Betzalel – Who?

Liora Goldberg

It’s at this time of year that we begin to skim read the Parshiot in shul. The sheer magnitude and detail of the building of the Mishkan is inconceivable to most. Not only is the information about the building of the Mishkan expressed once in intricate detail, it is repeated over and over again. Now, unless you’re an architecture keeno, which I am not, it’s difficult to find something to connect to in Parshiot such as Vayakhel and Pekudei.

I’d like to focus on analysing the choice of Betzalel as the one to oversee the building of the Mishkan, based on ideas that I heard from Rav Bailey of Midreshet Harova.

Perek 35, Passuk 30 reads:

‘And Moshe said to Bnei Yisrael; See, the Lord has singled out by name Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah.’

Who is this Betzalel? And why is he ‘singled out by name’ by Hashem to build the Mishkan? He has been of no significance up to this point.

Also, why does the Torah mention ‘son of Chur’ as well as ‘son of Uri’ when Oholiav, Betzalel’s assistant is only mentioned as Oholiav ben Achisamach? He doesn’t have a second ancestral claim to fame.

The Midrash writes that Chur stood up against those who idolised the Egel HaZahav and as a consequence, was stoned to death. As a reward for his defiance, Hashem promised that he will be rewarded; his descendants will build the Mishkan. It is in Passuk 30 that we understand why Betzalel was chosen, to fulfil the reward of his ancestor, Chur.

If we understand the reward and punishment system, that somehow the action is connected to the reward, then what is the link between Chur defying the Egel and his descendants building the Mishkan?

The second part of the Midrash above brings a parable about a General who stood up for his King and was subsequently rewarded with his descendants being given the same position that their father so amply fulfilled. If we apply this same concept to the first part of the Midrash, to Chur defying idolaters, it makes sense that Betzalel would hold the same position as him, defying idolaters and standing up in the name of G-d.

If this is the case, how does the building of the Mishkan fulfil the role of idolatry challenger? It must be that the Mishkan as an entity defies idolatry.

If we consider the basic formula behind idolatrous behaviour, it consists of:

Someone having a tangible need Creating a tangible god to address that need Establishing ‘easy’ rites to worship this god to obtain desired blessings

The Mishkan defies every part of this formula:

G-d tells us that we need to create it
He details exactly how the intricate and complicated construction must be performed
He requires the expensive materials to make it and outlines the services to be performed

Most importantly, G-d tells us what it is for; it’s not a temple for Him to live in, rather it is an expression of our longing for a relationship with Him. This desire, along with the strict upholding of the laws is what affords us the blessings we desire.

With this understanding, we can comprehend that G-d, not us, orders how and from where our needs can and should be fulfilled. This is the true victory of Chur’s descendants, enabling Bnei Yisrael to understand the true meaning of being an Eved Hashem.

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