Paving a Personal Pathway by Rabbi Duvie Nachbar


Finally, we are introduced to Betzaleil, the chief architect of the Mishkan. Following a lengthy, detail-laden description of the Mishkan’s blueprint and the Bigdei Kehunah’s design, the Torah reveals, as a postscript, the identity of the man entrusted with converting the grand plans into reality. Betzaleil is remarkably blessed with the complimentary qualities of knowledge, intuition, and creative design, on the one hand, coupled with refined skill, craftsmanship, and impeccable “know-how,” on the other hand. We are introduced to him, however, with a curious phrase – “Re’eih Karati VeSheim Betzaleil Ben Uri Ven Chur LeMatei Yehudah,” “See, I have called by name, Betzaleil, the son of Uri, the son of Chur” (Shemot 31:2). ‘See’ implies that God visually revealed something to Moshe, yet the continuation of the verse verbally describes the identity of Betzaleil.

Ramban (Shemot 31:2) explains that the term ‘see’ appeals not only to visual sight but also to obtaining insight into a predetermined divine plan. God reveals to Moshe His will regarding the Mishkan’s construction in the desert and the predestined role Betzaleil is to play in bringing those plans to fruition. Betzaleil possesses a miraculous blend of divine talents, unparalleled in any of his peers. His knowledge, instinct, and skill in working with various metals, stones, and wood, combined with his gifted ability in weaving and tapestry would have inspired awe even had he been a member of an advanced, cultured civilization. That he was a member of a slave nation, whose collective hands were immersed in mortar and clay, makes his ability to perform delicate, refined work a virtual impossibility. Therefore, God introduces Betzaleil with the word ‘see,’ to understand the foresight surrounding his birth and his preordained contribution to this world.

The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 40:2) introduces an intriguing subtext to God’s conversation with Moshe, one that embellishes the predetermination of Betzaleil’s contribution. After studying the dimensions of each of the Mishkan’s vessels and learning about the design of each of the priestly garments, Moshe believes that he is responsible for the Mishkan’s construction. God corrects Moshe by revealing to him “Sifro Shel Adam HaRishon,” “the scroll of Adam.” Inscribed in that primordial scroll were all the generations that would emerge beginning with Adam and culminating in the days of the Messiah. The names of kings, leaders, and prophets were etched therein, and alongside their names was the name of Betzaleil. Betzaleil’s role, an immutable destiny waiting to unfold, was designated already in the prehistory of the world.

A second interpretation of the introductory phrase ‘see,’ alters our understanding of Betzaleil’s development and the preordination of his contribution. The Gemara (Berachot 55a) cites R. Yitzchak’s teaching that we do not appoint a leader to a congregation without the congregation’s consent. His proof text is the verse under consideration – “See, I have called by name, Betzaleil.” The phrase ‘see’ is an instruction to investigate, to consider, and to evaluate whether the decision is appropriate. God requests Moshe’s consent, and Moshe, in turn, inquires about the Jewish people’s receptiveness to the idea. The appointment of Betzaleil requires approval.

Consistent with the thinking of this second approach, Ibn Ezra (Shemot 31:3) argues that Betzaleil’s appointment is a natural selection based on merit and aptitude. He presents a Geonic interpretation that attributes Betzaleil’s selection to a thematic connection between Betzaleil’s lineage and the Mishkan’s structure. Betzaleil is a member of Sheivet Yehudah, whose symbol is a lion. As a result, the lion-shaped Mishkan, broad in front and narrow in the rear, is built by a member of Sheivet Yehudah. Ibn Ezra not only rejects the interpretation, but he also rejects the very question itself. Betzaleil’s appointment requires no explanation or justification. He is selected because he is a towering figure who is most qualified to carry out the task.

Ibn Ezra’s determination of Betzaleil’s age at the time of his appointment also underscores the natural process of selection and gradual development of Betzaleil’s capabilities. Ibn Ezra (Shemot 31:5) cites the opinion of some who believe that Betzaleil is scarcely of Bar Mitzvah age at the time of his appointment. Ibn Ezra summarily rejects this perspective, reasoning – “when would he have amassed all of his knowledge?” Betzaleil’s acquired knowledge and refined skills are the products of an investment of effort, years of study, and repetitive practice. He needs time to develop. His rare blend of knowledge, intuition, and skills are not imbued at birth nor are they cultivated overnight.

These two conceptions of Betzaleil’s development as a craftsman and selection as the Mishkan’s chief architect provide us with two distinct models for discovering individual talents and our personalized calling in life. On the one hand, some individuals are blessed with inherent talents, strengths, wisdom, and intuition. It appears as if these capabilities are divine gifts imbued within them at birth. All that is required is the passage of time for these aptitudes to become manifest. Other people, however, struggle to develop their inner abilities and skills. It requires painstaking effort, and continuous, ongoing application. Every accomplishment is hard earned. Their development is solely the product of and commensurate with their invested effort. For some people, the method by which they will constructively contribute to this world is eminently clear. It is almost as if it were preordained from the six days of creation. No decision is necessary. They simply have to pursue their dreams and aspirations. For others, however, the decision is much more difficult. It involves deep introspection, self-assessment, weighing of factors, and an agonizing decision making process. The road of life that lies before them is not clearly marked, and careful consideration is required.

The ambiguity of the verses regarding Betzaleil’s precise development and the framing instructions of “You shall make all that I have commanded you” (Shemot 31:6, 11) that serve as bookends to Betzaleil’s selection teach us a valuable lesson. Both models are pleasing in the eyes of God. The exact road that is traveled is secondary to the essential goal of continuously striving to serve Him, in the broadest sense, through our contributions to this world. Hopefully, in so doing we will merit the realization of the verse - “Know God in all your ways, and he will straighten your paths” (Mishlei 3:6).

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