By Simon Gordon
God said to Moses: “See, I have named Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in every kind of craftsmanship, to formulate plans, to make in gold, silver, and bronze, and in stonecutting for setting, and in woodcarving – to make in every craft.” (Exodus 31: 1–5)
Moses said to the children of Israel: “See, God has named Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur from the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in every kind of craftsmanship, to formulate designs, to make in gold, silver, and bronze, and in stonecutting for setting, and in woodcarving, to make in every conceivable craft, and He has implanted in his heart [the ability] to teach [lehorot]...” (Exodus 35: 30–34)
Spot the difference?
In the first passage, from Parashat Ki Tisa, God lists all the qualities which He has bestowed on Bezalel, chief craftsman of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). But in Parashat Vayakhel, when Moses relays this message to the Israelites, he adds something. In Moses’s account, Bezalel is not only endowed with the ability to design and build the Mishkan himself, but also with the ability to teach others.
What is the significance of this extra talent?
The classical commentators make little mention of it, and the general lack of interest in this discrepancy is curious. After all, the word lehorot shares the same root as the word Torah, and the transmission of Torah from one generation to the next is a mitzvah that we emphasise in the Shema twice a day.
Maybe it is no coincidence that Moses, the ultimate teacher of Torah, highlights this ability – if only, perhaps, to indicate to the Israelites that the building of the Mishkan is one domain in which they will not be taking directions from him.
Yet, like Moses, Bezalel is also an ideal type. The Ramban cites midrash to explain that the Mishkan symbolised the universe, and that Bezalel understood the mystery of creation. Can his capacity to communicate this awesome knowledge be a mere afterthought?
I am preoccupied by the role of the teacher at the moment because I am writing this just after the death of my grandmother. A teacher by profession, she taught me to read while I was still at nursery. She maintained that, unless you could read, you weren’t allowed to go to school. She also did her best to teach me how to write legibly, but I never mastered that.
More than practical skills, though, she set an example. She epitomised decency, good manners, high standards, and above all love for her family. In the last years of her life, blighted by bereavements and the loss of her short-term memory, she also demonstrated how to cope with adversity.
Her qualities were valuable in themselves. But I am grateful to her for trying to pass them on.
Simon Gordon is a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue. This Reflection is dedicated to the memory of his grandmother, Jean Coleman (Shaynah Chanah Bat Ephraim v’Miriam z”l).