By Rav Jonathan Bailey
In attempting to explain why Betzalel, the foreman for the entire construction of the mishkan, is listed as “Betzalel ben Ori ben Chur” when his assistant, Oholiav, is only labeled as “Oholiav ben Achisamach” (sans grandfather), the midrash states the following: (I’m paraphrasing) “When Chur stood up against the people who tried to create the Egel HaZahav, he was stoned to death. God then said, ‘someone who stood up for My name must be rewarded – I will have his descendants build the mishkan’, and to convey this message, Chur’s name is emphasized in Betzalel’s title.”
Knowing what we know about God and His purposeful, educational system of reward and punishment, why would the Midrash tell us that the reward for Chur defying the Egel rebels is his descendant’s role in the building of the mishkan? What is the connection between the action performed and the reward conferred?
An answer lies in the second part of the previously quoted midrash: “This [God rewarding Chur] is compared to a king, whose subjects rallied against him, and, when his top general attempted to quash the rebellion, this loyal soldier was killed by the usurpers. The king then proclaimed, ‘if he had paid me money, would I not pay him back? Surely, having paid me with his life, I must repay him!’ Thereupon he decreed that the sons of the deceased would forever be appointed as high ranking military officials in his army.”
The reward of this king is clear: the general stood up for his king and the king rewards him with his descendents assuming the same honorable position as their father had filled so loyally. And if the midrash employs this parable to elucidate God’s actions with Chur (found in the first part of the midrash), then it also serves as an explanation for the motivation behind His choice of reward for him: Chur defied the idolaters and stood up for God; therefore, his grandson, Betzalel, will hold the same position, defying idolaters and standing up in the name God.
If we accept this formula, based on the midrash’s comparison between the actions of the king and God, the final question to be answered is how does Betzalel’s appointment as the foreman of building the mishkan fill the role of an ‘idolatry challenger’ (as his grandfather had been)? It must be that the mishkan he is chosen to build defies idolatry!
The basic formula behind idolatrous behavior is: someone has a tangible need, creates a more tangible god to address that need and then establishes ‘easy’ rites to worship this god to procure his desired blessings; the mishkan defies every aspect of this process. God tells us that we need to create the mishkan, He details exactly how the intricate and complicated construction must be performed, He requires expensive materials with which to facilitate the building and then outlines the specific services to be performed.
Lastly, and most importantly, He tells us exactly what it’s for: ‘and they will make for Me a tabernacle and I will reside amongst them’. It is specifically not a temple for our God to live in, but rather the expression of our desire for a relationship with Him, and it is this expression, in addition to the strict upholding of His laws, that affords us the ‘blessings’ we desire. With this proper understanding of the mishkan we can now fully comprehend that God, not us, has dictated how and from where our needs will be fulfilled and it is this proper mishkan-understanding that serves as the true triumph in which Chur’s descendants can celebrate.
Originally appears on the Midreshet Harova website