Betzalel: What Do the Tabernacle and Creation Have in Common? | Aleph Beta

What Do The Tabernacle And Creation Have In Common?

What Do The Tabernacle And Creation Have In Common?


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

We learn in Vayakhel-Pekudei about the appointment of Betzalel as the architect of the Tabernacle. But there’s something very striking about the language describing this appointment. It sounds eerily similar to the language in the Creation story. What do Betzalel’s appointment and creation have in common? Join Rabbi Fohrman and Imu as they explore the commonalities between God creating the world for man and man creating the Tabernacle for God, and never think about Betzalel’s appointment the same way again.


Imu Shalev: Hello and welcome to another episode of Parsha Lab. I am Imu Shalev.

Rabbi Fohrman: And I am David Fohrman.

Imu Shalev: And this week's parsha is Vayakhel Pekudei. You know, Rabbi Fohrman, I feel like we don't get paid in talents enough anymore. I would love a raise of 20 talents of silver.

Rabbi Fohrman: Imu, you are so talented that it would be my pleasure to pay you in talents. The only problem is how much is a talent?

Imu Shalev: That is a good question and I feel like a great place to look for the answer is in this week's parsha.

Who Was Betzalel, the Tabernacle's Architect?

Rabbi Fohrman: It is because in this week's parsha, we hear all about talents of silver. We hear all about the accountings of the raw materials which were placed into the Tabernacle. That's what Pekudei is about. And Vayakhel is where we gather together all the people of Israel and we actually hear about the construction of the Tabernacle itself under the watchful eye and talented hand of Betzalel.

Anyway, what I thought we would do this week is take you back to, what I thought we'd do this week is a little bit of reversal of roles of last week. Last week in Ki Tisa you got a chance to show me something kind of cool that you found and we kind of rift about it. Today I'd like to try to show you something cool that I found and I view it as a kind of unfinished symphony. I think that something is here, but exactly what it means, I think is mysterious and frankly, I don't think I have it figured out. So I turn to you, Imu, and your wisdom, happiness to help us piece this together.

Imu Shalev: I am thrilled and excited.

Rabbi Fohrman: All right, Imu. So let me just show you what it is that I think I found over here. Come with me into Parshat Vayakhel, maybe about 20–30 verses down or so. You are going to find Moses telling the People of Israel about the appointment of Betzalel. Betzalel, of course, is going to be the architect for the actual construction of the Tabernacle. So let's just kind of read this through. What I want to just do is kind of play one of my favorite games with you and this is going to be Chapter 35, Verse 30 and 31. The game is where have we heard these words before? Let's read this through.

"Vayomer Moshe el B'nei Yisrael" Moses says to the People of Israel "r'u" see "kara Hashem b'shem Betzalel" the Lord has called out in the name of Betzalel "ben Uri ben Chur" the child of Uri, the child of Chur "l'mateh Yehudah" from the Tribe of Judah. "Va'y'male oto ru'ach Elokim" and God has caused him to be filled with the spirit of God "b'chachmah bitvunah u'v'da'as" with wisdom, with understanding and with knowledge "u'v'chol m'lachah" it's a little difficult to translate, but somehow you may translate it as and the capability of performing all different kinds of work.

If you just had those two verses and we played our little game, where else in the five books of Moses does this sort of, kind of sound like we are echoing?

Studying Connections to Betzalel in the Bible

Imu Shalev: I can think of two or three different places. One is in the very beginning of Genesis. The name Betzalel, in the shade of God, also possibly b'tzelem Elokim, short for b'tzelem Elokim which, if it was on its own, I wouldn't be that excited. God created man in tzelem Elokim in Chapter 1. There's also something else in these two verses that remind me of Chapter 1 which is the ru'ach Elokim. "Va'y'male oto ru'ach elokim" that God filled Betzalel with the spirit of God. That's Destination 1 that I would notice.

