Betzal’eil as a Model for Human Creativity by Levi Langer (‘21)


In Parashat Ki Tisa (Shemot 31:3), Betzal’eil's divine ingenuity used to construct the Mishkan is described by God as “Va'Amalei Oto Ru’ach Elokim, BeChochmah, BiTvunah, UVeDa'at, UVeChol Melachah”, “And I have imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship.” The Torah (Shemot 31:4-5) then specifies Betzal'eil's talents as they relate to the Mishkan, for example, his ability work with gold, silver, copper, stones, and wood. The Torah then concludes that he was able “La'Asot BeChol Melachah”, “to do every [manner of] work.”

This combination of intellect (“wisdom, insight, and knowledge”) and artistry (“[talent for] all manner of craftsmanship”) reflects the dual nature of the Tzelem Elokim (image of G-d) in which Hashem created man. In the first account of the creation of man, Hashem says (Bereishit 1:26), “Na'aseh Adam BeTzalmeinu KiDmuteinu,” “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Rashi (s.v. KiDmuteinu), Rashbam (s.v. KiDmuteinu), and Sforno (s.v. BeTzalmeinu) contend that this refers to humans’ noetics, whereas Rav Sa'adya Ga'on (s.v. BeTzalmeimu KiDmuteinu) identifies it as mankind's mastery over his surroundings.

Betzal'eil's Ru’ach Elokim granted him both qualities. He had power over his surroundings inasmuch as he could “do every manner of work,” including manipulating numerous materials, and he used his sharp mind to execute his power intelligently to achieve the very precise and complex goal of building the Mishkan and its vessels. Thus, both elements of being created in the Tzelem Elokim work in tandem. In fact, Ibn Ezra (Shemot 31:4, s.v. LaChshov MaChashavot) understands Betzal'eil's ability (Shemot 31:4) “Lachshov MaChashavot,” to be his power to derive novellae through the strength of his acumen. On the other hand, Rashi (s.v. LaChshov MaChashavot) translates it as a weaving ability which demonstrates that man's wisdom and control of the Universe are interconnected.

Rashi (Bereishit 1:26, s.v. VeYirdu) warns that if we forsake our divine gifts, then our environment will dominate ous. Likewise, Rashbam (Bereishit 1: 26, s v. KiDmuteinu) notes that when a person sins he fulfills the verse “Adam BiKar Bal Yalin; Nimshal KaBeheimot Nidmu”, “But man does not repose in his glory; he is compared to the silenced animals.” (Tehillim 49:13) We ought to maximize our manifestations of Tzelem Elokim lest we lose our spiritual status like the “BeHeimot Nidmu.”

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