This week’s Bible portion, Vayakhel-Pekudai (Exodus 35:1-40:38 and Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18) teaches us how God specifically named the people He wanted to build His place of worship in the desert.
- Bezalel (בְּצַלְאֵ֛ל) – “in God’s shadow,” was the primary craftsman.
- Oholiab (אָֽהֳלִיאָ֥ב) – “father’s tent,” was his assistant.
The applicability of these names to the task is clear enough. Bezalel was suffused with the Divine spirit, and Oholiab was literally made for the task of constructing the worshiping place dedicated to our Father in Heaven. Yet the Bible reading contains five verses explaining their qualifications, which is relatively lengthy.
Why does it say (Exodus 35:30) that God “singled out by name” Bezalel? Following on that, why (verses 31-35) enumerate his skills at length, along with Oholiab? See below:
“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 and to carve wood—to work in every kind of designer’s craft—and to give directions.
“He and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work—of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer in blue, purple, crimson yarns, and in fine linen, and of the weaver—as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs.
A simple answer might be that God wanted Moses to generate confidence in the men tasked with the significant project ahead, or even to stop the people from arguing with Moses over who had been chosen to carry out the task.
These reasons do make sense. There is another possibility, though, which would explain why Moses spent so much time elaborating, in excruciating detail, what these men were good at, and it is this:
God, through Moses, was not just describing what the duo could do. Rather, God was using words in a metaphysical way, to create the reality before it even happened.
Natural law focuses only on what is tangible, meaning past performance. “Spare no effort to praise and reward soldiers for outstanding performance; it costs nothing and gains everything,” said Field Marshal Sir William Slim (quoted by Captain Christopher J. Courtney in “The Successful Lieutenant,” 1997)
But praising before the task occurs goes a step beyond thanking people afterward for a job well-done. It’s about taking a leap of faith, then programming reality through language.
The use of words to program a positive future state is a spiritual practice known as…prayer! Pastor Joel Osteen puts it this way: “praise always precedes the victory.”
You don’t have to be religious to be positive, though. Think about how we describe self-esteem: It is something that we “build” or “break down,” just like a building.
In sociology, the notion that belief affects reality is known as labeling theory. A well-known example: If a teacher incorrectly assesses a child as a high-performing student, that child is statistically more likely to actually perform at a higher-than-average level.
Of course, we all know that emotional abuse turns previously confident, happy people into shells of themselves.
The martial artist Bruce Lee famously said: “As you think, so shall you become. Don’t speak negatively about yourself, even as a joke….Words are energy and cast spells, that’s why it’s called spelling.”
An aptly titled poem, “Words Are Swords,” by Joan Chooy Tayaban (2018), describes in a very literal way how a teacher’s cruel insults slashes at a student’s emotional infrastructure (excerpt): “The small building of confidence breaks down…broken bricks of inferiority…in just a few…seconds.”
In short, words may be invisible, but they are powerful!
In speaking of Bezalel, the Zohar, which codifies Jewish mysticism, goes even further than this, noting that God’s Word is a sword of fiery power that literally transformed this ordinary man into someone capable of fulfilling an almost superhuman task. Accordingly, as Rabbi Charles Savenor explains, Bezalel “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.”
This point of view is borne out by Genesis 32:25-29, in which Jacob is attacked by a “man” (who is actually his brother Esau’s “guardian angel,” per Rashi, citing Genesis Rabbah 77:3) and is wounded, but not defeated. The “man” seeks to leave, but Jacob refuses unless he receives a blessing, upon which the “angel” renames him: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings Divine and human, and have prevailed.”
Gematria bears this out, as Dafei Tang shows us in “Building the Tabernacle” (2017). “In any process of building, the last step in action is always the fulfillment of the initial thought,” he writes.
- The first word of the Bible, “Bereishis,” (בְּרֵאשִׁית, “in the beginning,”) has a Gematria of 913.
- The Gematria of the verse describing the completion of the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:33, does as well: “And Moses finished the work (“וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמְּלָאכָה”) equals 913.
Conclusion: Man must partner with God to bring the world to Redemption, Tang notes:
“The action of Moses represents the ‘last in action’ that completes the ‘first in thought’ of God.”
All in all, the Bible delivers a powerful lesson about labeling, naming, and branding when introducing Bezalel the craftsman. (We also learn that craftsmanship itself is extraordinarily important; it should be noted that Jesus was a carpenter.)
On a professional level, “branding” is not just a mundane task, but an awesome spiritual tool, one to be taken with the utmost seriousness. Words aren’t just “nothing”—they aren’t just meaningless scribbles to be thrown around on whiteboards—but rather they create a future state, and must be used with care and intention.
By Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.