Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur and Aholiav ben Achisamach

  • Rav Michael Hattin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Introduction to Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI

 

Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur and Aholiav ben Achisamach

By Rav Michael Hattin

 

 Mazal tov to Andy and Louis Rifkin upon the bat mitzva of their dear Michal!
The snow is clearly a gift mi-shamayim - enjoy it!

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

As the Book of Shemot draws to a close, the lengthy account of the Mishkan is completed.  The complex undertaking had been initially described in the detailed parashiyot of Teruma and Tetzave, when God first spelled out to Moshe the precious vessels, building elements and priestly garments to be fashioned.  The matter is now revisited in the parashiyot of VaYakhel and Pekudei, as Moshe conveys God's commands to Israel and the actual work is then executed by the craftsmen.  In the intervening Parasha of Ki Tisa, of course, the sorry debacle of the golden calf had tragically played itself out, as some of the people of Israel succumbed to idolatry and debauchery when Moshe tarried in descending from the mountain. 

 

The Torah begins the account of the Mishkan’s fabrication by noting that Moshe's call for a contribution of all of the necessary materials – precious metals, rare dyes and textiles, animal hides and wood, fine oils and spices and gemstones – was munificently answered by the entire people of Israel:

 

The entire congregation of Israel left Moshe's presence.  Every man whose heart moved him, everyone whose spirit inspired him brought a contribution for God for the fashioning of the Tent of Meeting and all of its vessels, and for the sacred vestments…every woman wise of heart spun with her hands, and they brought the sky blue, purple, crimson and linen…the tribal princes brought the onyx stones and the gemstones for setting in the efod and the breastplate…every man and woman whose heart moved them to contribute (materials) for the fashioning of all of the things that God commanded Moshe to be wrought, the people of Israel brought as a freewill offering to God (35:20-29).

 

The undertaking is thus national in scope.  No man or woman, no prince or pauper, no commoner or noble was excluded.  How could it be otherwise?  The House of God, if it is to radiate the immediate experience of His presence into the world, if it is to truly enrich our lives and charge them with purpose and meaning, cannot be the exclusive and extravagant preserve of the priesthood or else the stark and severe refuge of the insular ascetics or even the beneficent bequest of the aristocrats, but rather the house of all Israel.

 

It should be emphasized that the Torah provides no account of the actual design process that the chief artisan Bezalel and his creative cohorts employed in order to translate oral and textual directives into the concrete reality of the building and its furniture.   Nor do we have any indication of the difficulties involved in carrying out the work, of the moments of dejection and elation that must have infused the effort, as they do every worthwhile and complex undertaking of art or craftsmanship.  These intense feelings are passed over in silence, perhaps too intimate and heartfelt to be broadcast to the masses, perhaps too personal to be included in a narrative that aims to describe a national undertaking.  No doubt after much exertion and hard work, though, the climactic moment arrives, as the completed elements of the edifice as well as all of its vessels, are brought before Moshe for his approval.  Moshe finds that everything has been done exactly as God had commanded, and he extends his blessings to the dedicated artisans and to the people of Israel:

 

The people of Israel did all of the work in accordance with all that God had commanded Moshe.  Moshe saw that they had done all of the work just as God had commanded, and he blessed them…(39:42-43).

 

 

THE TRIBE OF YEHUDA AND THE TRIBE OF DAN

 

This week, we will consider the two central characters in the story that were instrumental in initiating the complicated process, who then inspired it with needed momentum, and who were ultimately responsible for bringing the intricate project to its successful completion: Bezalel and Aholiav.  In years past, we have considered Bezalel in his own right as an archetype or paradigm in a larger discussion that centered upon the meaning of the Shabbat, but this time we will focus on his relationship with Aholiav and especially on his relatively lengthy and terribly telling lineage.  Recall that this dynamic duo had been first introduced in Parashat Ki Tisa when God singled them out by name to do His holy work:

 

God spoke to Moshe saying: “Behold, I single out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Chur from the tribe of Yehuda.  I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and the ability to execute all manner of work.  To weave designs, to work with gold, silver and bronze.  To cut stones and to fit them, to carve wood and to do all manner of work.  Behold I have provided as his assistant Aholiav son of Achisamach of the tribe of Dan, and in the heart of all of the wise I have placed wisdom, so that they will do all that I have commanded you.  Namely, the Tent of Meeting and the ark for the Testimony, as well as the lid that is upon it and all of the other vessels of the Tent…” (Shemot 31:1-7).

 

This “singling out by name”, a remarkable description of Divine selection that emphasizes God’s intimate awareness of individuals and their strengths, provides us not only with the identities of the chief craftsmen, but with their tribal affiliations as well.  The commentaries (see Rashi’s comments on 35:34), echoing much earlier Rabbinic traditions preserved in the Midrash Tanchuma, are quick to point out that there is good reason in selecting representative men from Yehuda and Dan respectively, since these two tribes together represent the ideal of inclusiveness.  Yehuda, the ambitious and capable scion of Leah and the most numerous and powerful of the tribes, is joined here with Dan, offspring of Rachel’s handmaiden Bilha and perpetually marginalized in Israelite affairs.  In the tribal arrangements eventually unveiled at the beginning of Sefer BeMidbar (see BeMidbar Chapters 2-3), the tribal standard of Yehuda encamps on the prestigious eastern flank of the Mishkan, guarding the entrance approach along with the illustrious families of Moshe and Aharon.  When the encampment breaks up and the tribes begin their march, Yehuda is at the vanguard of the people.  Dan, on the other hand, designated as the “rearguard” (BeMidbar 10:25), camps with its associated tribes on the Mishkan’s northern side, in close proximity to the Levitical family of Merari that was charged with transporting the Mishkan’s heaviest elements.  The contrast is quite pronounced, with the leadership caste on the one hand and the proletariat on the other, but ensconcing between them the treasured national shrine.

