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Creating in God's Shadow

This week we read about the requirements for building the tabernacle. These details were already offered in prior chapters. Are these now repeated because the Israelites need a reminder about what they should be setting their hearts to build? So soon after gathering against Aaron and pressuring him to help them build the Golden Calf Moses reasserts his leadership and gathers them for a renewed holy purpose.

We can gather for bad. We can congregate for good. The leader helps redirect the people’s energies. “Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose hearts so move them shall bring them—gifts for the Lord: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and crimson yarns…” (Exodus 35)

And then Moses singles out an artisan from among the tribe of Judah who will lead this project. His name is Bezalel. The Torah records: “God has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill (hokhmah), ability (t’vunah) and knowledge (da-at) of every kind of craft.” The famous medieval commentator, Rashi, offers this explanation about the differences between these artistic qualities.

Skill, or wisdom, is what a person learns from others. Ability describes one’s own insights or experiences. Knowledge, he equates, with divine inspiration. Artistic creations sometimes overwhelm us with their power. We wonder what unknown, or otherworldly, source inspired the artist. This is what Rashi deems da-at. It is not simply knowledge but instead divine knowledge.

Often, we think of artists as singular. We describe the artists we admire as unique and unparalleled. It is how I felt when I walked into La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s soon to be completed cathedral. The work on this church began in 1882. It was conceived by Antoni Gaudi. The stained-glass windows are unlike anything I have ever seen before. The way the windows illuminate the sun’s rays are breathtaking. And yet Gaudi most certainly saw his creations as standing on the shoulders of his Christian faith.

The Torah reminds us of an important lesson. Artists must learn from others. They lean on their predecessors.

No creative work stands disconnected from others. They are bound together by the thread of wisdom that ties one generation to another.

Everyone must learn from others. Everyone must stand on the shoulders of their teachers. That is the essence of wisdom. That is what engenders the greatest skill and artistry.

All creations are manifestations of the divine. We create in the shadow of God. And this of course is what the Hebrew name Bezalel means.