Destination Number 2 and 3 –

Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, just before we go to Destination 2 and 3, the other piece of that is Betzalel's father. Look who Betzalel's father is?

Imu Shalev: Uri is referring to the light or that was the very first thing that was created when God said let there be light.

Rabbi Fohrman: So in other words, the ru'ach Elokim is the spirit of God that's hovering over the waters. The first thing that God creates is light. You have echoes of both of those things as we hear about this fellow by the name of Betzalel that could be read as an acronym for b'tzelem Elokim for man himself, the one who is created in the image of God.

Imu Shalev: No, it's almost like tzelem Elokim, the image of God is the child of light.

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, that's very fascinating. Imu, can you unpack the tendrils of that thought?

Imu Shalev: Sure. Well, to me what that brings to mind is sort of, like, I always saw kind of that the light and the darkness is sort of, like, the Big Bang. The matter and energy being created on that first blast of light and then you could argue that over the Days of Creation or the millennia of Creation unfolding that is finally concretized into the man. So man is seemingly, once he's fashioned in the image of God, is really, truly a child of light, of that first initial burst of energy.

Rabbi Fohrman: Fascinating. He is. He's just many generations later. Many billions of years later, you've got out of that initial blast of light, you end off with b'tzelem Elokim and that might be a way of thinking about the difference between God and man. The original God is just God and the original man is a product of light, which is to say what distinguishes him from God is that he's fundamentally a physical being, a being of this universe and hence a child of the first that comes into existence, matter and energy, in this universe.

Taking that idea one step further, Imu. What do you make of Betzalel's grandfather? If Betzalel's father is Uri, what do you make of the fact that is grandfather just happens to be a guy by the name of Chur?

Imu Shalev: So I was thinking what to do with Chur and to me it feels like the trail gets cold, but maybe Chur, it's the same letters as chor which is a hole.

Rabbi Fohrman: Good. Keep on going.

Imu Shalev: And a hole is filled with darkness so maybe you have tzelem Elokim, the child of light and the child, who's the child of darkness and the light emerged from darkness. Is that where you're going?

Rabbi Fohrman: Well, not necessarily darkness. Let's just think of hole. How would you define a hole?

Imu Shalev: A hole is the absence of something. It's –

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, a hole is the absence of something. So what would it mean that there's Betzalel, the child of light, the child of the hole.

Imu Shalev: I don't know. Maybe something coming out of nothing? Something –

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So first of all that notion of something coming out of nothing, but if you want to get especially Kabalistic about it, you know that great idea of tzimtzum? Think about what tzimtzum is, heavenly contraction. Again, this is the sort of philosophical, kabalistic notion that before God created the world, we think of it as something from nothing. But in a way you'd say, well, God was out in the world so God is everything. So if God is everything, you might then say what room is there for anything else and hence the kabalistic doctrine of tzimtzum that what God did is He actually, so to speak, contracted Himself so as to make room for that which was not Him.

If you think of that room for that which was not Him, the very first thing that was created, you might argue, according to that kabalistic doctrine of tzimtzum is actually the idea of absence itself or the idea of a hole. And that when we talk about the first primal universe, a universe of darkness, typically we think of darkness as a kind of absence, an absence of light, so the very beginning of Creation is with ultimate absence when there is nothing. There is no matter. There is no energy. There's just the absence of God. God is sort of contracting Himself to make room for something more so it would emerge that Betzalel, man, the child of light, the original thing in the universe, is actually the child of absence in its largest possible sense.

Imu Shalev: That concept of tzimtzum it's such a mind bending concept and yet it reminds me, and I think you brought this up before, birth as well. When a woman creates a space in her own self, she is m'tzamtzem herself. She contracts a space, a place that isn't her, in her own body in order to make room for other life.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup. So where this kind of takes us is to one of my favorite, but rather esoteric courses that we've done in Aleph Beta Land; The Secret of the Cherubs. In that course, Imu, we've talked a lot about it. It's I think one of, one of your favorites and mine and it's animated a lot of our thinking together. We kind of made the argument that if you think about what it is that Betzalel's doing, Betzalel is actually doing something in a way that is similar to what it is that God did.