 

Now, with the construction of the Mishkan underway, the Torah provides us with a model for solidarity that highlights the contributions of all Israel, much as the offerings of precious materials and metals that ushered in the process brought together all of the disparate tribes in the accomplishment of a common goal.  The master artisan Bezalel, therefore, undertakes the work with his able protיgי Aholiav, both of them responsible for marshalling the army of assistants necessary for actualizing the Divine imperatives.  Thus, while the strict tribal hierarchy outlined above is here preserved (for it is Bezalel who is chief), it is transformed by the process of the Mishkan’s construction into a potent lesson on cooperation and teamwork.

 

 

THE MERIT OF THE FATHERS

 

Strikingly, while the fathers of both men are formulaically named in order to indicate their identities, the Torah tells us the name of Bezalel’s grandfather as well: “God spoke to Moshe saying: “Behold, I single out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Chur from the tribe of Yehuda…Behold I have provided as his assistant Aholiav son of Achisamach of the tribe of Dan…”  Of course, we must presume that the mention of Chur must shed some additional light on Bezalel’s identity and this is indeed the case.  While we have not up until this point in the Torah come across Aholiav’s forebears nor will we at any point further in the narratives, this is not the case for Bezalel.  Though Uri his father is as obscure as Achisamach the father of Aholiav, Chur is a name that rings a proverbial bell. 

 

While the references were fleeting and never explored further, there were at least two other places in the Torah where Chur was mentioned, both of them antecedent to our Parasha and both of them significant.  The geographical context of the first mention was the wilderness of Seen after the people of Israel had crossed the Sea of Reeds.  At Refidim, Israel was met by the hostile tribe of Amalek and Moshe called upon Yehoshua to raise a militia and to engage the enemy on the battlefield.  Meanwhile, Moshe ascended the adjacent hill and raised his hands aloft.  As long as his hands were held high, Israel prevailed, but as soon as the tired leader lowered them, Amalek overcame the Israelites.  Thus it was that two of Moshe’s trusted assistants had to help him hold his hands high: “Moshe’s hands were heavy so they took a stone and placed it under him so that he sat down.  Aharon and CHUR supported his hands, one on the one side and one on the other, so that his hands were steadfast until the setting of the sun…” (Shemot 17:12). 

 

While the mention of Aharon at this juncture elicits no surprise since we had met Moshe’s older brother early in the Book’s opening chapters, the reference to Chur is quite unexpected.  We had neither heard of him earlier nor expected that he might be so important as to be by Moshe’s side at this time, in the august company of Aharon.  But such is precisely the case.  Evidently, Chur was an important personage with a significant leadership role in his own right in spite of the fact that the Torah never made mention of him before this episode.  Perhaps he was one of the “elders of Israel” whom Moshe had gathered when he first returned to Egypt from Midian on the eve of his initial attempt to free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s clutches (see Shemot 3:16).

 

The second reference to Chur is even more telling.  In the aftermath of the Revelation at Sinai when God had summoned Moshe to ascend on high in order to receive the tablets inscribed with His Decalogue, Chur reappears.  As Moshe prepares to take his leave of the people and climb to Sinai’s smoldering summit, he appoints Aharon AND CHUR as provisional leaders in his place, in the final passage of Parashat Mishpatim just before the Mishkan narratives are introduced in Parashat Teruma:

 

God said to Moshe: “Ascend the mountain to Me and remain there so that I might give you the tablets of stone with the instructions and the commandments that I have written to guide them”.  Moshe arose with his protיgי Yehoshua, and Moshe ascended to the mountain of the Lord.  To the elders Moshe said: “wait for us here until we return to you, BEHOLD AHARON AND CHUR ARE WITH YOU, WHOSOEVER HAS A MATTER SHALL APPROACH THEM”.  Moshe ascended to the mountain and the cloud covered the mountain…(Shemot 24:12-15).

 

In both situations, then, Chur is mentioned in the same breath as Aharon just as the text makes reference to his leadership role.  Though he does not appear to be Moshe’s apprentice as loyal Yehoshua is, nor is he his brother as doting Aharon is, he is very important nonetheless.  When Moshe tires Chur and Aharon sustain him.  When Moshe is absent Chur and Aharon replace him.

 

But now Chur mysteriously disappears for he is not mentioned even one more time in the Torah in his own right.  Only the designation of Bezalel as chief artisan of the Mishkan provides us with a final fleeting reference.  Next time, we will continue our investigations concerning Chur’s disappearance and attempt to explain why it is that precisely now his name resurfaces in the Torah when the Torah mentions him as the grandfather of Bezalel.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Shabbat Shalom