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The Architect

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

In his introduction to The Book of Exodus, Nachmanides calls it the "Book of Redemption."

This is because the Book of Exodus begins with the slavery of the Children of Israel, proceeds through their liberation and the triumphant moment at Mount Sinai, recounts the sin of the golden calf, and ends with the building of the Mishkan.

The Book of Exodus ends as the Mishkan is enveloped by the cloud which would lead the People of Israel onward.

The period of time which elapses from the escape from Egypt until the end of the Book of Exodus is actually quite short, all of these events having occurred in less than one year.

The book ends with this Torah portion as the Mishkan is enveloped by the cloud which would, from that point onward, indicate to the People of Israel the proper time to resume their journey.


* * *



Clearly the Mishkan is one of the major topics of the Book of Exodus as is evidenced by the amount of space and detail devoted to the description of its construction.

The minutely detailed instructions were given to Moses, but implemented by a man named Bezalel. Who was this individual -- Moses' "right hand man" in the project?

The Torah tells us:

God spoke to Moses saying, 'See I have called by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah. And I will fill him with the spirit of Elohim -- with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge." [Exodus 31:1-3, see also, 35:30-31, 38:32]

From this description it does not sound as if Bezalel is endowed with the critical attributes as of yet. The verse tells us that God plans to "fill up with the spirit of Elohim," using the future tense.

If this is the case, what is the reason for his selection?

Furthermore, the phrase "See I have called by name Bezalel" implies that there is something special about his name.

So, on the one hand, the architect of the Mishkan does not yet possess the skills needed to perform the task, and on the other hand there is something about Bezalel which God has singled out, something which is indeed a part of his essence.


* * *



The Midrash offer several accounts of the selection of Bezalel which together form a composite picture. First is a passage in the Talmud:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses, "Moses, is Bezalel acceptable to you?" He (Moses) said to Him, Master of the Universe, "If he is acceptable to You, he would certainly be acceptable to me!" He (God) said to him, "Nonetheless, go tell them." He (Moses) went and said to Israel, "Is Bezalel acceptable to you?" They said, "If he is acceptable to God, and to you, then he is certainly acceptable to us." [Brachot 55a]

This passage is strange. Why would Bezalel not be acceptable? Why was it necessary for Bezalel to be "accepted" by both Moses and the nation?

There are two factors, which may contribute to the implied note of hesitation in the acceptance of Bezalel. The first was his age, and the second was his lineage.

When Bezalel constructed the Mishkan, how old was he? Thirteen ... [Sanhedrin 69b]

Why would a thirteen-year-old be chosen to build the Mishkan and its utensils? Surely there must have been more qualified artisans who could have performed this sacred task. Perhaps this was the reason that God "asked permission" to use such a young person for so important a task.

As far as his lineage, the Torah had told us that he was the "son of Uri son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah."

As far as his lineage, the Torah had told us that he was the "son of Uri son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah."

Hur is a familiar, albeit somewhat mysterious character. When the Amalekites waged war against the Jews almost immediately following the Exodus, it was Hur, together with Aaron, who supported the arms of Moses and assured victory [Exodus 17:10-12]. Later, when Moses prepared to go up to heaven to receive the Torah, he tells the elders that Hur and Aaron are in charge during his absence and should be consulted should any question arise.

That, however, is the last we ever hear of Hur. The Midrash questions his disappearance, and reports that when the Jews asked Aaron to construct the golden calf, Hur is nowhere to be seen, and explains why.

When the Israelites wished to do that deed, they said to Aaron, "Come make for us a lord." Hur, the son of Caleb, arose and chastised them. They immediately arose and killed him. [Tanchuma T'zaveh 10:10]

If Hur was murdered as part of the golden calf episode, we can understand why employing his grandson to build the Mishkan may have been a sensitive issue. Obviously, Bezalel would serve as a constant reminder of the perfidy perpetrated by the people.

On the other hand, having Hur's grandson represent them in this meaningful way may have served as an indication of complete forgiveness for their nefarious deed.

Another Midrash spells out this relationship:

Why was Hur mentioned in this context (building the Mishkan)? When Israel wished to commit idolatry, he (Hur) offered his soul for the sake of God, and would not allow them (to sin). They rose against him and killed him. God said to him "By your life I will repay you." [Shmot Rabbah 48:3]

This Midrash teaches that there is a clear relationship between the death of Hur and the selection of Bezalel.

But other Midrashim [Shmot Rabbah 40:2 and Shmot Rabbah 40:3] state that Bezalel had been chosen for this task long before the murder of Hur, indeed, "from the dawn of creation" and that his name was already written "in the Book of Adam." Therefore, we must conclude that there is something special about Bezalel himself, irrespective of his illustrious lineage.


* * *



The name Bezalel means "in the shadow of the Lord" and it seems particularly appropriate for the man who built the Mishkan.

The Midrash teaches us that on the day that Moses completed the Mishkan he said, using the words of Psalm 91:

"He who sits alone most high, shall abide in the shadow of Shaddai." [Shavuot 15b, Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3, Shmot Rabah 34:1]

The Mishkan itself may be considered the "shadow of the Lord," for its purpose was to allow the Presence or Shadow of God into this world.

It is our belief that a person's name reflects their inner self; in this case, the quality reflected in the name Bezalel is the very same quality as is possessed by the Mishkan itself. Perhaps this is the reason that he was chosen.

There is another aspect of Bezalel which has eluded us. The Torah records that Bezalel also built the Aron, the "ark" which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Rashi explains why Bezalel's name is mentioned specifically in connection with the ark, while in the case of all the other utensils, the text simply states that they were completed.

