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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

A Craftsman Is Not Just a Worker

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In the beginning of our first parasha, the Torah repeats the instruction that Moshe should turn to Betzalel ben Uri from the Tribe of Yehuda and Aholiav ben Achisamach from the Tribe of Dan. They were entrusted with some of the most intricate tasks of craftsmanship, involving work with precious metals, stone, wood, and a variety of fine fabrics for the vessels and edifice of the Mishkan and the garments of the kohen gadol (Shemot 35:30-35).
Concerning King Shlomo’s building of the Beit Hamikdash, we find a few parallels. Shlomo himself was from the Tribe of Yehuda. His partner, who provided much technical help in the fields of craftsmanship, hailed (to an extent, at least, as we will see) from the Tribe of Dan. Actually, Shlomo had communicated about the upcoming project of constructing the Beit Hamikdash with Churam (elsewhere called Chiram), the King of Tzor (Tyre), who was a friend of David. King Churam sent Shlomo an expert craftsman, a resident of Tzor, who was also called Churam, who he introduced as the son of a woman from Dan and of a man from Tzor (Divrei Hayamim II, 2:10-13).
One who looks at the parallel sections of the respective job descriptions in Shemot and Divrei Hayamim (which is onerous in this forum) will see the similarities between the texts. However, we will highlight a difference between the two projects that seems to have had a practical impact on the building of the Beit Hamikdash.
Moshe received direct and specific instructions from Hashem for the building of the Mishkan, and the Torah stresses that everything was to be done precisely as Hashem showed him (Shemot 25:9). Chazal taught that Hashem showed Moshe "images of fire" for each of the vessels that were to be created (Menachot 29a). The idea of bringing Betzalel and Aholiav onto the staff was also explicitly mandated by Hashem. In contrast, the choice of the craftsman Chiram was initiated by the non-Jewish king, Chiram.
Even though the former was halachically Jewish, as his mother was Jewish, it is hard to ignore that apparently his father was non-Jewish and his name was that of gentile Tzorite. It is very likely that Chiram learned his architectural profession in the academies of Tzor and thus he was culturally and artistically influenced by that society of idol worship. Later on, in the periods of the kings of Israel, the Tzorian influence entered Israel, culminating in the Tzorian princesses who married kings of Judea and Israel. These influences wreaked spiritual havoc on the Jewish people, which eventually led to a destruction of the Beit Hamikdash itself.
Art and aesthetics of the physical world have a lot to add in uplifting people’s spirits. On the other hand, we should remember that they are always liable to cause spiritual deterioration and draw people to materialism. The Mishkan built by Moshe with the help of the G-d-fearing Betzalel and Aholiav, was a symbol for generations of how artistic work in the physical world can become part of the spiritual world. May we merit to learn from this positive example.
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