Ki Tisa: A Miniature Universe

Shelter, Light, Freedom

What’s so special about Betzalel?

Table for Five: 

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

See, I have singled out by name Betzalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

– Ex. 31:2


Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Judaic Studies Educator, Shalhevet HS

As Hashem calls on Betzalel to become the first artisan to fashion and create many and very different holy artifacts for the Mishkan (Tabernacle), he is singled out by not only his name but also by his father’s name and his grandfather’s name.

We as human beings stand out and can be identified in many ways, from our faces, our mannerisms, our voices, the very way we walk and much more. Yet Hashem has not singled out Betzalel first for his talent, creativity and or any other trait, but by his very name.

The very essence of who we are, our deepest connection to our past and our earliest ID is our name. We treasure our names as the most important possession we have been gifted. It makes each one of us a precious individual, a unique being. How many hours are spent by parents when they are blessed with children in search of a name they deem appropriate and befitting for their child?

Names shape our behavior and our personality. So, when Hashem first speaks of Betzalel “by name” there is a profound lesson for us. It is in our dealings with others, as we call them by their names, that we recognize each person’s very personal identity. In our tradition we also, in many cases, recall names of parents when our very name is mentioned. As we build our sanctuaries and our families, we look to the past, guided by our name as we embrace the future.


Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean, Ziegler School or Rabbinic Studies, AJU

Betzalel transcends human ability and spiritual awareness as an architect, designer, stonecutter, metal expert, and woodsman. According to the Talmud, he accomplished this at the tender age of 13.

In the Torah’s language, these are not simply skills he acquired along the way; rather, he was endowed with God-given talent and inspiration.

Rashi certainly agrees. Pointing to the three words used to describe Betzalel’s skills, Rashi explains: *wisdom* – what a person hears from others and learns, the plain, factual knowledge like that which is found in encyclopedias. Or, in the case of the artisan, the mechanics that one can teach another – what tools to use, techniques for metals, and the like; *ability* – understanding something through one’s own intelligence from that which one has already learned. In other words, Betzalel was ultimately able to innovate new skills and expertise inspired by that which he learned from others; *Knowledge* – this is ruach Elohim, the holy spirit of God. For the artist, this is what we refer to as inspiration, the indescribable, intangible that moves one to create something unique.

Each of us is endowed with the wisdom to learn from others and to integrate that knowledge. The highest aspiration is to share our God-given talents, offering a gift to the world that would otherwise be missing. Such was the case with Betzalel. Such is the case with the musician, the painter, the writer, the speaker. And, such is the case with each of us.


David Sacks, Host of the weekly podcast “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World”

Betzalel built the Mishkan, which was more than a place of worship. It was a miniature of the universe!

To accomplish this awesome feat, the Sages say that Hashem taught Betzalel the secrets to how to combine the Hebrew letters – the very same Hebrew letters that Hashem used to create the universe.

Which makes sense. After all, if you want to make a miniature of the universe why not use the same ingredients that Hashem used in the first place!

Now, what exactly does it mean that Hashem used the Hebrew letters to create the universe? Think of the Hebrew letters in their most original pristine state as energy wavelengths. Now, hold on tight since this is about to get Einsteinian!

Remember E = mc 2?

That means that energy at high speeds will become mass.

Now let’s go back to the beginning of time! Hashem took some of His divine light – that’s pure energy in its highest holiest state — and He formed that light into mass – or to put it another way – He took part of His energetic light and formed it into everything you see around you.

The Torah teaches that each Jew is a letter in the Torah! That means that you are one of the essential building blocks of the universe. If a Torah scroll is missing one letter it’s not kosher. That means that only through you can the universe fulfill its divine mission. And without you, it simply can’t.


Kylie Ora Lobell, Community Editor, Jewish Journal

Betzalel was the lead artisan who constructed the tabernacle, but everyone contributed to the creation of it. God could have dropped the tabernacle down into the desert just like he did with the manna. So why was it important that Betzalel create it with the help of his fellow Israelites?

When we are given something without having to work for it, we often take it for granted. Think about it: Do you feel better when you earn money or when you simply receive it? God wanted to show the Israelites that the tabernacle was their own, something they made with their hands and could be proud of. They were going to cherish their tabernacle, where they could dwell with God in the desert, a place that was otherwise spiritually bereft.

Today, we don’t have the tabernacle or our Temple. However, we can create personal tabernacles, our holy spaces where we can connect with God. This could be a synagogue you go to, or your home, or even your car when you’re stuck in traffic.

When we lost the Temple, we gained the strength to bring God into our lives anywhere, at any time. I look forward to the day when we get our Temple back and we once again have a designated place to go and really feel God’s holiness. I’m sure we’ll all reach new spiritual heights. Until then, our challenge is to incorporate God into the mundane to make our lives holy.

I accept the challenge. Do you?


Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, Ritualist, spiritual counselor

My original read of this verse was one of critique. I wondered why one person was selected for this sacred task of artistry and building. Why is his lineage referenced?

My post-modern feminist vantage point viewed this verse as a prooftext of the unfortunate realities of our world. Instead of seeing each individual as sacred, I interpreted this verse as alluding to the fact that only one person was.

The 18th-century commentator, the Or Hachayim, provided the clarity I needed. He shares that if we examine each of the names in this verse, there is a reason that Betzalel was selected.

Betzalel’s name means the shelter where God is protected. His father, Uri’s name, is connected to light and to God’s enlightenment, and his grandfather, Hur, is linked to freedom. The Or Hachayim explains that our sin of the Golden Calf had to be redeemed by someone with a special connection to our freedom.

As I read this, I realized the beauty in inheriting a text that names the names and the lineage that Betzalel holds. If we look at this as a tapestry of archetypes, we can now view the artist of our tabernacle carrying “the shelter for God – with light – freedom.” And if we go back many generations, before there was a tribe, there was Judah which means praise; Leah named him that for she felt gratitude at that moment. I am holding her as well in this lineage with gratitude.


With thanks to Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, David Sacks, Kylie Ora Lobell, and Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas

Image: Catalan Hebrew Bible depicting golden vessels from Mishkan, 14th century .

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