We have come to the completion of the book of Exodus and the Completion of the Mishkan, the dwelling place of God amidst the people. It has taken up torah portion after torah portion throughout the second half of the book of Exodus, and finally, we are seeing the end of the project under Bezalel’s careful eye.
But who is Bezalel? Bezalel we are told has the divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge: Chochma, T’vuna v’da’at. He is hand chosen by God to lead the work on completing the Tabernacle. A master artisan, we are told that, in the work he does to finish the tabernacle, he manages to fulfill all 613 mitzvot in the process of completing the work. And his name is immortalized as the name for Israel’s school of Art and Design.
But I think there’s more to Bezalel, to be found in breaking down his name. Check the midrash:
Midrash: Numbers Rabbah 12:3
The Holy One, Blessed be God, said to Moses, “And you shall make a menorah of pure gold.” Moses asked God, “How shall we make it?” “Of beaten work…” said God. Nevertheless, Moses still found difficulty in understanding, and when he came down he forgot its construction. He went up again and said: “How shall we make it?” God told him, “Of beaten work.” Still Moses experienced difficulty, and when he descended he forgot…Finally God drew a Menorah in fire and showed him its construction. Yet, in spite of all this, it caused Moses difficulty. The Holy One, Blessed be God, said to him, “Go to Bezalel and he will make it.” So he told Bezalel, and he immediately constructed it. Moses began to wonder, saying: “To me it was shown ever so many times by the Holy One…yet I found it hard to make, and you who did not see it, constructed it with your own intelligence! Bezalel! You stood in the shadow of God (Be-tzal-el) when the Holy one showed me its construction!”
One way to read and understand this is describing a character, a person who is in God’s Shadow, and therefore is able to learn and understand what even Moses cannot understand.
Another is to see Bezalel as a template: the ones who will complete the work, who will see the Divine vision through, are those who are in God’s shadow.
We think of the shadow as a negative in modern imagery: it’s the one who needs to hide who dwells in the shadows.
But it is also in the shadow that we are shaded and protected. That’s the imagery we receive again and again. We are protected in the shadow of God’s wings, the shade of God’s Sukkah stretched over us, and most importantly, the shadow of the cloud that dwells over the people and the Mishkan as they rest from their journeys.
It is in that shadow that creativity emerges, and it is in that shadow that growth happens. It is in the Shadow that the details get hammered out, where people can dream and imagine and shape. It is in the shadow that a kind of reverie can take place. As Aviva Zornberg writes: “it counteracts the hunger for premature certainties, for completed images that deaden the imagination.” Shine a light too soon, and the ideas crumble. The self we are trying to create crumbles.
So, how much time do we actually get to spend in the shadows? How much time to we get be creative, to grow, to be in God’s shadow? When do we have time to learn what Zornberg calles the ‘cautious audacity’ that ‘intuitive confidence in the moment’ in the Shadow of God? How often do we get to be Bezalel?
I know I don’t have enough time—not enough time to study, to reflect, to play-in-work. There’s too much to do and not enough time to really reflect, never mind breathe. But we need that time, those moments of creative audacity. As Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan wrote: “An artist cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas. Living is also an art."
We are artists in our own lives, we are Bezalel, but only if we choose to step back from the canvas we are creating and step into God’s Shadow. May we be brave enough to do so in our lives. Amen.