In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel (Ex. 35:1 – 38:20) Moses repeats to the Israelites the detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle that God had given to him. Moses names Bezalel, who he says, “God has singled out” as the director and chief artisan of the enterprise. Indeed, in Exodus 31, God tells Moses that He has endowed Bezalel with “ruach Elohim”, divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft. “Ruach Elohim” is the same phrase used in the opening words of Genesis, just before God speaks to create light.
In Midrashic literature, Bezalel’s name is deconstructed to b-tzel-el, meaning “in the shadow of God”. Rabbi Harold Kushner, in the Etz Chaim Torah Commentary, takes this to mean that, because of Bezalel’s work, people will be able to see in it, in limited manner, the presence of God. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in her work The Particulars of Rapture points out that in order to create his artistic works,especially metalwork, Bezalel must master the use of fire. Just as God creates and destroys, so Bezalel uses fire, which also has creative and destructive properties.
Legend says that not only Bezalel, but his assistant Oholiab and all those who worked on the Tabernacle were also gifted with ruach Elohim. So too is every person who makes art, or literature or music given this divine spirit. With that spirit, we create, and in the words of the Baal Shem Tov, string pearls for the delight of Heaven.