parshat vayakhel (exodus 35-36)
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 24th 2022 as we continue our discussion of melacha – work. Last week we discovered that creative work, even the construction of the holy tabernacle is subservient to the sanctification of time. This week we celebrate creative work as a reflection of the divine. We explore the eclipse of manual labor and the arts in Jewish culture during the exile and marvel at the rebirth of physical work and Jewish artifice in the writings of early Zionist thinkers and in the State of Israel.
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Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark has shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Last week, we celebrated the value of the sanctity of time over space, as the construction of the tabernacle was paused for the Shabbat. This week, we realize that mankind is like the divine not only in abstaining from work, but also engaging in creative work. So roll up your sleeves and set up your easel as we meet Jews with Tools. Well, welcome back, it seems more and more that as we go from one portion to another, we get diptychs triptychs. But this week, I was struck by something that I hope you will be struck by as well as once again, the Sabbath is mixed with the building, the creation of the Mishkan. So I am just going to jump in, we’re in Exodus 35. And we’ll try to skip around a little bit to emphasize that aspect that I’m trying to bring to your attention. But here we go.
"So Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them, these are the things that God has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done. But on the seventh day, you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest wholly to Hashem, whoever does any work shall be put to death." And then he goes on. "This is what Hashem has commanded. Take them among you gifts to God, everyone whose heart is so moved, shall bring them; gifts for God." And the word that he uses the "Nadiv Libo", which literally means a "nedava" a gift, whose source is one's heart. And he goes ahead and lists all of the precious materials gold, silver, purple crimson yarns the techelet that we talked about RAM skins, Dolphin skins. And then in verse 10, he says, and let all among you who are skilled, come and make all that God has commanded. And here, in addition to "nadiv libo", he says, those of you who "Hacham Lev" "wise of heart" playing on this concept of heart, but now we're talking about craftsman. And here too, he lists not the materials, but the objects that need to be created the coverings, the clasp, the planks, the poles, the cover. And he goes on after listing all of these different objects that needs to be created in verse 21. And everyone who excelled in ability, and everyone whose spirit was moved, came bringing to God an offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacred vestments. And in Hebrew it says "kol adat b'nei yisrael uyavo kol ish asher nasu libo, that spirit move them "v'kol asher nidva rucho", using again this word of gift. And it goes on Anashim al Nashim, kol dediv lev hevu hem" now it brings in the fact that it is men and women. It's totally egalitarian, totally driven by this giving spirit and the new ingredient is those who excelled those who had the ability. And so it goes on and on. And it says that in Moses said to the Israelites, see Hashem has singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft. So here it says that he has "Ruach Elohim b'chachma, b'tevuna v'daat b'chol melacha" these words are typically used, correct me if I'm wrong Rabbi in Torah study and here we are talking about this but Bezalel, this master craftsman, who has this chachma, wisdom "tevunah" , which is this discernment and knowledge in all that he does. And it goes on to say that he bought in he and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work—of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer... So again, it kind of details.... Last week we got into the number of work actions that were done for the building of the Mishkan, we got into a quantification here, we're quantifying materials, skills, outcomes. And we're talking about these master craftsmen who are coming from different tribes, and who are men or women. And it doesn't stop it goes into chapter 36. 1 - 8 again, it talks about everyone who is skilled. So I think my first question to you Rabbi, is, are you struck as much as I am, by this really praise and discussion of, I would say, kind of getting down into the weeds and talking about every different nuance of the skill-set that was needed, and talking about it in terms that we normally would relate to other wholly intellectual pursuits. Are you struck by this as well?
Adam Mintz 06:48
Extremely struck by it, but not surprised. I mean, the whole point here is that the architects, the builders, of the Mishkan of the tabernacle, we're not just architects that you have for your house, they were on a holy mission. And it's interesting the way the Taurus does that. The Torah says that. But the Torah teaches that in a funny way. The way the Torah teaches that is by describing them, like you said, using words that we usually use, for religious kinds of things, for spiritual kinds of things. Bezalel was almost like the rabbi who was also the architect. Right? And it had to be that way. Because how can you not have a rabbi who was the architect of the Mishkan
Geoffrey Stern 07:35
True, but you didn't necessarily have to refer to him in almost glowing rabbinic terms.
