Hebraic Studies - Parashat Pekudei

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Parashat Pekudei

Oy what a Mensch!

Shemot - Exodus 39 & 40

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

Parashat Pekudei brings the Book of Shemot - Exodus to a close. Strikingly, Shemot - Exodus opens with the loss of one home as we the Israelites had by then descend into Egyptian enslavement, and when that same book closes with the festive arrival of another home, the - Mishkan or Tabernacle, the dwelling place of Elohim’s presence. As Pekudei opens we are reminded that the Tabernacle project, far from being the work of one person, involves each and every one of Yisrael, Elohim, Moshe, Hebrew craftsmen, and Hebrew donors.

Still, most significantly, we are reintroduced in this Torah reading to the Master Artisan of the Mishkan - Tabernacle and its appurtenances (precious items), “Bezalel”. The name “Bezalel” means; “In the shadow (or protection) of Elohim”.

The process of bringing the Mishkan into fruition began some seven chapters earlier when we were initially introduced to Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab:

“And spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and I have filled him with the spirit of Elohim, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise skilful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee:’” Shemot - Exodus 31:1-5 (JPS version of the Torah).

And now, with the Mishkan’s momentous conclusion we are told,

“And Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that commanded Moshe” Shemot - Exodus 38:22 (JPS).

What is the import of this final statement about Bezalel? How does this comment give us further insight into the master artist who was commissioned for this sacred task?

Well the verse does not actually state that Bezalel made all that he was commanded but that Bezalel made all that Elohim had commanded Moshe. The significance of this language is to communicate that even regarding such things which Moshe did not instruct him, Bezalel’s own opinion was in accord with what Moshe had been told at Sinai.

Here is a further insight into the character of Bezalel:

At the time of commanding the building of the - Mishkan - Tabernacle Elohim came to Moshe and said, “Go to Bezalel and tell him to make the Mishkan, ark and its appurtenances.” Moshe went to Bezalel and he reversed the order instructing Bezalel to make the vessels first and then build the Mishkan.

Bezalel came back to Moses stating, “Moshe, my teacher, perhaps Elohim said to you that we must build the house and then work on its furnishings! These furnishings which I will fashion, for where shall I put them if there is no house?” Moshe replied to Bezalel, “You must have been sitting in the shadow of Elohim, for this was how Elohim commanded me!”

Thus we have learned how close they were and it teaches us volumes about the sacred relationship between the teacher and his student.

First, Elohim, blessed be He, instructs Moshe regarding the building of the Mishkan. Second, Moshe relates the instruction to his talented artisan Bezalel. Third, far from responding in a mechanical way and simply doing what Moshe describes, Bezalel thinks deeply and critically about the task at hand and suggests that the container must be built before the contents. Fourth and note how respectful Bezalel is in his demeanor with his beloved teacher, Moshe. Rather than speaking in an aggressive and critical way, declaring that “Moshe, you must be mistaken,” Bezalel uses the language, “Perhaps Elohim said to you”, such gentle language that gives Moshe the ability and space in which to correct himself. Bezalel comes to teach us a moral and ethical way of speaking. It is in this explicit sense (and I believe in many more implicit ways), that Bezalel goes beyond following mere instructions and heeding the guidance of his teacher. Bezalel is proactive and reflective in his learning and execution.

Certainly, this is what makes him worthy of his name: he is literally and figuratively creating “in the shadow of Elohim.” It is this closeness to Elohim, blessed be He, that gives our masterful artisan the ability and perseverance he needs, and the graceful, loving strength to rival his teacher Moshe to bring the Mishkan into being.

May we learn both from the artistic talents of Bezalel and, perhaps more importantly, from his exquisite model of menschlichkeit … - a real Mensch! (OK, I like my Yiddishkeit!)

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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