Living Up to Our Names

God names Bezalel, giving him inspiration to lead.

Print this page Print this page

Rashi, the 11th-century Biblical commentator, asserts that this strange statement in the Torah means no more than "I have designated Bezalel for these holy tasks." Rashi's words create a reasonable understanding of the text, yet they simply smooth over the problem of God's introduction being couched in the past tense.

The midrash offers a beautiful interpretation for the phrase "See, I have singled out by name of Bezalel." The midrash relates that when Moses is on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, God shows Moses Sefer Hahayim, the book of life. This book, of which we are most aware during the High Holidays, catalogs the names of every Jew in every generation from Creation until the ultimate Redemption. In the midst of this encounter, God informs Moses that "I (God) have predetermined the creation of all people, and this includes Bezalel, who will construct the Mishkan, the Tabernacle."

We learn from Midrash Rabbah not only that God created every human being before the world itself was actually complete, but also that our leaders occupy a prominent place in this blueprint. Thus, Bezalel had been named by God from before time began since he would play a starring role in the future of the Jewish people.

At this point in our exploration we have tried to understand our Exodus passage only in terms of the distinctive formulation of the announcement. In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud writes: "A human being's name is a principal component of his person, perhaps a piece of his soul." Freud's assertion leads us to an analysis of Bezalel's name itself, so that we may find a message waiting to be discovered.

In the Shadow of God

The Zohar offers an explanation of Bezalel's name that contradicts the one in the midrash. The Zohar claims that Bezalel, which literally translates to "in the shadow of God," is not a name the head craftsman receives at the beginning of time, but rather a title that he earns upon completion of his commissioned project. Applying the Zohar's explanation to the introduction of Bezalel, we would read the verse as "Behold, I have designated that the name of the person to work in this holy endeavor should at completion be called Bezalel -- in the shadow of God."

The end of Bezalel's job description gives us a clue as to how this artist and builder achieves the status of living "in the shadow of God." The Torah tells us that Bezalel is responsible for not only directing the construction, but also teaching his crew. We may wonder what role teaching plays in the naming of an artisan.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Charles Savenor

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