וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רְאוּ קָרָא יְהוָֹה בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן־אוּרִי בֶן־חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָֽה: וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל־מְלָאכָֽה
Va’yomer Moshe el B’nei Yisrael: “Re’u, kara YHVH b’sheim Betzalel, ben Uri, ben Hur, l’matei Yehudah, va’yemaleh oto ru’akh Elohim b’khokhmah bi’t’vunah u’v’da’at u’v’khol melakhah.”
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’akh Elohim — a Divine spirit of wisdom, skill and knowledge in all manner of craft” (Exodus 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 Israelite community. A narrative arc is completed: As Exodus began, the Children of Israel had been reduced to slaves. Pharaoh tried to extinguish the Divine spark that dwells within all of us. 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” (Exodus 2:23), and 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 מִשְׁכָּן Mishkan. Mishkan means “dwelling place.” It comes from the same Hebrew root as שְׁכִינָה Shekhinah, which means “indwelling,” and is that aspect of Divinity that we experience as being close to us. We encountered this word family also in Parashat Terumah, where God instructs us to “Build me a sanctuary that I might dwell (וְשָׁכַנְתִּי — v’shakhanti) in your midst” (Exodus 25:8). In this final act of the book of Exodus, all the components of the Mishkan are assembled, and the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, is now able to fill this beautiful structure in the heart of the community.
An inspired craftsman named Betzalel is assigned the task of fashioning God’s home.
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’akh Elohim — a Divine spirit of wisdom, skill and knowledge in all manner of craft” (Exodus 35:30-31).
Betzalel is endowed with רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים — ru’akh Elohim, a “Divine spirit.” We first hear of ru’akh Elohim at the very beginning of Genesis:
V’ru’akh Elohim merakhefet al p’nei ha’mayim — And the Divine Spirit hovered over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).
Ru’akh Elohim is God’s creative energy, with which God is going to conceive, create and shape the world. Betzalel has been endowed with this same faculty.
So, who is Betzalel? Virtually every proper name in the Torah is loaded with metaphorical meaning, but none more so than Betzalel. His name is a contraction of the very essence of our humanness.
וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָֽם
Vayivra Elohim et ha’adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem Elohim bara oto, zakhar u’nekevah bara otam — And God created the human in the image of God, male and female God created them (Genesis 1:27).
בְּצַלְאֵל Betzalel’s name is a contraction of בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים B’tzelem Elohim — בּצֵל אֵל B’tzel El — meaning, “In the image of God.” Betzalel is not a specific individual. He represents all of humanity. We are all made in God’s image, endowed with ru’ach Elohim, the Divine spirit that enables us to envision and craft beauty, 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’tzelem Elohim is to be able to shape the raw materials of our world into new forms. We create delicious meals, beautiful buildings, powerful technologies, breathtaking music and art. We also take the raw ingredients of relationships and can craft them either into vessels of love or cruelty. We create social orders that either support each person to realize their own Divine potential, or suppress and dehumanize them instead.
Betzalel’s lineage tells us much more about how the Torah envisions a human being who consciously embraces his or her Divine nature:
בְּצַלְאֵל Betzalel: “In God’s image”
בֶּן אוּרִי son of Uri: “My Light”
בֶּן־חוּר son of Hur: “Free” or “Noble”
לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה of the tribe of Yehuda: “I give thanks to God.”
Betzalel’s (or 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’akh 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, 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.