In the last two parashiot, Terumah and Tetzaveh, God gave detailed instruction on how Israel should construct the Mishkan (Sanctuary) in which He would dwell.
This week’s Torah portion begins with the Lord commanding Moses to take a census of Bnei Yisrael (Sons of Israel).
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.’” (Exodus 30:11–12)
The Hebrew word used for ransom in this verse is koper, which comes from the root K-P-R, or kaphar, meaning “to atone for” as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
For the building of the Mishkan, the Israelites were to give whatever their hearts dictated (Exodus 25:2); however, for the census, every person 20 years or older who was counted was to give a half shekel as a ransom for their soul.
“Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel.” (Exodus 30:13)
Rich and poor were to give the exact same amount, and it was to be used for the service of the Tent of Meeting.
“Receive the atonement [kippur] money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement [kaphar] for your lives.” (Exodus 30:16)
Creativity and the Shadow of God
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God [Ruach Elohim], with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” (Exodus 31:2–3)
In this Parasha, God designates a man named Bezalel (Betzalel), who has a special calling or anointing, to be in charge of the construction of the Mishkan.
God tells Moses that He has filled Bezalel with His Holy Spirit, wisdom, understanding and ingenuity for all manner of artistic workmanship so that the furnishings of the Tabernacle, the priests’ vestments, the anointing oil, and the incense could be created.
Here in Israel, Bezalel’s name carries such weight that one of the main streets of downtown Jerusalem is named after him. Also named after Bezalel are schools of art, here in Israel and Jewish academies around the world.
Bezalel’s name provides a fascinating clue about his gifting. His name comes from the combination of three Hebrew words: be (in), tzel (shade), and El (God). It can be translated “in the shadow of God.”
The shade or shadow (tzel) of the Lord is a special place of refuge.
“I will take refuge in the shadow (tzel) of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57:1)
Yeshua made reference to this place of refuge when He wept over Jerusalem, knowing the calamity that was about to befall the city.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)
The desire to hide our children under the shadow of our wings and keep them safe from every threat and danger is often associated with a maternal, protective quality.
Such a connection exists also in Scripture. God’s name El Shaddai, which comes from the Hebrew word for a woman’s breast, reveals His maternal qualities and is used in Psalm 91 in conjunction with the idea of abiding in His shadow.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High [Elyon] will rest in the shadow [tzel] of the Almighty [El Shaddai].” (Psalm 91:1)
Creativity and Worship
It is interesting that this name, Betzalel, which can be translated as “in God’s shade” was given to the first artisan mentioned in the Bible.
Bezalel reveals that the act of creating can be an act of worship.
Indeed, there is something about creativity and art, the act of creating itself, that seems so holy and close to God.
Our fast paced, goal-oriented modern society doesn’t place much importance on creative pursuits, but the Hebrew language reveals that art and crafting are very closely related to God, who is the ultimate Creator.
Since we are created in God’s image, we are also endowed with creative ability that is just waiting to be released.
The word artist in Hebrew is aman from the Hebrew root A-M-N (aleph, men, and nun), meaning reliable, faithful, confirmed, have faith, and be firm.
These three letters are also the root of the word we use at the end of our prayers—amen, meaning so be it, verily, and truly.
And these same three letters form the word emunah, which means faith.
May this study inspire us to let our creativity flow and no longer consider artistic endeavors non-productive” or a waste of time.
If we just look at the amazing variety of colors and incredible designs in the natural world, we can see that God values beauty for its own sake, and He enjoys the process of creating.
Building the Tabernacle Around the Shabbat
“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.” (Exodus 31:16)
The work of building the tabernacle was an immensely important task! And yet, in the midst of the instructions to build it, God reminds the Israelites to keep the Sabbath (Shabbat)—to rest.
As important as any of our works are, even for the Lord, resting on Shabbat takes precedence.
Even the work of God was not permitted to be elevated above the command to rest on the Sabbath.