Vayakhel- Pekudei 5770: Who was Betzalel?

This week we have Moses first giving the instructions for creating the Mishkan he learned to make on Sinai, employing the people to help in the construction with Betzalel as lead craftsman and architect. The people enthusiastically help out in its construction, so much so Betzalel has to ask for the donations to stop. When all the pieces are done Moses puts the components together for the first time, and the Cloud of Glory covers the Mishkan.
Early on, we read:

30. And Moses said to the people of Israel, See, the Lord has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31. And he has filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every kind of workmanship; 32. And to devise finely done works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in bronze, 33. And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any kind of skillful work. [Exodus 35]

Who is this Betzalel? Why him? What do we know about him? From this passage, we know a few things about him. We know his father and grandfather. We also know he is from Judah. This not the only genealogy we have of Betzalel though:

18 And Caleb the son of Hezron begot children of Azubah his wife–and of Jerioth–and these were her sons: Jesher, and Shobab, and Ardon. 19 And Azubah died, and Caleb took unto him Ephrath, who bore him Hur. 20 And Hur begot Uri, and Uri begot Betzalel. {S}[1 Chron. 2]

The passage in 1 Chronicles links Betzalel to several other names found in out text. Hezron is Judah’s grandson from his night with Tamar[Genesis 38] and one of the seventy who went down into Egypt to meet and live with Joseph. [Genesis 46:12] Hezron is also the ancestor of the prince of Judah, Nachson ben Amminadab, at the time of Betzalel. Nacshon is the man who Midrash tells us entered the Red Sea before it split, having faith God will do something. Nachshon’s descendants, as given in the book of Ruth will eventually lead to King David.

Betzalels’ great grandfather’s big moment is in the book of Numbers. According to most Midrash, Caleb son of Herzon is Caleb son of Japunneh, who was one of the two spies who brought positive reports of the land and one of two men who made the entire journey and settled in the land. The rabbis, in a play on words, say Japunneh means he turned his face away from the counsel of the other ten spies[Sotah 11b]. Caleb’s wife Ephrath, is another case where there is a name change:

And Caleb took unto him Ephrath,’ this is Miriam. And why was she called Ephrath? Because Israel were fruitful (paru) and increased, thanks to her.[Exodus R I:17, Sotah 12b]

While the multiple names of Miriam are more complex than this, the rabbinic literature clearly defines that Miriam and Caleb had a son Hur. This means that Betzalel is related to Aaron, Moses and the priesthood through marriage. It also adds another layer of context to a Midrash from last week. Betzalel’s grandpa Hur, who tried to stop the Israelites from idolatry and building the golden calf, was murdered for his efforts. When Aaron saw his nephew Hur’s body in front of him, andthe people asked him to make the golden calf, he had a hard time refusing. [Exodus R. XLVIII:3, Leviticus X:3]

Betzalel was connected by family to all the major people in the story of Torah. We can also note something else about Betazalel. The rabbis bring one objection to connecting Caleb son of Japunneh and Caleb son of Hezron together. We know Caleb was 40 years old when he goes on his spying mission, which means to have great grand-kids he would have to have been pretty young when he had children with Miriam. It becomes near impossible to have three generations in that short a time. It means Betzalel is either not Caleb’s great grandson, or else he was very young. Yet the text this weeks says

2. And Moses called Bezalel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, every one whose heart stirred him up to come to the work to do it; 3. And they received of Moses all the offering, which the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary, And they still brought to him free offerings every morning.4. And all the wise men, that did all the work of the sanctuary, came every man from his work which they made;[Exodus 36]

The use of a colloquialism for every man in 36:4 (איש איש ) the rabbis took to mean Betzalel was an adult. The solution was rather simple. He had just become an adult, and had just reached the age of bar mitzvah, so he was 13 years old. [Sanhedrin 69b] He was a boy genius.

The Talmudic Sages ascribe other things to Betzalel, one such thing many have taken in a more mystical way is this one:

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Bezalel knew how to combine the letters by which the heavens and earth were created.[Brachot 55a]

Most today think this means Betzalel knew the mystical way to take letters and make them into things the same way God used them to make creation. Yet Betzalel and his craftspeople needed materials from the people, so this doesn’t make sense. There is another possibility. Betzalel knew how to delegate and to communicate. He knew how to talk to people and motivate them. He also knew how to listen and then translate instructions to the way others think. There’s a few more stories which put this more into context. Numbers Rabbah XV:10 tells a story that Moses had a hard time with the specifications for the Mishkan, most significantly how to make the menorah. He just couldn’t understand what to do. God tried telling him and even made him a model but Moses just couldn’t’ remember. Exasperated, God tells Moses to just tell Betzalel what he wants and he’ll get it right. Moses give a confused definition yet Betzalel immediately understands and builds it correctly.

The Mishkan should be a very difficult structure to put together, but instead it was incredibly easy. It was so easy when it was put together for the first time, Moses could do it himself. There are hundreds of parts. Many parts are identical, but need to fit perfectly. To track and organize such an effort with not a single mishap during production is quite the engineering and organization feat. To put it together for the first time and it all fits perfectly is also an engineering and organization feat. We also know also that Betzalel’s efforts last. The original altar was durable enough for hundreds of years , as it is the same altar Solomon uses in the first temple [II Chronicles 1:5]

Betzalel was described as

30. And Moses said to the people of Israel, See, the Lord has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31. And he has filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every kind of workmanship;[Exodus 35]

He deserved this title. He had the spirit of God in him but could handle the organizational, and engineering parts just as elegantly as anything else. Moses difficulties with control and delegation are never seen in Betzalel. He even runs a tight inventory so well he doesn’t come in over budget. While modern projects always come in over-budget, and are able to the spend all available resources, Betzalel is alone asking his boss Moses to have the people stop bringing things, [Exodus 35:5-6]

Who was Betzalel? He was a young prodigy, gifted by God in both craft and interpersonal skills. He understood his craftsmen and women. He knew the end users, those who were going to use the altars and lamps for the rest of time: they were his cousins. The deep faith of his grandfather seems to have clinched the deal, that those who murdered Hur to build for an idol of gold would find that this man’s grandson would fashion out of gold an ark to the Lord. He is unlike any other character in the Torah, able to make things even Moses had no comprehension of.

Biblical characters are often described as human though only more so. There are few engineers in the bible. Betzalel stands out in his role of creating by words spoke to his crafts people, not some mystical magical words spoken. For a mere teen, he could communicate and inspire his workforce better than anyone else in all Torah.

On time, under budget, and 100% correct all at thirteen. In short Betazel was the greatest production manager ever.

Wish I was that good.


Trainer, App developer. Author. Artist. Proprietor of and Host of Slice of App Pie Show

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