Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Rabbi Boaz Tomsky

      Parshat Pekudei opens by mentioning two individuals who were instrumental in the construction and configuration of the Mishkan. Oholaib, son of Ahisamach, was the carver, weaver and embroiderer of the Tabernacle. Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, as the Torah states (Shemot 38:22), did everything that HaShem commanded Moshe.

      Rashi sites a passage from the Talmud (Brachot 55A) about the dialogue between Moshe and Bezalel. With careful analysis of the words, “Bezalel did everything that HaShem commanded Moshe” we can infer that this statement is not synonymous to what was told to him (Bezalel) by Moshe. The Talmud continues to explain that Moshe instructed Bezalel first to create the Aron and vessels and afterwards to build the edifice. Bezalel responds, “The general custom of the world is to first purchase or build a house then go shopping for some furniture to put into the house. Perhaps you (Moshe) misunderstood the order and directions HaShem conveyed to you”. Moshe, in turn, concurs with the logic of Bezalel and tells him that he must have been in the “shadow of HaShem” to have known such information (the name Bezalel, read as two words becomes Bezal Kail or the shadow of HaShem).

      There are numerous difficulties with this aforementioned dialogue. What justification does Moshe have in changing the proper order of the Mishkan's construction? How could Moshe, who is the par excellence of truth (Moshe emes visaraso emes) go and fabricate the words of HaShem to Bezalel? Initially one may construe that this was some sort of a test to see if Bezalel was worthy to be engaged in this important task. But what if Bezalel doesn't succeed and constructs the Mishkan in an inappropriate manner? Shouldn't this line of reasoning fall under the transgression of valifnay evair lo sitain michshol - and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind? (Kiddushin 32A states a parent isn't allowed to test their child to see if they are easily angered because of the prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind) Furthermore, why do the words of Bezalel display such brilliance to the extent that Moshe considers him to be in HaShem's shadow? It is blatantly obvious that without a house you can't very well put your furniture anywhere securely. Certainly the construction of the Tabernacle should precede the building of its vessels! What then, is this great concept that impresses Moshe so much?

      We also must understand how Bezalel was so certain that Moshe had his facts mixed up. Although, based on simple logic, it certainly seemed as though Moshe had erred, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that his (Bezalel's) logic was the proper way either. There are numerous instances that the Torah commands us to perform acts, which we, with our limited capacity of wisdom, think we fully comprehend. This though doesn't give us the ability or right to reconstruct the Mitzvahs to our liking. How then, was Bezalel confident enough to contradict Moshe when this could be a chok, a mitzvah that is beyond our logic or understanding?

      As a segue to answer these aforementioned questions, the Or Hachaim in Parshat Ki Sisa (31:2) comments as to why the Torah, when mentioning Bezalel, traces his lineage back to his grandfather Hur. He answers that Hur stems from the root word churin or freedom. This alludes to Bezalel, that by constructing the Mishkan, caused the Bnai Yisroel to become “freed” from the iniquity of the golden calf. A critical reading of the Or Hachaim will bring one to the conclusion that Bezalel was only capable of reaching this level in Ruchnios due to his direct connection and relationship with his Zaidi, Hur.

      We must now understand the role Hur adopted in the incident of the Aigel Hazahav. Let's imagine ourselves as witnesses of the momentous occasion of Kabbalas HaTorah. We finally ascend to the spiritual level of being capable to witness this awesome and wondrous event. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there are multitudes of people who seek to worship a molten image, explicitly forbidden from the G-d given instructions only moments prior. It seems unfathomable to believe a nation can sink so low and deteriorate so rapidly. How could these “spiritual mood swings” be altogether possible? What was their justification for this act of rebelliousness?

      The Zohar gives a rational for their need to create a golden calf. For hundreds of years, the Bnai Yisroel were enslaved in Egypt. Their future was looking bleak. Their connection to HaShem was minimal at best. Then Moshe came along and their luck seemed to change for the better. They were miraculously removed from their Egyptian foes not before amassing enormous wealth from this once affluent country. They stand by Har Sinai and try their best to hear the commandments directly from HaShem Himself. But His presence and words were too great and powerful. They instead had Moshe intervene on their behalf. Now Moshe ascended the mountain and he hasn't returned at the time we expected him back. Now what do we do? We don't want to lose this awesome connection with HaShem, but without Moshe Rabbainu, we are incapable of retaining this intense relationship. We will most likely revert to the days of yore in Egypt, void of any spirituality. This is the reason, according to the Zohar, the Bnai Yisroel constructed the golden calf. They wanted to create a medium for the Shechina to reside, in order to replace Moshe. Their motives seemed righteous and praiseworthy. However when they presented their case to Hur, he refused to take any part of it. Why not? Hur understood that every individual in Klal Yisroel has a unique relationship with HaShem. HaShem wishes to deal with us all directly. Therefore, there is no need to create an image to serve as a medium. Many disagreed with the opinion of Hur and he was brutally killed due to these beliefs.

      Two generations later, Bezalel applies for the job of building the Mishkan. Although his resume indicated that he showed ability as an architect and builder, Moshe understood that the Mishkan needed to be built by someone with more qualifications than just a good bricklayer or master carpenter. The Mishkan would be an atonement for the golden calf. Certainly Bezalel's grandfather would have been a worthy candidate but did his ideals trickle over to his grandchildren or did it skip his generation? Moshe, the master interviewer, grills Bezalel with the proper order of constructing the Mishkan. “First build the vessels and then the edifice”, Moshe says. “Although this is not the logical way of doing things, we are not really dealing with a typical domicile. After all, this is the Mishkan, something completely foreign to most people. Only the Cohanim have a direct relationship with HaShem.  They are everyone else's medium to connect to HaShem”. To this, Bezalel responds, “first I should build the Mishkan itself and then its vessels. This Mishkan should be compared to a typical house. Yaakov Avinu, in Parshat Vayeitzei, named the place Beth-El (G-d's home). The reason Yaakov chose the word house is to teach us that just as living in a home is something all people do at all times, so too, our connection to HaShem, through the Mishkan, is something we can all have the ability and privilege to experience”. Upon hearing these words, Moshe immediately realized that Bezalel understood the hidden purpose and meaning of the Mishkan, to serve as a direct connection to everyone and not as a medium. This is why he calls Betzalel a shadow of HaShem. A shadow, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, is as an inseparable companion or follower. There is no motion or action you can take that your shadow will not duplicate. Your shadow can only cease to exist when something else (a medium) stands in between it and yourself. This is the message of Bezalel, his essence, as depicted by his and his grandfather's names.

      Nowadays, we don't have this connection through the Bais HaMikdash and its offerings. Instead we have our Tefillot, which correspond to the different Tamid sacrifices. This is an opportunity to converse directly to HaShem thrice daily. This unique relationship isn't designated solely for the lofty sages and leaders. Each and every one of us, regardless of age or stature, has the ability to relate directly to our Maker. It is truly an amazing concept, to realize HaShem wants to have a personal relationship with us! Let's take full advantage of this relationship and consider it as the greatest privilege of all!

First Published March 9, 2002  for National Council of Young Israel Weekly Divrei Torah