The Meaning Behind Betzalel's Role

Rabbi Fohrman: So that in a way God created a world for us and hence this language that sort of evokes God creating the world when we talk about Betzalel. And Betzalel, almost tit for tat, is going to be the human being, the b'tzelem Elokim human being that is going to reciprocate and build a world for God within our world. Almost as if human beings are contracting themselves and saying the world is a place for us and we do all sorts of stuff in the world, but there's going to be a special place, a place where we're going to pull back and we're going to construct a house. We're going to construct a house for God. That is what Betzalel is trying to do.

That might sort of lend some meaning to why these parallels are here. It's not just that oh, let's have some esoteric creation parallel. It's because what Betzalel's actually doing is reciprocating the act of creation on the part of mankind. If mankind was the recipient of that great gift and after many billions of years, there's Betzalel, the child of Uri. Then the least we as humans, the b'tzelem Elokim people, can do is to reciprocate that and make a house to ourselves, contract ourselves and to make a house for our Creator and our world.

Imu Shalev: It's really breathtaking. God created a space in His world for us and then the tzelem Elokim, the projection of God or the mini creator who is the son of light and the son of that space, it's almost like he's returning the favor. The one who was carved out from space and that light that produced this tzelem Elokim is then going to return the favor, complete the other side of the relationship by carving out a space in our world for God. That seems to be this dance of the Tabernacle.

Rabbi Fohrman: I remember vividly we had one of our early employees at Aleph Beta, I think remarked once to me that of all the courses we had done, this was particularly meaningful to her. She felt it to be so just in terms of basic human relationships with in-laws, which is like, you know, where do you find it within yourself to reach out with a full heart to your in-laws. Your spouse grew up with these people and you didn't. Somehow that notion of making space for another in your world in a way is really what we try to do in marriage. There's somebody else in our lives now that requires us to actually contract our interests and really make room for them in our lives and room in your world for someone that you love. It's what God did for us, most fundamentally. It's what we do for God when we build a Tabernacle.

It's to some extent whenever we go about making a home for ourselves, which is sort of what we do when we domesticate the world, when we go make a career, we do everything else, there's that notion that part of what you do is there's other people that you love and you pull back and you leave a space for them and they co-exist in your world and that affects you. It's this voluntary relinquishing of being the largest being you possibly can be. We're taught it by God.

Imu Shalev: Do you think, you were reading "Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur," but we left out "l'mateh Yehudah". Do you think that what you just said could be the reason why Betzalel comes from the Tribe of Judah? Yehudah meaning to admit or even to thank.

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, that's fascinating. I haven't thought of that. Well, I mean, what I hear you suggesting is that the energy of thanking is really that. In other words, what does it mean to thank someone? It means to find some way to reciprocate even in some sort of token kind of way. When I thank somebody, I don't actually reciprocate. To thank is just sort of to acknowledge, to do something as a token gesture that says I get what it is that you've done for me.

Maybe that's what Betzalel's all about. Betzalel is expressing the idea of mateh Yehudah. Judah of course is named for "hapa'am odeh et Hashem." Leah says when she has her fourth child, Judah, I can finally thank God. And maybe that's the energy, this notion of a pale kind of reciprocation where God did something amazing and He made a world for us. The least we can do is in our world to try to make some sort of mini habitation for God. It's not a full reciprocation, but that's what thanks is. Thanks is never a full reciprocation. It is a way of sort of even the scales. It's a way of bringing some sort of wholeness to a relationship through some kind of acknowledgement and reciprocation even if it is not at the scale that we have received from the other.

