JC Sidra Column: Vayakhel

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 21 February 2014

Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Eternal has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah”.
Exodus 35:30

Apart from his lineage, and the skills with which he was endowed by God, we know remarkably little about Bezalel, the builder of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Why he was selected, or how, what was special about him – these questions are unanswered by the biblical text.

As was often the case, this silence gave the Sages the opportunity to build a fabulous back story.  According to one midrash, for example, Bezalel was the great-grandson of Miriam – Moses’ great-nephew.

Biblical ambiguity also gave the Rabbis the chance to project their values into the text.  In the Bavli, Brachot 55a, Rabbi Yitzchak understands our verse as teaching that God consulted with Moses, and Moses with the people, before Bezalel was appointed.  When Moses says ‘See’, it is not as a fait accompli, but as a request for the Israelites’ approval.  We learn from this, the Talmud remarks, that “one must not appoint a public leader without first consulting the community” – there can be legitimate leadership only with the consent of those who are led.

We live in a world in which many remain blind to the need for leadership with consent.  Yet our Sages understood this nearly 2000 years ago – to them consent is an ideal so important that it must apply even to the nominees of God.