By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
"....when Hashem told Moshe to make a Mishkan, he came and
told Betzalel. 'What is this Mishkan?', he asked. 'So that G-d
should rest His presence within, and teach Torah to Israel', Moshe
"And where will the Torah be placed?"
"After we build the Mishkan, we will make an Aron."
"Rabbeinu, Moshe! Such is not honor for the Torah! Rather, let us
make an Aron, and afterwards, the Mishkan...." (Midrash Rabbah
The Torah credits Betzalel with the building of the holy ark, for it is
with his initiative that the Torah is housed first.
This teaching seems to contradict the Gemara's version of events:
"....Betzalel is called thus on account of his wisdom. When
Hashem told Moshe to go and tell Betzalel 'build Me a Mishkan,
Aron, and utensils', Moshe went and reversed the order, saying:
'build an Aron, utensils, and the Mishkan.' "
"He said: 'Moshe Rabbeinu! The way of the world is for a man to
build a house, and afterwards to bring his utensils inside, and you
tell me to build an Aron, utensils, and Mishkan? To where will I
bring the utensils that I make! Perhaps Hashem said this: build a
Mishkan, Aron, and utensils?' Said Moshe: 'Perhaps you were in
the shadow of G-d, that you know!' " (Berachos 55a)
The Gemara quotes a completely different sequence. Here,
Betzalel is the one who endeavors to save the Aron for last,
insisting that proper behavior demands that the Mishkan be first,
and not the Aron HaKodesh.
In our shiur this week, we will attempt to resolve this contradiction,
showing that as in every dispute, the argument between Moshe
Rabbeinu and Betzalel merely reflects their two different
The Midrash records a dispute between Rebbe Yehuda and Rebbe
What was created first, the light, or the earth?
"...a parable: a king who wants to build a palace, and the spot was
completely dark. What did he do? He lit candles and lamps in
order to set the foundation...." (Shmos Rabbah 50:1)
This Mashal teaches that light was G-d's first creation, facilitating
the subsequent development of the earth. Yet, the comparison is
seemingly inexact, for, while in the example, light is the means by
which the king achieves his goal and builds his palace, in reality,
the earth is not the purpose of creation, but rather, the light that
illuminates man's life is the ultimate goal, while earth serves as the
vehicle to uncover this infinite light.
Hence, the Midrash must be teaching not of the creation of earth,
but of its parallel, the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash, the physical
abode for G-d on this earth. According to Rebbe Yehuda, Hashem
first creates the light, and only afterwards the earth, and this is the
argument of Betzalel - the Torah is the purpose of the Mishkan,
and it is the spiritual essence of life wherein man discovers a
meaning to his existence. The Mishkan is the vessel by which this
truth is grasped, but its physical confines cannot match the pure
and pristine image of absolute light.
Moshe Rabbeinu feels otherwise:
"And they brought the Mishkan to Moshe..." - "For they were
unable to put it up, and because Moshe did none of the Melacha
for the Mishkan, Hashem left if for him to put up...." (Rashi, Shmos
Only Moshe can put up the Mishkan, for only he reflects with his
physical being the perfect truth of G-d's word. While even the
greatest indiividuals must fight off the body that hampers their
spritual growth, the physical Moshe Rabbeinu is indistinguishable
from his transcendent soul. For him, even the physical actions of
this world are an expression of G-d's will.
While the wise men of Israel can build the parts and instruments
that together unite to bring to earth the presence of G-d, Moshe is
the sum of all parts, and his perfect existence is itself the Mishkan
that is man's goal.
Moshe Rabbeinu identifies with Rebbe Nechemiah - the Mishkan
It is he who brings the Torah to earth, not as a post factum
response to an impossible situation, but in ultimate fulfillment of
the purpose of life.
Moshe reflects a higher world. Uncorrupted and undistorted, he
plants on earth G-d's permanent home. While Betzalel builds a
Mishkan in order to see the light, Moshe's very self radiates with
light, the shine and illumination with which he descends from the
the mountain of G-d.
Let us now explain the argument cited in the Gemara, the version
quoted by Rashi in our Parsha.
Is it possible for Betzalel to argue with Moshe Rabbeinu, the
teacher of all Torah?
Moshe Rabbeinu indeed is repository of G-d's word, and it is for
that reason that his message needs to be revised. While the Torah
is pure and and perfect, our world is not.
The Torah needs no improvement, with no process or change - but
man certainly does.
Moshe tells Betzalel to build the Aron Kodesh, for it is the Torah
that is the purpose of creation. Moshe has no connection to the
Olam HaMa'aseh - the world of deed and action. Knowing only of G-
d's ultimate plan, he sees all of life is crystallized between the two
staves of the Aron, for everything else in Olam HaZeh is merely a
prepatory stage for the realization of Heaven's kingdom.
This is "Sof Ma'aseh B'Machshavah Techila" - the end of each deed
is the initial plan.
Betzalel, on the other hand, knows that this world is a process, an
ongoing operation to reveal a hidden truth. From this perspective,
the world is a Mishkan, and it is G-d's will that Olam HaZeh be
Were the goals of creation completely self-evident, this world would
cease to exist, for every man would perceive only the enduring
word of G-d. The shadow of our physical existence conceals this
overpowering light, and ironically, it the darkside of creation that is
the vehicle for all progress and growth.
"Said Moshe: 'Perhaps you were in the shadow of G-d, that you
This concept defines Betzalel's life, and this is his name - BeTzel
Kel. Indeed, this is the identity of each and every Jew, the man
created in the image of G-d - B'Tzelem Elokim.
Like a shadow that circumscribes the form it alludes to, a negative
snapshot of G-d's domain, with all tone and color cast in reverse,
the righteous man sees the world as a battlefield to be conquered,
a test of endurance and loyalty for the prize that lies beyond.
Betzalel lives with the process - a means that justifies the end.
"...Moshe Rabbeinu! The way of the world is for a man to build a
house, and afterwards to bring his utensils inside..."
Betzalel understands the plan - but he sees something else as
well. We must contend with "Minhago Shel Olam - the way of the
world" - and to do so, he Mishkan comes first.
Moshe doesn't argue, for he does not disagree, but Moshe is our
teacher - Rabbeinu. First we will learn of G-d's plan, and only then
of His design.
While the Midrash cites an open argument, the Gemara's opposing
version adds one little twist:
"...Perhaps Hashem said this: build a Mishkan, Aron, and
Here, Betzalel is not arguing - he is trying to uncover the hidden
meaning that lies within. Not content with following Moshe's
precise command, he strives to take his lesson one step further,
and reveal the truth and purpose of the Torah and its teachings.
Moshe is the Torah SheB'Ksav - the word of G-d transmitted
directly to man. Betzalel extracts the Torah SheBa'al Peh, the
struggle and turmoil of a world that needs to be deciphered.
Rashi, citing the version of our Gemara, alludes to his idea:
"And Betzalel ben Uri...did all that G-d commanded of Moshe: It
does not write 'what Moshe commanded of him', but rather - 'all
that G-d commanded of Moshe' - even matters that his teacher did
not say, his intellect paralleled what was told to Moshe at Sinai..."
Betzalel understands that the Torah, and life, contains much more than
he is told. He sees the light, but he is not blinded. He utilizes the flash
of brilliance to discover the world of truth that lies beyond the horizon,
the hidden light our world conceals.
Hence, in the Midrash - Betzalel proclaims the reverse: Let the
Aron come first, for it represents the light of an inner dimension,
the truth for which every Jew must strive. It is the Ohr HaGanuz - the light
of creation stored away for the future, for those righteous few who
uncover the meaning of life.
Here, Moshe disagrees - for to Moshe Rabbeinu, nothing is hidden,
life has no veil. He covers his face when speaking to man, for
mortal man is blinded by the fiery light that extinguishes his very
being - but Moshe speaks to G-d face to face - as no man has ever
done before or since.
To him, the Mishkan and the light are one and the same - for the
physical world itself is fired with the briliant shine of that very first
day - a day when both G-d and His name were One.
Each of these four positions are right and true, for each represents a
different outlook on life. While some men anticipate a particular reward,
and others toil for a higher purpose, still others understand that the work
that we do is its own reward: Schar Mitzva - Mitzva, and our very effort is
itself an accomplishment.
The Temple contains the light, and the Temple gives forth light. The Aron
is first, and the Aron is last - "Ani Rishon, Ani Acharon, V'Ein MiBaladai
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 2000 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and ProjectGenesis, Inc.