Betzal’eil’s True Name by Ephraim Helfgot


The Midrash Rabbah on VaYakheil, dealing with the subject of names, picks up on a seemingly superfluous word in Moshe’s designation of Betzal’eil as the main artisan of the Mishkan. The Pasuk states, “Re’u Kara Hashem BeSheim: Betzal’eil Ben Uri Ben Chur,” “Behold, God has called by name: Betzal’eil, son of Uri, son of Chur” (Shemot 35:30). Why, the Midrash asks, is the word “BeSheim,” “by name,” necessary?

The Midrash answers this via a discussion of God’s naming of the angels. One verse, Yeshayahu 40:26, says that each angel (or star, see Shemot Rabbah 48:2) has its own name; another verse, Tehillim 147:4, says that each has multiple names. This apparent contradiction is explained by the idea that each angel, besides for being an individual, is part of a group. The angel’s group has a name, and the angel itself has a name--thus, the angel is identified by multiple names and a single name at the same time. When all of the angels of a certain group are needed, God calls them by their group name; when only one is needed to perform its specific task, its specific name is used.

The same idea, the Midrash explains, holds true by people down on earth. Although each person is part of larger groups with larger missions, each person also has his or her own personal calling and purpose in this world. Everyone has a task assigned by God to fulfill in this world, whether he or she knows what it is or not. In Betzal’eil’s case, that mission is to craft the vessels of the Mishkan; therefore, when it is time for him to perform his task, he is addressed by his name, i.e. his inner self.

In our lives, we have the same multi-layered identities. We are part of groups (Jews, Americans, etc.), and we display their characteristics and try to advance their causes. And yet, we are all unique; we are all special, different people. We each have our own reason for existence, a reason that transcends mere communal imperatives. Like Betzal’eil, we all have something to contribute to the world that only we can, and that is our very identity--the thing that makes us different than our neighbors. Only by carrying out our missions can we can truly become ourselves.

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