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Parshas Vayakhel - Pikudei

The House that Betzalel Built

Betzalel.... did all that Hashem commanded Moshe.” (Shemos 38:22)

The passuk does not say that Betzalel did all that Moshe commanded him, rather he did all that Hashem commanded Moshe. Rashi comments that this implies that Betzalel understood on his own, even that which Moshe did not tell him. Moshe commanded Betzalel to make the keilim (furnishings) first and then afterwards to build the Mishkan. Betzalel asked: “Normally when building a home, one first constructs the house and then moves in the furniture. If I were to make the keilim first, where would I put them until the Mishkan was erected?” To this, Moshe responded: “Betzeil E-L, Hayisa” - You must have been in Hashem’s shadow for this is what He commanded me.”

This discussion between Moshe Rabbeinu and Betzalel raises some difficulties. Assuming that Moshe was telling Betzalel what he had heard directly from Hashem, why was Betzalel questioning a Divine command? Surely he understood that the performance of mitzvos is not necessarily dictated by conventional wisdom. Or perhaps he believed that Moshe had mistakenly changed the order of the tasks. But if that was the case, his question to Moshe would be a perfectly ordinary one that any person might ask. Yet Moshe’s response indicates that Betzalel’s question demonstrated greatness. Rav Moshe Feinstein z”tl points out a more obvious problem here. This whole debate seems merely academic because ultimately all the construction work was completed in Kislev, but the Mishkan was not actually erected until Nissan. That being the case, what difference would it make whether the keilim or Mishkan was constructed first? Clearly there is more underlying this exchange than meets the eye.

Rav Avraham Barzel shilta (in his Sefer Iyunei Rashi) explains that there are two types of structures that one can build, either a home to dwell in, or a factory to manufacture goods. Each of these buildings contains furnishings, but there is a distinct difference between them. In a home, the furniture adds comfort and style, but it is the structure itself which provides shelter from the elements, security and a place to relax. The proverbial ‘roof over one’s head’ is the essence. In a factory however, the machinery and tools play the most important role. The building exists only for their sake. It is there to protect the expensive machines and to store the manufactured product.

Can the keilim of the Mishkan be likened more to home furnishings or factory machinery? Each of the keilim in the Mishkan represented a different facet of avodas Hashem (Divine service). The Aron represented Torah, through the Mizbeach we received atonement, the Shulchan represented royalty and wealth and reminded us to use our possessions for chessed, the Menora symbolized chachma, and was the source used to grasp the depths of Torah. Therefore the keilim were tools – albeit spiritual tools. According to this line of reasoning, it was appropriate to make the keilim first even though they would be unprotected until the Mishkan was erected..

However, if the Bnei Yisrael would prove worthy, then the Mishkan could also be a home, the resting place of the Shechina, demonstrating our close relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. In this case, it would be appropriate to construct the Mishkan first. The Klei HaMishkan are then complementary adding Kedusha (holiness), but the building itself is the focus.

Moshe said “Make the keilim first - for they are the purpose of the Mishkan.” However Betzalel also wanted to build a home to show our love for Hashem. To his way of thinking, the Mishkan came first - for there is no need for furniture until one has a house. Moshe was actually commanded both ways. If we demonstrated our desire to be close to Hashem, then we could build the Mishkan first. If not, we would construct the keilim first. Betzalel’s line of questioning showed the depth of his love for Hashem To this, Moshe responded “Betzeil E-L Hayisa”, you have reached a level of closeness as if Hashem is your shadow.

May we also merit this relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

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