Moses said to the Children of Israel, “See, HASHEM has proclaimed by name, Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He filled him with Godly spirit, with wisdom, insight, and knowledge, and with every craft…”
— Shemot/Exodus 35:30-31
R. Samuel b. Nahamani said in the name of R. Johanan: Bezalel* was so called on account of his wisdom. At the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Go and tell Bezalel to make me a tabernacle, an ark and vessels [Exod. 31], Moses went and reversed the order, saying, Make an ark and vessels and a tabernacle. Bezalel said to him: Moses, our Teacher, as a rule a man first builds a house and then brings vessels into it; but you say, Make me an ark and vessels and a tabernacle. Where shall I put the vessels that I am to make? Can it be that the Holy One, blessed by He, said to you, Make a tabernacle, an ark and vessels? Moses replied: Perhaps you were in the shadow [betzel* (shadow)] of God [El is one of God’s names] and knew!
— Babylonian Talmud,** Berakhot 55a
* Also spelled Betzalel — the second letter is a tzadei.
Kedushat Levi** explains, “his soul must have been present when G’d created the universe and have absorbed the secret of how G’d had done so,” the Tabernacle construction being parallel to Creation. (p.533)
Elsewhere, but I can’t remember where just now, I read that “Betzalel” can be read as “God is my shadow,” which opens up other possibilities.
** Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.