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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Realizing Our True Nature

Va’yomer Moshe el B’nei Yisrael: “Re’u, kara YHVH b’shem Betzalel, ben Uri, ben Hur, l’mateh Yehudah, va’yemaleh oto ru’ach Elohim b’chochmah bi’t’vunah u’v’da’at u’v’chol melacha.”

And Moses said to the Children of Israel: “See, the Creator has singled out by name Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with ru’ach Elohim – a divine spirit of wisdom, skill, and knowledge in all manner of craft.” (Ex.35:30-31)

The final act of the Book of Exodus is the actual construction of the Mishkan, the dwelling place for the Divine Presence within the human community. A narrative arc is completed: As Exodus began the Children of Israel had been reduced to slaves. Pharaoh attempted to deny their very humanity and to extinguish the divine spark that dwells in every human being. God, as it were, was no longer dwelling in their midst. But “The Israelites groaned under their bondage and cried out…and God heard their cry.” (Ex. 2:23) Through their wordless cry the epic struggle for liberation was set in motion. The divine spark could not be extinguished, and the slaves’ full humanity would be restored.

Now, at the end of the book, the people contribute all of their wisdom, generosity and skill towards the creation of the Mishkan. The Divine Presence fills this beautiful structure in the heart of the community. As the Passover Haggadah declares, we had journeyed “from slavery to freedom, from anguish to joy, from darkness to great light, from oppression to redemption.” A once-beleaguered and abandoned people now feel the Presence of God accompanying them, in the final words of Exodus “b’chol mas’ayhem” – “throughout their journeys.” (Ex. 40:38)

This full integration of the Divine presence with the human being is embedded in the name of the master craftsman who is assigned the task of fashioning a home for God: Betzalel. Virtually every proper name in the Torah is loaded with metaphorical meaning, and none more so than the name of Betzalel. The meaning of that name, along with the meanings of the names of Betzalel’s ancestors provide insight into the creative abilities that make us human.

And Moses said to the Children of Israel: “See, the Creator has singled out by name Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with ru’ach Elohim – a divine spirit of wisdom, skill, and knowledge in all manner of craft.” (Ex.35:30-31)

This verse echoes back to the first day of creation:

V’ru’ach Elohim merachefet al p’nei hamayim – And the Divine Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2) The choice of language draws us back to the first moment, to the emergence of order out of unformed chaos.

And the sixth day: Vayivra Elohim et ha’adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem Elohim bara oto, zachar u’nekevah bara otam – And God created the human in God’s image, male and female God created them. (Gen. 1:27)

Betzalel is not a specific individual. Betzalel represents all of humanity. For Betzalel’s name is a contraction of B’tzelem Elohim – B’tzel El. Betzalel’s name means “In the image of God.” Every human being is made in the image of God, endowed with ru’ach Elohim, the Divine spirit that enables humans to envision and craft beauty and form and order out of the unformed stuff of creation.

That is, if we think of God as an infinitely creative artist, a force that shapes galaxies and worlds and molecules and atoms out of the building blocks of the universe, then we humans, created in the image of that master craftsman, are also endowed with these extraordinary abilities. To be made B’tselem Elohim is to have the capacity to shape the raw materials of our world into new forms. We have the ability to take raw ingredients and craft them into delicious meals, buildings, music, art, spaceships, gardens. We are able to make the world either a more beautiful or more inhospitable place. We also take the raw ingredients of relationships and can craft them either into vessels of love or vessels of cruelty. We create social orders that either support each person to realize their own Divine potential, or suppress and dehumanize them instead. It is a great and awesome ability that we have, for we can both create and destroy, and therefore this ability comes with great responsibility as well. The Torah tasks us– Betzalel – to use our astonishing creative powers to fashion a dwelling place for God in our midst.

Betzalel’s lineage tells us much more about how the Torah envisions a human being who consciously embraces his or her Divine nature:

בצלאל Betzalel: “In God’s image”

 בן אורי son of Uri: “My Light”

 בן חור son of Hur: “Free” or “Noble”

 למטה יהודה of the tribe of Yehuda: “I give thanks to God”

Betzalel’s – our – full, royal name is Made in God’s Image, Child of My Light, Noble and Free, of the tribe of Gratitude.

As the Book of Exodus comes to a close we are reminded that we are endowed with Ru’ach Elohim – a divine spirit of wisdom, skill, and knowledge in all manner of craft. We have been freed from bondage in order to realize our true, creative, noble and free nature. We have been freed from bondage in order to make our homes, our communities and our world into places alive with the hum of creative, and not destructive, energy. Betzalel is each of us, every day, making a space in our hearts and in our homes where beauty, love and a sense of the infinite can dwell. In the words of the contemporary hymn by Randy Scruggs and John Thompson:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

And with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan