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Parashat Ki Tisa

March 4, 2015

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

“Wanted: Two senior craftsmen to lead team of builders in creating the largest portable dwelling ever made. Must be wise and able to learn from others; only those endowed with the spirit of God may apply. Technical skills a must.”

Imagine reading such a job posting? Say you’re a pretty good builder or engineer with solid management experience, you had decent SAT scores and attended a respectable college; now you’ve found what looks like the perfect job assignment, and they’re asking for things like — wisdom — what gives? Nobody graded you on wisdom in college!

Yet these are the qualifications cited in Parashat Ki Tisa, when God tells Moses to appoint Bezalel and Aholiav not only to build the tabernacle and the ark but all the vessels, vestments and accessories therein.

The task is daunting, and it’s got to be done right, after all, we’re talking about nothing less than God’s sanctuary-in-the-desert. Yet when God first names Bezalel, the order of job qualifications lists craftsmanship not first but last, as we read in Exodus 31:3,

וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה וּבִתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל־מְלָאכָה

“And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship”

According to Rashi, wisdom refers to “what a person hears from others and learns”; insight means “with his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned”; and knowledge is ruah hakadosh, holy spirit. Later on, when Moses tells the Israelites that God has appointed Bezelel, these exact words will be repeated (Ex. 35:31), thus enhancing their significance even further.

What’s more, with regard to those who will work with Bezalel and Aholiav God tells Moses, “in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all I have commanded you” (Ex 31:6). Imagine for example, taking God’s name in vain if a sacred vessel or work of fabric didn’t turn out as planned. The workers had to possess the right frame of mind, continually aware of the sacredness of the task at hand, even when working on the smallest detail.

Bezalel’s qualities are praised in Talmudic literature, as we read in Berakhot 55a:

“Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: Bezalel knew how to combine the letters by which the heavens and earth were created. It is written here, “And He hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding, and in knowledge” (Exodus 31:6); and it is written elsewhere “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens,” (Proverbs 3:19-20) and it is also written “By His knowledge the depths were broken up”.

Thus are Bezalel’s qualities Talmudically linked with God’s.

Aholiav is a different story. He is of the tribe of Dan, who was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant; this would give him a lower status as compared with Bezalel, who is from the tribe of Judah, son of Jacob and Leah. He is clearly second-in-command to Bezalel, and merits no mention in the Talmud. Nonetheless, as the story of the building of the tabernacle proceeds in the following Torah portion, the names of Bezalel and Aholiav continue to be mentioned together, along with all the “wise-hearted” who work with them.

It is also worth noting what occurs in the text following God’s appointment of Bezalel and Aholiav. After a summary of tasks to be completed, there are five verses regarding the commandment to keep the Sabbath. Since it is said that there are no coincidences in Torah, the placement of these verses regarding Shabbat must be significant. Perhaps the text suggests that the work given to Bezalel and Aholiav could not be completed without Shabbat, that Shabbat is an integral part of the assignment. No matter how much work there is to be done, they — and the whole community — are commanded to rest every seventh day. They are to remember God’s holiness and to reflect upon the Maker of Creation, the original Fashioner of Things.

Our own projects may not be as lofty or as literally God-given as the making of the Tabernacle; yet here we are provided with a model for pursuing our work: may we seek both a wise heart and the skill to complete our endeavors.


Cantor Sandy Horowitz is the cantor of Adas Emuno in Leonia, NJ.