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The Artist's Eye

The artisan, Bezalel, is chosen to fashion the tabernacle and its furnishings. He is from the tribe of Judah, the largest of the tribes. His assistant, Oholiab, is from Dan, the smallest tribe. According to the Talmud this shows that everyone is represented in the building of these holy items.

The rabbis also suggest Moses was displeased that God did not choose him. He assumed God would have picked him because God chooses him to do everything else. Again, the rabbis offer a message. Don’t think that only someone as holy as Moses can draw near to God or in this case, help us build something that adds holiness to our lives. Anyone, and everyone, can help us fashion the sacred and draw the earthly closer to the heavenly.

Moreover, Bezalel is endowed with a “divine spirit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge of every kind of craft.” (Exodus 31) He is a first rate artist. I wonder. What makes an artist top notch? Each of us has our favorite. I may be partial to Ansel Adams and others to Annie Leibovitz. I may like Salvador Dali and others Jackson Pollock. I may prefer vibrant colored artwork and others black and white photographs.

Regardless of these subjective evaluations, I have come to think it is more about the “understanding” rather than any other quality. The artist sees things differently than other people.

I could be standing in the same exact surroundings as Frederic Brenner (the French Jewish photographer who took a photograph of your favorite rabbinic couple) and I will still never be able to see and understand what he sees. No matter how extraordinary and expert my iPhone camera becomes, he understands something that I cannot. I remain grateful for his vision.

I can have the same vocabulary as Mary Oliver and find myself in the same Cape Cod Pond about which she writes, and I will still never be able to craft a poem that captures the spirit she conveys with her words.
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
I admire the artist. Their understanding of our world renews my spirit. Their ability to see things that I cannot see makes my heart sing. I am filled with gratitude that their artistry offers me a heretofore unseen vision.

Bezalel’s name means in God’s shadow. The artist provides us with a glimmer of the divine. When we peer at their work we stand in God’s shadow.