Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20): Shadow or Shelter

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash
Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

In this week’s portion we meet the project manager, so to speak, of the Tabernacle construction project. Betzalel (35:20) is introduced to us as one who has been endowed with divine spirit of skill and a knowledge of every type of craft. What a resume! But look at the name and how it is constructed. Betzalel can be understood as meaning “in God’s shadow” as the Hebrew for shadow is tzel.

This idea of shadow is quite meaningful. Indeed, as this is being written, we are monitoring the shadow of war in eastern Europe. The shadow has a negative connotation as in Carl Jung’s idea of the shadow as the projection by our subconscious, of the negative aspects of our personalities. That shadow’s negative side is also seen in the common idiot of someone “living in someone’s shadow”, as if to say they are living an unrealized life.

Classic Jewish thought of tzel rejects the negative. The word is sometimes translated in the sense of shelter as in Psalm 91.  This is shadow in the sense of being protected. Can this mean that no matter where we are we are under God’s protection? Hardly! Too many of us have lived through moments in life when we were challenged to reflect, reimagine and readjust our life. The shelter we had was our own faith in a future and our own self. But maybe that is what this really means. Maybe this passage is again reminding us that ultimately, we are our own Betzalel.

In some traditional commentaries we are reminded that Betzalel is a metaphor for each of us. Each of us are in charge of creating our own sanctuary, our own life. The Tabernacle is symbolic of our life. We bring our gifts to our existence; our sense of the sacred, our ambition, our compassion, our life experience. These are all the building blocks of life, and we stand at this stage of our lives able to examine what we have created and to consider what still needs to be done. Again,, the tradition, I suggest, reminds us that we are the architects of our own life. We, each of us, are our own Betzalel, endowed with the divine gift of spirit and life. Again we are reminded, choose wisely, choose the building blocks of sanctity, love, community and holiness.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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