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Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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R’ Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of R’ Yonatan:

The name Bezalel indicates his wisdom, for when Hashem told Moshe to tell Bezalel to make a Mishkan, an Aron, and the other vessels, Moshe reversed the order and said to him, “Make an Aron and the vessels and the Mishkan.” Bezalel then said to him, “Moshe Rabbeinu, the way of the world is to build a house and then bring into it the vessels, but you told me to first make the vessels and then the Mishkan. Where will I put the vessels that I make? Perhaps Hashem told you to make the Mishkan first and then the Aron and vessels.” Moshe responded, “You are called Betzel Kel—in the shadow of Hashem—for you knew precisely how to interpret Hashem’s words as if you were there, in His shadow.” (Berachot 55a)

We live in a physical world, and our soul is confined in a physical body. For that reason, says Sefer HaChinuch, that which we experience physically makes a stronger impression on us and in turn motivates our hearts and souls. Thus, for instance, the eating and drinking on Yom Tov are designed to bring out the spiritual joy of our souls. The proper external actions are the means by which one reaches the proper inner intention.

The majestic and awe-inspiring Mishkan was a physical environment that exercised the most profound effect on all who beheld it. The physical impression it created was transmuted into a powerful inner feeling.

Prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, the Mishkan was not needed for God’s presence to devolve upon the Jewish people (see Sforno to Shemot 20:21): “…in all places where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you” (Shemot 20:21). With the sin of the Golden Calf, however, the people showed that they needed a physical entity in order to experience the full intensity of God’s presence.

Moshe was first told of the Mishkan before the sin of the Golden Calf. At that time, when the Jews were far above the natural order of the world, the structure of the Mishkan itself was of secondary importance, and the vessels through which man would actualize his feelings for Hashem were the principal aspect of the Mishkan. Therefore, Moshe mentioned the vessels first.

Bezalel, however, received the command to build the Mishkan after the sin of the Golden Calf. He realized that God’s intention now was to create an environment to inspire inner spiritual feelings that would be actualized through the vessels. Bezalel understood what Moshe did not: that Hashem’s original command was specific in its order because Hashem knew that Bnei Yisrael would sin and require the Mishkan in order to experience His presence.

There is an important message here for us. We must not feel hypocritical if we do the mitzvot without the fullest intentions that we know should accompany these activities. As long as we aspire to attain that kavanah (intention), our actions will bring us to that goal. Also, we must remember that even at the height of spiritual inspiration, we must not minimize the importance of the meticulous observance of the physical mitzvot. For they are the true culmination of those spiritual feelings. Without them the potential is unrealized.

This is the meaning of the shekel of fire Moshe was shown: the inseparable connection between the physical and spiritual worlds.

This is also one of the purposes of Eretz Yisrael: a physical Holy Land where we can develop our natural holy nature and be able to express that spiritual nature in concrete, physical means.


Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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