Imu Shalev: So I just bought a new house and I'm feeling as though I need to consecrate a bedroom as my parents' room when they come to visit. I had a room in their house. They get a room in my house.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. That's really what it is. It's a special kind of thing. You know, one of the fascinating things is if you look back in Vayakhel right alongside Tabernacle, the other thing we have over here right in these verses is Sabbath. If you think about it, one might see Sabbath as a similar kind of thing.

That if Tabernacle is a way that we make a place for God in our world, what would Sabbath be but maybe the same thing, not in the world of space, but in the world of time. That our world is a world of space and time. That's what God did when He made this crazy universe out of that great Big Bang. He created space and time. We reciprocate the favor by taking a little slice of space and setting it aside for God, the Tabernacle, and a little slice of time and setting it aside for God and really doing what you're talking about, Imu. We have a house, the least we could do is make a room for you, God.

One of the crazy ways to think about time is time is also where we live. You got X years, right? That's your space in time and you take part of that, a seventh of that, you invite God to enter into your time and say my time is not just for me, my time is to share with You.

Imu Shalev: So I once heard somewhere, I don't remember where, if this is like apocryphal or a real custom, but I think it's in Eastern Europe they would bury people in the wood of the dining room table. They would take the dining room table and they would, that's how they would make the coffin.

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, really.

Imu Shalev: The idea that I heard is that that's the room where you consecrated, it's just reminding me what it is what you're saying. If you're consecrating a portion of your house and a portion of your time for God specifically, that room to me is the dining room. It's the room where you give your Torah discourses on Sabbath, where you have your Sabbath meals surrounded by your family, to take that and have that be the thing that ushers you into the next world or the thing that you bring with you to the grave or whatever it is. It's morbid, but kind of a pretty concept.

Creating a Tabernacle in our Own Lives

Rabbi Fohrman: The real truth is I think I would kind of end this podcast by actually inviting, inviting you guys, our listeners, to kind of think about that which is what room in your house is that room? What room is there that you consecrate to someone other than you? For some of us it could be that dining room. For some of us it could be the living room or the kitchen. Right? So when you look at your house, what room is it that you see this is what I'm sharing with others somehow bringing and being m'tzamtzem myself and bringing others in?

A lot more largely, the real question is that in life as we go about doing melachah, changing the world, what part of our life do we take that act of melachah and dedicate it not for ourselves, but dedicate it for someone that we love, someone that's separate from us? What part of our life does that?

Imu Shalev: It's almost as though creating that space for others is how we truly earn our title as the tzelem Elokim.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah or certainly b'tzelem Elokim, as you put it, l'mateh Yehudah. If we really want to be worthy of the name Yehudim, which really means to thank, then a b'tzelem Elokim is kind of step up to the plate and say this is what it means to be in the image of God. Not just to be creative as God is creative, but to actually reciprocate and create something in kind that reciprocates what it is that God created for us.

Imu Shalev: Beautiful.

Rabbi Fohrman: I would leave you with that thought. Imu, I have to be perfectly honest. This is absolutely not where I was planning on going when we started this podcast. You talked about Number 1, Number 2 and Number 3 in terms of the echoes. We spent our time talking about Number 1. But next year, Imu, next year, Imu, when we get to Vayakhel, we're going to get a chance to talk about the other echoes of these two verses because it's not just Creation.

The challenge I would level to our listeners out there is think about these two verses and think about other echoes. There's another story, at least one other story, elsewhere in the Bible that bears these other echoes. See if you could find it. Imu, I look forward to sharing that with you too.

Imu Shalev: Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us this week. You got to make sure to check out Rabbi Fohrman's incredible videos on Vayakhel and Pekudei. They will be posted in the show notes. They're really, really incredible exploring this concept even further. You don't want to miss them.

As always, please, please send us emails with your thoughts. If you do not support the great work that we do at Aleph Beta and you want to send us some talents of silver, please make sure to go over to and subscribe. Subscriptions are tax deductible and they keep the lights on around the year. Thank you so much for that.

Rabbi Fohrman: See you next week, folks.

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