Adam Mintz 07:41
But he had to be the best didn't he? I think that's an important piece of it.
Geoffrey Stern 07:49
And it doesn't come out of nowhere, this is not the first time that we are exposed to Bezalel if you go back into Exodus 31, again, it says, pretty much using the same adjectives that "I have picked this Bezalel son of Uri from the tribe of Judah, and of course, the tribe of Judah, we all know, is a featured tribe in terms of the Davidic line, the line of the of the Messiah. And again, it says that I filled him with the Spirit of God with Hachma Tevuna v'daat and then it says something that I just love. In 31; 4 it says Lachshov Machshavot It gives him the ability to think thoughts L'asot b'zahav b'kesef v'nechoshef... that he could think thoughts (in material). He was a visionary. If that is not a visionary, then I don't know what was. And I'll finish in terms of contextualizing in Exodus 25. It says, God says to Moses, and we've really spent a whole episode in this, that make me a Mikdash a tabernacle, V'shechanti b'tocham", and I will live within it (them). But what we didn't focus on is the next verse nine that says, "Exactly as I shall show you the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all its furnishings", this "tavnit", There was definitely this association between Bezalel, who had the vision, who could "machshov machshavot", think thoughts and bring them into reality. And this kind of almost celestial Mishkan, tabernacle, that also became a reality. In a sense, but Bezalel as much as anyone else maybe I would dare to say as much as Moses could breach the gap between heaven to earth. You think I'm I'm going too far here?
Adam Mintz 09:55
No, I think you're not. I mean, I think it's interesting first of all to think about who Bezalel was. We're told a lot about him actually were introduced to him in last week's parsha. "Bezalel ben Uri ben hur l'matey yehudah". Now there are a couple of things there that are striking. Number one Bezalel does not come from the tribe of Levi. That's kind of interesting. Because the Mishcon is really the business of the Levi'im. Right? They're the ones, so it's interesting thatBezalel is not from, from Levi. He's from Yehuda, Yehudah has a different job. We know that when Jacob gives the blessings to his sons, he promises Yehuda that Yehudah is going to be the king, that from him will come the kings, and King David comes from Judah, and the Messiah eventually will come from Judah. So Bezalel represents not those who work in the Mishkan, but he has more of a kind of royal position. And I think that's super interesting, that it's the King who needs to build the Mishkan not the workers in the Mishcon. Isn't that striking?.
Geoffrey Stern 11:19
Well, absolutely. I think one of the subjects that we are going to talk about today is labor itself, is labor, something that's menial, or is labor, something that imitates God. And I think from what you just said, again, extrapolating a little bit to say that, Bezalel was not only a thinker, and a visionary, but he was a doer, he was a builder, to say that there was this kind of dynamic relationship between priests on the one hand, but of equal importance were kings and builders, it is a different skill-set. So I totally agree with you. It's kind of interesting, the Rabbi's, to my knowledge, don't spend a whole lot of time on Bezalel b some of the things that they do say are very insightful. And in Berachot 55a it's talking about where he got his name from, but getting to the point that you just made now in terms of those different skill sets. Is there a conflict? Is there a tension between the priest and the king between the king and the builder? So it says "Rabbi Yonatan said: Bezalel was called by that name on account of his wisdom. When the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: Go say to Bezalel, “Make a tabernacle, an ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 31:7–11), Moses went and reversed the order and told Bezalel: “Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle” (see Exodus 25–26). He said to Moses: Moses, our teacher, the standard practice throughout the world is that a person builds a house and only afterward places the vessels in the house, and you say to me: Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle. If I do so in the order you have commanded, the vessels that I make, where shall I put them? Perhaps God told you the following: “Make a tabernacle, ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 36). Moses said to Bezalel: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow [betzel El], and you knew precisely what He said. You intuited God’s commands just as He stated them, as if you were there." I mean, there's so much to unpack here. But first and foremost, there is this tension between Moses, whether it's the academic, Moses, the ivory tower thinker, the politician, and maybe he's a little bit even of the (klutz), genius who can't really figure out how to put things together. And Bezalel, who gets it right, but the other aspect of it is that Bezalel intuits God when Moses misrepresents God, and I think that's kind of fascinating, too.