Bezalel made (the ark); since he displayed more self-sacrifice than the other sages, the ark was called by his name. [Rashi 37:1]

Rashi's statement is based on a source in a Midrash which recounts a dialogue between Moses and Bezalel:

At the time that God told Moses to make the Mishkan, he (Moses) came and told Bezalel, he (Bezalel) said, "What is the purpose of the Mishkan?" He (Moses) answered, "That God may allow His Presence to rest within it, and thereby teach Torah to Israel." Bezalel said to him, "Where will the Torah be placed?" He answered, "After we build the Mishkan we will build the Aron." He said, "Moses, our master, this is not honor for the Torah, rather first we should make the Aron and then make the Mishkan. Therefore the Aron was called in his name." [Shmot Rabbah 50:2]

Bezalel's wisdom was such that he could question Moses and ultimately understand the essence of the Mishkan. Indeed, Bezalel was the builder of the entire Mishkan, but the heart and soul of the Mishkan, the Aron, was named for him.

The Aron was built, in the words of the Midrash, to allow God's presence to dwell amongst the People of Israel -- in order to teach them Torah.

The Aron was built to allow God's presence to dwell amongst the People of Israel.

Nachmanides {25:2] writes that the purpose of the Mishkan was that the experience of Mount Sinai accompany the Jews on all of their travels.

This seems to be what Bezalel understood: The essential purpose of the Mishkan is to teach Torah to the Jewish people; consequently, the Aron must be built prior to the Mishkan. When the Cloud of Glory, last seen on Mount Sinai, entered into the Mishkan upon its completion, it was clear that the project was a success. God now dwelled among the people, or perhaps we can say that the People now dwelled in the shadow of God.


* * *



And now we can come full circle in our explanation of why Bezalel was chosen as the architect of this holy construction project.

As we learned earlier, he was the son of Uri, the grandson of Hur, from the tribe of Judah. And now the last puzzle piece fits in.

Hur, as we already know, was one of a select group of two, entrusted by Moses in the latter's absence, and he was one of a select group of two, holding up the arms of Moses in the midst of that first battle against the Amalekites.

Why was Hur so special? Because he came from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of kingship from which King David and his dynasty would later come. Hur thus functioned in the capacity of future king both in the battle of Amalek and at the golden calf.

Hur functioned in the capacity of future king both in the battle of Amalek and at the time of the golden calf.

The other leader entrusted by Moses was Aaron, the future High Priest. These were the two empowered by Moses on the first occasion when Moses had to establish the subsequent tier of leadership. Aaron and Hur are the two whose descendants would one day lead, each in a different sphere.

When the people made the golden calf, Hur heroically stood against them, but they rejected him and his teachings. In much the same way, his grandson Bezalel was so concerned that the teachings of the Torah receive their proper place.

At Mount Sinai, all present had complete clarity that God is one. They felt God; they experienced God. At that moment sin and rebellion seemed foreign, impossible. But a short time later, the impossible became a horrific reality. The golden calf was built; Hur tried to stop them but instead he was stopped. The man who could have been king was dead.

His grandson then set out to build the Mishkan in such a way that the teachings of the Torah would always be felt.

Hur's grandson then set out to build the Mishkan in such a way that the teachings of the Torah would always be felt.

As Rashi stated, Bezalel was prepared for self-sacrifice in building the Aron, just as his grandfather had been, but with one important distinction -- his grandfather gave up his life attempting to prevent sin. Bezalel tried to prevent sin preemptively, by making sure that God would always be felt, and the Torah constantly taught.

Bezalel achieved a clarity of vision, an understanding of his mission and of the power of Torah as the most direct connection of the Jews to God, which paralleled the clarity achieved at Sinai.

Many years later, another descendent of Hur [see Sotah 11b] named David would be king. He would be endowed with special qualities that would allow him to establish kingship in Israel. His son Solomon would follow, ascending the throne at the tender age of twelve.

When God appears to Solomon in a dream and encourages him to make a request, Solomon responds:

'I am but a little child ... Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil ...' And God said to him ... 'Behold I have given you a wise and understanding heart.' [I Kings 3:7-12]

Solomon, the young king from the tribe of Judah, asks for wisdom and understanding; he asks for the attributes bestowed upon Bezalel.

When Solomon awakes from his dream, he travels to Jerusalem:

And Solomon awoke and behold it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and stood in front of the Aron of the Covenant of the Lord ... [Ibid]

How appropriate that Solomon asks for wisdom, and comes to pray in front of the Aron, the same Aron that Bezalel was willing to sacrifice himself for, the Aron which represented Torah and understanding of God. It is Solomon who proceeds to build the Temple in its proper place, just as Bezalel built the Mishkan, and both are endowed with the same gifts that allow them to complete their mission.


* * *



Many years later, the Prophet Isaiah has a vision of the End of Days:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots, and the spirit of God shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the wisdom of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of God ... The wolf shall dwell with lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them ... They shall not hurt nor destroy on my holy mountain. For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea. [Yishayahu 11:1-9]

The prophet sees a young, gifted child, endowed with a combination of the spiritual traits of all his ancestors -- his "roots." This descendent of David will succeed in spreading the wisdom of Torah to all the inhabitants of the planet. This child will complete the work begun all those years ago in the desert, bringing the vision of Hur, Bezalel and Solomon to fruition.

This child will bring Sinai to the people. And then, sin, conflict, and pain will become a memory, a remnant from the past.

Now we understand why Bezalel's name was written "in the Book of Adam." A character so crucial in the End of Days must be present in thought from the Dawn of Creation.

Chazak Chazak Vinitchazek!

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