Living Up to Our Names

God names Bezalel, giving him inspiration to lead.

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In 1989, during the flight to my junior year abroad experience in Israel, I chatted with the El Al flight attendants at the rear of the airplane. When asked my name, I made the conscious decision to introduce myself using my Hebrew name, Simcha. As these women of Sephardic descent heard my name, they roared out in laughter. "Simcha, you cannot be Simcha. Simcha is a girl's name." They explained that in modern Israeli society, especially in sephardic circles, only girls went by the name Simcha.

Before this encounter, I had never given much thought to my Hebrew name, which I received in memory of my great-grandmother, Celia. In truth, I had always just accepted my Hebrew name and found it somewhat amusing that my name meant happiness. While I heeded the advice of my new friends and used my English name, Charlie, for the remainder of the year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, this encounter raised my awareness about the power and meaning of names.

Singled Out By Name

Silver, Gold, and Copper for the Mishkan

The materials that Bezalel used in
building the Mishkan.
Silver, gold, and copper.

In this week's Torah portion, we are introduced for the second time to Bezalel, the architect and builder of the Mishkan, who possesses a unique Hebrew name. The text in Exodus 35 reads as follows:

And Moses said to the Israelites: 'See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting to carve wood -- to work in every kind of designer's craft - and to give directions (Etz Hayim 35:30-34).

Of particular interest to us is the manner in which Moses announces God's appointment of Bezalel. It is not hard to imagine a more direct introduction, such as "The main builder and head craftsman will be Bezalel." The second item of interest that attracts our attention is how the Torah's peculiar phrasing creates the impression that we have been introduced to Bezalel before.

These questions necessitate our turning to our initial encounter with Bezalel in Parashat Ki Tissa. "Re'ay karati veshem Bezalel," which translates to "See, I have singled out by name of Bezalel" (Etz Hayim, Exodus 31:2). Interestingly enough, we find a similarly perplexing formulation of the text, but this time God is the one who makes the proclamation. What also makes this first pronouncement sound peculiar is that it suggests that even in our first introduction to Bezalel that his name was already given by God.

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Rabbi Charles Savenor

Rabbi Charles E. Savenor is the Director of Kehella (Congregational) Enrichment for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.