Adam Mintz 14:36
That is fascinating. I think that that is a good story. You know, the relationship between Bezalel and Moshe is also kind of interesting. Why is Moshe not the architect of the Mishkan? Why do we need somebody else? It seems like Moshe does everything and what Moshe doesn't do, his brother Aaron does. So why is it that we need somebody else here?
Geoffrey Stern 15:06
I think, the rabbinic text for sure, but maybe the rabbi's did have an insight into the written text of the Torah itself. Because what they appear to be saying is that it's a different skill-set. There's another rabbinic text in my Bamidbar Rabab. That goes back to that first text that I read to you, which says that God showed Moses the plan, and then Moses comes down. And he starts talking. And he says, You know, I just can't remember was that 20 feet or 20 and a half feet? Was that a 45 degree angle? And finally, God says, I don't know how many times I need to repeat this to you or show you the tavnit; the plan. You're not going to get it go to Bezalel, and he will make it. So Moses spoke to Bezalel. And he made it immediately, Moses began to wonder and say, in my case, how many times did the Holy One blessed it be he show it to me yet I had difficulty in making it. Now without seeing it. You have made it from your own knowledge. B'zel, you are perhaps standing b'zal el (The shadow of God). They're all fixated on how Bezalel can do things that Moses can't. The rabbi's didn't see it as a coincidence, they didn't see it as a lacuna. In the text. They really saw it as two different types. And I think in regard to the Mishkan, they taken off their hat and their and their tipping it to Bezalel without doubt.
Adam Mintz 16:51
Now, let's go back to "B'Zel EL" That's fascinating, isn't it? In the shadow of God, what's that image of the shadow in the shadow of God?
Geoffrey Stern 17:07
So again, what the two rabbinic texts seem to imply was that not only is the skill set different, but the channel of communication, the source of knowledge is different. Whereas Moses sees God face to face, he's the only person who sees God face to face. Bezalel intuits, Bezalel can read the shadow, he can read from the sense , the context, the I love this shadow, as I think you do, too. But it is a different source. It's definitely a different source of knowledge, a different knowledge base. But nonetheless, the references are to Hochma Bina and Da'at which are a definitely part of the skill set. So I think maybe it's less of a difference of skill set. And maybe it's as much a difference in a epistemology... of where that knowledge comes from the source of the knowledge. But I do think that you have to say that the rabbis are reading this text as a glowing vote of value to this alternative source of knowledge to the point where in both cases.... In both cases, Bezalel, in the first case, able to intuit what God said to Moses without hearing it. That's to me just, he's almost a biblical scholar in that regard, and then in the second, he's able to intuit what God shows to Moses in front of his face. And so I just think it's a total value judgment and value proposition in this alternative..... , you know, we always talk about the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain... And this is clearly it this context is there is value here, no question about it.
Adam Mintz 19:19
I think all this is right. So what we really just to review where we're up to now. So we really are talking about what makes Bezalel special, what the relationship is between the Bezalel and Moshe why Moshe couldn't be the architect of the Mishkan. It had to be someone else. Why Bezalel comes from the family of Yehuda and not from Levi. I think we talked about that. And I want to talk about something else Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur. Do you know who Hur is? Hur is Moshe's brother in law. Hur is married to Miriam, Moses' sister. So actually, he's part of the family. So in a weird way they keep it in the family.
Geoffrey Stern 20:04
And you do have is assistant from the tribe of Dan. And you do have the women and men.....
Adam Mintz 20:11
Isn't that interesting? Yeah, we know about Hur, because Hur plays an important role in the war with Amalek. So it says that Moses kept his hands up, and it says 'V'yadei Moshe kevaydim". Mose's hands were heavy, Vayichu even vayafimu tachtav" and they put a rock under him and he sat under it. V'Aaron v'Hur tamchu b'yeadav mize echad imize achad" they supported his hands and the Jews were victorious. So Hur is part of this, you know, this this group, right, the three of them, they're a triumvirate. It's amazing. It's amazing, right? He is the grandson of this guy Hur.
