Parshat VaYak’hel

by Merav Rosenblum, Hebrew Teacher 

The collective trauma is still palpable: a punishing plague, three thousand dead at the hands of their own brothers, Moshe breaking the tablets as a reaction to the sin of building and worshiping the golden calf. But at the beginning of this week’s weekly portion, a process of rebuilding begins. Moshe is gathering the hurting, grieving Israelites and is asking them to contribute gold, silver, copper, fabrics, wood, oils, precious stones, and even their own talent. They are building the Mishkan – the tabernacle – and all the sacred accessories in it needed for ritual. And God appoints Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur to lead the effort.

In chapter 35 verse 31, we learned that Bezalel is endowed with three attributes: בְּחכְמָ֛ה בִּתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Midrash Tanchuma tells us that these are the three attributes God used to create the world:

בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְבָרִים אֵלּוּ בָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עוֹלָמוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ה’ בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד אָרֶץ, כּוֹנֵן שָׁמַיִם בִּתְבוּנָה, בְּדַעְתּוֹ תְּהוֹמוֹת נִבְקָעוּ

“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by knowledge, the depths were broken up” (Tanchuma, Vayakhel 5).

Rabbi Benjamin Lau explains that this last attribute is what lifts Bezalel – whose name means “in the image of God”- to the next level: it endows him with a beyond-power, and it is what makes him an artist.

Indeed, while Moshe passes the instructions for building the Mishkan on to Bezalel in the opposite order than the one God gave them to him in, Bezalel executes them exactly as God commanded Moshe, putting his דעת into practice – he is able to see beyond, to break into the depths and understand the divine building manual. 

Not only that – the biblical text mentions several times that Bezalel is “skilled”. However, the Hebrew for this term carries more subtleties: God endowed him with “wisdom of heart”, חכמת לב. Bezalel, who is considered to be the first artist, leads the people as they atone for the sin of the golden calf from the wisdom of his heart. This wisdom of the heart may be intuition, or inspiration, or perhaps emotional intelligence, as many commentators imply. Perhaps only a true artist can help a people rebuild after such catastrophes as a breach of trust in their leaders, a deadly pandemic, a massacre, a war. 

As we are preparing at JCHS for a second day of learning about the War in Israel and Gaza, I find myself wondering about how these colossally tragic events that we have witnessed over the last five months will be commemorated. Israeli author Sarah Blau suggests that perhaps only true artists like Bezalel – poets, painters, musicians – can touch these painful subjects, and serve as mediators between the present and the future. May we be blessed with new leaders who are “wise at heart” to carry us and the future generations forward, beyond the tragedy.