was it necessary to give the details of Bezalel’s lineage, back to his great-grandfather? According to the work Edut Bi-Yehosef the reason was that Moses needed to be able to identify the Bezalel in question and not take another person by the name of Bezalel in his stead. Such an explanation might be satisfactory were it a matter of instructions given by the Lord to Moses. But why was it necessary for Moses to specify all this when he was speaking to the people? He could have presented Bezalel to them without giving the details of his lineage. Rather, it turns out that Moses did so in order that the Israelites not suspect him of taking a different Bezalel from the one whom he was commanded to select.
Why would the Israelites have even thought of suspecting Moses? Rashi explains that Moses was afraid the people would suspect him of choosing Bezalel (this one) because he was the grandson of his sister Miriam; in other words, that they would suspect him of appointing only members of his family to senior positions. In order to prove that the selection of Bezalel ben Uri was not of his own doing, Moses stressed that it had been G-d’s choice, and therefore he used the expression, “See, the Lord has singled out.”
Why indeed was Bezalel chosen for
this task? Midrash
Tanhuma (Parashat Va-Yaqhel,
par. 4) explains that the Lord wanted to reward his grandfather
Hur who laid down his life to sanctify the name of the Lord
rather than participate in the sin of the golden calf.
Such devotion was not unique to
Hur and his descendants; Nashon
son of Aminadab, who also showed devotion to the Lord
in jumping first into the sea during the exodus from
Selecting Bezalel to work at building the Tabernacle in a way brings us full circle on the personal level. The grandfather Hur gave up his life because he could not agree to be part of the sin of the golden calf; the grandson Bezalel applied the trait of devotion which he had inherited to the work of orchestrating construction of the Tabernacle, which served to atone for the sin of the golden calf. For the gold that the Israelites donated to the Tabernacle atoned for the gold that they had given to make the calf, so that what had condemned them before now became a point in their defense; in the sin of the golden calf the Israelites had offered their gold rings to make a graven image, and now they atoned for their sin by offering gold rings for making the Tabernacle.
Noble and Wretched
Why were Bezalel and
Oholiab –one from the tribe of
Ibn Ezra (in his commentary on Ex. 31:1) cites
Saadiah Gaon, who had another
explanation of why these two were selected.
Both tribes were compared to lions:
This week’s reading shows a positive attitude towards artistic talent and professional ability, as embodied in the figures of Bezalel and Oholiab. In the world of art one can divide artists into those who follow the fixed and accepted principles of aesthetics and beauty, as in matching colors and pleasing proportions, and those whose work is free and spontaneous, stemming from their inner world. Saadiah Gaon stressed the spontaneity in Bezalel’s personality, whereas Ibn Ezra laid emphasis on the rationality in him. Bezalel’s art integrated obedience and complete faithfulness to the divine command along with being true to the voice that emanated from the depths of his soul. Even when Moses had not relayed to him the proper order of work, Bezalel knew to make the things himself, according to G-d’s intention. Bezalel had traits that exist in other artists, but also traits unique to himself.
According to Scripture, Bezalel was “endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft, … to make designs for work in gold, silver and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood – to work in every kind of designer’s craft – and to give directions” (Ex. 35:31-34). This list of talents has merited extensive interpretation. Rashi interprets it thus: (35:31-33): skill – that which a person hears from another and learns; ability – that which a person understands from within, from that which he has learned; knowledge – divine inspiration; to make designs – referring to weaving (called ma’aseh hoshev; interpretation based on Hebrew root h-sh-v appearing in the phrase “to make designs”); to carve – a term of artwork; to set – to fit it fully in its square, making the stone and setting matched perfectly in size.
The Netziv explains in his
commentary, Ha-amek Davar,
that skill, ability and knowledge (Heb. hokhmah,
are the three traits with which the world was created, as it is written in
Proverbs, “The Lord founded the earth by wisdom (hokhmah);
He established the heavens by understanding (tevunah);
by His knowledge (da’at) the depths burst
apart” (Prov. 3:19).
So, too, the
Tabernacle, which is the Lord’s abode, was built with the same traits, and so,
Hassidism stresses Bezlael’s ability la-hashov mahashavot, to see into one’s thoughts (Heb. mahashavot). In other words, Bezalel knew what each and every person had in mind when they gave their contribution. A contribution given with pure thoughts was devoted to the ark; a contribution given without any particular intention was put to use making the sockets, and so on.
Sharing with Others
Bezalel was also endowed with a very special talent – to instruct. Or Ha-Hayyim interprets the ability to teach as being a lofty trait expressing generosity, since there are some people who have great wisdom but keep it to themselves and neither want nor are capable of conveying it to others. Bezalel and Oholiab were willing to teach their talents to others, and therefore we can say that they were endowed with a generous spirit. The same spirit of generosity lay at the foundation of the contributions given for the Tabernacle: “You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Ex. 25:2).
According to legend, even the location of the