Geoffrey Stern 21:03
And I think it drives home, that in every family, they are in every tribe, in every humanity, there are different people with different skill sets, and they all come from the same mother and father, but you have to value those differences. And here is not just a flippant valuation, but you know, to two chapters, at least, that really go into this. So I said in the intro, that I saw this discussion as the flip side of last week's discussion, and what I meant was, and I can say it best with this wonderful Hasidic story, where there was a tradition when Shabbat was out that you have the third meal, it's called Shalos Sudes (Seudah Shelishit) and the rabbi's sitting around the Tisch, the table loved Sabbas so much. They decided if they don't stop the meal, they can extend Shabbos on forever. And we all know we learned last week that the Sabbath is a tabernacle in time. It's the sanctification of time you can't get any better than that. And after an hour, or two or three, the Baker's Wife showed up. And the butcher’s his wife showed up, even the Rabbi's wife showed up. And they all said, Guys, we need to bake the bread we need to to go ahead and get the kids ready for school. Life has to go on. And I think that the message of that story to me is just as we rest on Shabbat, we do Manucha because we want to be like God who rested on the first Shabbat, creative labor that is done the rest of the week is as much a way of us copying and being like the divine who actually only rested because He created the world in six days. And so I think what these wonderful statements about not only Bezalel not only his helper, but talking about men and women in as egalitarian way as you could, because the way it values, the men and the women that it describes here is based on their skill set. If they can weave if they can saw if they can measure, bring them on in. And it truly is, to me a very important thread that might have been broken in our Jewish history. But nonetheless, just as there was a Heschel who could write books are talking about the power of the sanctity of time. I would love to explore at least two early Zionist thinkers who wrote the book on poetically loving Jewish creativity and Jewish art. And the first is a someone known as Aleph Dalet Gordon, and those of you who know about the beginning of the State of Israel, you know that the labor Zionists were the ones who for the most part, created it and I always thought that Labor meant that they were socialists, and they were Marxists. And I think to a large degree that might have been true, but Aleph Dalet Gordon is considered the father of labor Zionism and he would not join any of their political parties because what he meant about labor was literally labor with your hands. He believed that Jewish suffering of the whole exile was caused by Jews being disenfranchised from working with their hand, he created a philosophy of religion. And of course, like many of the earliest Zionists, he came from a very orthodox background, when he moved to Israel, one of his sons would not come because he wanted to stay in the Yeshiva. But he almost reconstituted his religion as a religion of creative labor. And he didn't even have any skill sets. But he went around Israel, his wife passed away, unfortunately, a few months after he arrived. And all he wanted to do was to work the land and to reunite with that part of him that he thought we had been disenfranchised by, and what he meant by labor was creating as God created.
Adam Mintz 25:46
Okay. I mean, that's, that's, you know, that's really interesting to take the idea of the Torah, and the building of the tabernacle, and to see how it was used in the modern sense of creativity, which is creating the modern state of Israel. That's amazing. It's the same idea of creativity. Now, of course, you know, you kind of mentioned Heschel in passing. But of course, that's the idea that Heschel points out, and that is that Shabbat itself is a form of creativity. So actually, the Torah itself knows that this is not just about building a Mishkan, but there's a Mishkan in time, which is the Shabbat.
Geoffrey Stern 26:33
Absolutely. And I think that's kind of what we discussed last week.
Adam Mintz 26:38
We had that already. Yeah, kind of pulling it together. Absolutely. Which when you talk about the idea of creativity, so there's creativity going backwards in creativity going forward to Zionism. That's a great example.
