Posted on March 23, 2011
by Alex Krule
This week we finish the book of Shemot – the second book of our Torah. Let’s think about what part of our heritage we are about to close. We are enslaved; Moshe is born, survives the treacherous Nile River, and becomes our people’s most famous and loved leader of all time; God delivers us from Egypt; we complain; God gives us water and manna; we complain; God gives us the Ten Commandments; we build a Golden Calf and forget His commandment; Moshe breaks the first tablets and gets new ones; we get on our way. Wow. This week we will end one of the most exhilarating, action-packed, and all-out AWESOME parshiot in the WHOLE Tanach. Will the next book be able to match the shear amazing-ness that Shemot gave us? Those of you who know a little about Vayikra, the next book in our Tanach, may be shaking their heads – not really, it’s mostly about boring laws and sacrifices (preluded by this week’s double parsha), right? Well, if you were to stay at the pshat, or basic, level, sure. In fact, before reading through this week’s parsha, I thought the same thing. However, I think that this week’s parsha, while it does not contain any gore, burning bushes, miraculous plagues, or splitting of any large bodies of water, we read one of the most inspiring stories including an architect whom you have never heard of: B’zalel.
B’zalel? I have heard of Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, but B’zalel? Who in the name of Josephus Flavius is B’zalel? Well, let’s start with the basics. According to Rashi, he is the great-grandson of Miryam, the sister of Moshe, and a member of the tribe of Yehudah. Okay, okay, so to the point that you care about: God gave him the divine gift of being able to be a master of the craft. This guy was the ULTIMATE craftsmen – gold, silver, copper, silk – you name it, he could make it the most marvelous piece of art. In fact, his work was so amazing that the rest of Parashat Vayakhel is spent detailing each and every little thing that B’zalel made for the Beit HaMikdash – the Tabernacle. Additionally, the beginning of Pekudei talks about all of the materials of Aharon’s, the Chief Priest, uniform.
But what is so inspiring about this story? Why is B’zalel so important other than being the greatest artisans who has ever lived? Well, I guess it is not B’zalel, per se, but his actions that are important. B’zalel not only makes masterpieces, but the material from which he makes them is just as invaluable as the end product. You see, at the beginning of Vayakhel, every single Israelite male donates a large sum of materials for the building of the Tabernacle. The text says “everyone whose heart moves him” should bring offerings of materials. This is not a commandment; this is a suggestion only to those people who care about the spirituality and religious practice of the people. Later, we find out that there was a surplus of donated supplies to the Tabernacle effort. A surplus! Our people came together and gave up their precious metals and fabrics, their main property while in the desert, to be melted down, sown, and hammered into their makeshift Temple. After a book in which our people complained time and time again, even built another God, we finish by coming together as a people to support the building of our first religious centre.
The Israelites have finally built their physical testament to God – the tablets of the 10 Commandments are placed in the ark and the Tabernacle is erected-a feat that was by no means easy. But now what? Did our people gallop with their new religious centre into the Arabian sunset, forever to roam the desert? No. Their journey is just beginning. In the end of Parashat Pekudei, God gives instructions for Moshe as to how to follow God’s directions. By day, they were to follow a pillar of clouds, by night, a pillar of fire – a sign within the eyes of each and every Israelite. With that, we close the book of Shemot, and begin our journey in Vayikra.
Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek!