DIVREI TORAH

Our Efforts Produce Flowers, Even if We Don’t See Them

Our parsha tells us about the great Betzalel, the man who built the Mishkan.

“And Betzalel the son of Uri, who was the son of … did what Hashem commanded…”[1]

We’re taught that Betzalel’s father was Ur. And we’re also taught that Betzalel’s grandfather was Chur. And that’s unusual. Why? Because the Torah doesn’t usually identify people by their grandfathers’ names. By their fathers’ names, yes. But not by their grandfathers’ names.

And this isn’t the only time that the Torah identifies Betzalel by his grandfather’s name.

He’s also identified this way in Ki Sisa. There we read: “See I designated Betzalel the son of Uri who was the son of Chur.” [2]

And he’s identified this way in Vayakhel. There we’re told: “Hashem called in the name of Betzalel the son of Uri who was the son of Chur.”[3]

Now, it’s easy to understand why Betzalel’s grandfather is mentioned back in Ki Sisa. That’s when Hashem first told Moshe that a certain Betzalel – whom Moshe probably never met - would design the Mishkan: “See, I’ve designated Betzalel.”[4]

Moshe, then, needed to ferret out an unknown Betzalel. And that was hard because there were probably many Betzalels. There were probably many Betzalels who, like our protagonist, had fathers named Uri. In this situation, identifying the right Betzalel is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. How, then, could Hashem identify the right Betzalel?

By adding the grandfather's name.

That’s why, back in Ki Sisa, Moshe is told to search for “Betzalel the son of Uri who was the son of Chur.”[5]

But by the time we’ve reached parshios Vayakhel and Pekudei, Betzalel was already building the Mishkan. At that point, Moshe knew who Betzalel was. Betzalel didn’t need to be identified. But in both Vayakhel and Pekudei, Betzalel is still identified by his grandfather, Chur. Why that unnecessary mention of Chur?

The question’s answer may lie in the story of Chur’s death. Chur, the Midrash tells us, was murdered when the debacle of the golden calf arose. Chur protested against this descent into idolatry. So he was murdered.

The Midrash sees an allusion to this occurrence in the possuk that notes Aharon’s, surprising, involvement in that sin. The possuk says: “Aharon saw and he built an altar”[6] for the golden calf. The Hebrew words, “and he built an altar” are “Va-yivan mizbe’ach.”

Those Hebrew words, through a small change in vowels, can read: “Va-yivan mi-zevach.” And that means “understood from the slaughter.” [7]

In this changed reading, the possuk tells us that Aharon understood how dire the situation was because slaughter had occurred.

The possuk doesn’t tell us why this slaughter occurred. Nor does the possuk tell us who was slaughtered. And that means that the reason for the slaughter - and the identity of the victim - must be self-obvious.

Who would be slaughtered when people are rallying to sin? A hero who is trying to forestall that sin. And who was that martyred hero? That quite likely was Chur. Chur, Miriam’s son, had been the hero in all incidents that preceded the incident of the golden calf.

He defended us when Amalek attacked.[8]

He approached Sinai with Moshe.[9]

It’s sensible, therefore, to assume that Chur was the hero who fought the golden calf – and died because of it.

This assumption is buttressed by how Chur – who is featured so prominently during the early post-Exodus period – is unseen after this incident.[10]

Chur, then, died fighting the golden calf.

And that offers some perspective on why Aharon allowed himself to be coopted into sin. Aharon feared that he, too, would be killed if he resisted. And he worried that his murder would hasten the community’s slide into idolatry and debauchery.

So: “Aharon told them…remove the gold…and bring it to me. And Aharon took it from their hands…and made it into a molten calf…..and Aharon saw and built an altar”

And that makes the dispiriting golden calf story, even more dispiriting.

Gold was collected. But for idolatry.

An altar was built. But for an idol.

Aharon played a role. But for sin.

And Chur, who resisted sin, died.

Then, though, you read about the Mishkan.

Gold was collected. For holiness.

An altar was built. For a Mishkan.

Aharon played a role. To serve Hashem.

And Chur played a role. Not as a martyr but as the progenitor of our Mishkan’s architect.

This is why the Midrash, commenting on Betzalel’s identification with his grandfather, notes: “Why was Chur mentioned here? Because he gave his life … Hashem told him I will pay you back”[11] - by having his grandson create the Mishkan.

Chur, then, didn’t sacrifice in vain. He left a legacy that prompted his grandson to build a Mishkan. The Mishkan’s gold countered the gold of the golden calf. Aharon's positive role in the Mishkan countered his role in the golden calf incident.

And it didn’t stop with Aharon or with the Mishkan. Chur’s heroism left a legacy of holiness that nourishes us for eternity. And that produced merits that nourish Chur’s neshama for eternity.

It’s a nourishment exemplified in a story about a woman hoping to grow flowers. She buys seeds and plants them along a wall that separates her garden from her neighbor’s. She then waits for flowers.

But no flowers grow. Only vines. She cultivates and waters the vines. Still, no flowers grow. She fertilizes the vines. Still, no flowers.

She finally gives up and decides to uproot the vines. She gets a hoe, goes outside, and readies herself for the task.

And that’s when her invalid neighbor calls out from the wall’s other side: “I so enjoy your flowers.”

The woman walks behind the wall and enters her neighbor’s yard. She then sees her vines reaching into her neighbor’s yard, producing beautiful flowers. Her seeds didn't give her flowers. But they gave them to an invalid. To someone who needed them so much more.

It’s Chur’s story. It’s the garden story. And it’s our story.

Sometimes we see the flowers that our efforts produce.

Sometimes, we don’t.

But seen or unseen, when we plant with love and devotion, we will produce flowers.

And those flowers, like the Mishkan, will blossom and enrich us and the world forever.

[1] Shemos 38:22

[2] Shemos 31:2

[3] Shemos 35:30

[4] Shemos 31:2

[5] Ibid.

[6] loc. cit.

[7] The Jewish Center, Rabbi Yossie Levinns Semons.

[8] Shemos 17:10-12

[9] Shemos 24:14

[10] JewishCenter.org, Rabbi Levine’s Sermons,Vaykahel-Pekudei,  Consumers and Contributors

[11] Shemos Rabba 48

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