Geoffrey Stern 26:51
You could think of Gordon as a visionary you could also think of him as a prophet. In other words, it was almost changing the facts on the ground. Once we had a state, we had to have street cleaners, we had to have a builders, we had to have engineers. So all of those things that he said we didn't have when we were alienated from our land we developed and you could almost draw a straight line from a Gordon to Start Up Nation, .... because the Jews had to create their own land. And fortunately, they were given a land without a lot of natural resources, this creativity, almost creating "Yesh Me'Ayin" something from nothing. He predicted a new generation of Jews, who would make from malacha from labor, something that would be uniquely Jewish, but profoundly impactful on the on the Jewish people. You know, there was a sociologist named Max Weber, and he talked about The Protestant work ethic and in the source of Capitalism. And he gives reasons for why that happened mostly in America as a starting point of entrepreneurialism, but I think you can draw a line also, in terms of what Gordon was predicting, and what happened in the State of Israel. The other thinker that I would be remiss if I didn't mention was a guy named Boris Schatz. They were both born Gordon and Schatz 10 years apart in the 1850s and 60s, and the school Bezalel was founded by Boris Schatz., Boris Schatz, named his son, Bezalel. Boris Schatz, wrote a play about the actual Bezalel coming and taking a tour of the Israel Museum. So here was a guy who had read the two chapters that we will be reading this Shabbat and was so impacted by them. But again, what he felt was that the Jews, especially Western Jews, that had been driven into becoming peddlers. And money lenders because they didn't have the source of their own income. They also were disenfranchised from working with their hands, obviously, the Yemenites not so much. He wanted to unite those areas of a Jewish artistry that had survived with the Western thought. And he had a similar vision. When you think in terms of what this small state is creating today, in terms of art, in terms of music, in terms of culinary arts, In terms of film, and television, these you read these guys, and they really, really saw it. And it's fascinating. But I think that we tend too much because of Rabbinic Judaism growing out of a world, which no longer had a homeland, to not see this aspect of our human and our Jewish life that had been for so long, eclipsed and is now going to be rejuvenated.
Adam Mintz 30:39
So let's talk about the Bezalel School. So just the fact that the Bezalel school, the School of Jewish art of Jewish creativity is named for Bezalel. Well, you know, maybe it was his son, but it was obviously Bezalel the original Bezalel, you know, it comes to teach us that the idea of Jewish creativity is alive today, just as much as it was alive 3500 years ago, that that model, that when we talk about Jewish creativity, we talk about Jewish religious creativity, I think is a very, very strong message. And it's a fantastic message. Right? I mean, that idea that you know, that Jewish creativity is b'tevuna ubeda'at uBechol melacha that tevunah and Da'at kind of religious world and the fact that that has been picked up throughout history, like you pointed out to this very day is a fantastic idea, just about what Jewish creativity is about. And even if you want to talk about whether it's Jewish art, you know, the art like Isidore Kaufman's pictures of Hasidim from before the war or Jewish art in the sense of Jewish ritual objects, you know, that they're all made "b'tevunah ub'da'at", they're created by different kinds of people, you know, different backgrounds, a whole bunch of different things, but it's b'tevunah u'b'da'at., it's all following in the traditions of the original Bezalel. Isn't that fantastic?
Geoffrey Stern 32:12
It is. And I think and I've kind of hinted at this before. The other aspect of it that blows me away, is when it comes to artistic talent, you have the ultimate meritocracy. You might have mentioned that many of these characters came from a particular tribe, but at the end of the day, you can't fake it. You can't fake it, if you either you have you live in God's shadow, and you can intuit these beautiful creations or you don't. And I think ultimately, these two chapters if you look at them a song in praise of creativity, and building ultimately, at the end of the day, less of a sanctuary in space as a less perfect thing. But in terms of creating something with or within our world, and being able to be as is God (We'll never understand why God chose to create a world but he or she did.) And in a sense, this is the swan song, this is the case to be made for the equal value of that creative aspect within us in terms of our future our past and ultimate redemption as well. So thank you, Bezalel!
Adam Mintz 33:40
Thank you Bezalel. Thank you, everybody. Enjoy the parsha this week, next week, we might be having a lunch and learn keep a lookout for exactly what time is going to be next week. Wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, a Hodesh tov. Rosh Hodesh is this week, and we can't wait to see you next week to finish up the book of Shemot with the great parsha of Kedoshim.
Geoffrey Stern 34:02
Shabbat Shalom to you all. Please make sure to listen to the podcast it'll issue later this evening. Share it with your friends. If you like what you hear, give us a star or say something nice and share Madlik Disruptive Toray with friends and family Shabbat Shalom.
Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/386520
Listen to last week’s episode: Architecture in Time