What Happened to Betzalel

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Vayakhel

The Talmud tells a story. Rabbi Tarphon was ill and his very important friends, Rabbi Akiva , Rabban Gamliel and others came to visit. They met his mother at the door crying. She pleaded with the Tzaddikim to “please pray for her son Tarphon – he is such a good son.” She proceeded to tell them how once she was walking with her son Tarphon and her sandal slipped away. Tarphon immediately kneeled before his mother putting his hand under each of her feet as she walked so that she would not feel the pain of the stones and the twigs. Rabbi Akiva upon hearing this story declared, “Tarphon has not even reached even half of the obligation a son has to a mother!”

Such harsh words. What can be greater? Who can do more for their mother than walk backward before her on your knees with your hands under her bare feet?!

I heard an explanation for this in the name of Rav J.B. Soloveitchik z”l. If you would have asked Rabbi Tarphon why he was created and what his purpose in life was, he would certainly have told you that he saw himself as one of the Baalei Mesorah; which he was. It was his job to soak in Torah from the previous generation, analyze it and transmit it to the next generation. Certainly a worthy purpose. But when the Gedolim heard of the exemplary way in which Tarphon treated his mother, they realized that his purpose was perhaps an even deeper one. He would be the paragon of Kibud Eim. His job was to set an example and be a role model to the next generation of how to treat a mother. Rabbi Tarphon had a special contribution to make. Rabbi Akiva realized that perhaps he had so excelled in his mission that G-d was ready to take him from this world. Rabbi Akiva’s statement “Tarphon has not even reached half of the obligation a son has to a mother!” was really a brocho, namely that R’Tarphon had not yet fulfilled his purpose, and so will go on living!

Whatever happened to Betzalel?

The People of Israel had just walked away from Har Sinai. Our hands were still callused from two hundred and ten years of working with bricks and mortar. G-d put forth an historical challenge, “Build Me a Mishkan.” It must shine with its beauty and stand out in its glory. Who is going to make it shine? Who will bring forth its glory?

A thirteen-year-old boy came forward. Everyone knew the family. His grandfather was Chur, the son of Caleb, who was killed trying to stop the Golden calf from being built. His grandmother Miriam, Chur’s wife, was Moshe’s sister, a prophetess and the redeemer of the Jewish people. But who was this vunderkind Betzalel?

Betzalel was a gaon. He was not only an expert craftsman and artist, he was a Kabbalist who understood how to design the names representing the attributes of G-d into his work. He inherited a sense of zeal and mission from both his grandparents. At thirteen years old he stepped forward and was ordained from above as being in “the Shadow of G-d”. He designed and built the holiest and most beautiful structure in history – and then he disappeared. Throughout the rest of Tanach he is never mentioned again!

Betzalel knew his place. “There is no person that does not have a moment.” (Pirkei Avos). When you go to the movies you see hundreds of people. Some of them are stars, some of them are extras. In G-d’s world there are no extras! There is a reason that everyone of us was born. We each have our fifteen minutes of fame.

Everybody knows that the reason Ester became Achashveirosh’s queen was to save the Jewish people from Haman. It is clear to all of us but it wasn’t clear to Ester. She was afraid to approach the king. She felt it wasn’t her place! Mordechei told her, “Maybe that is why you’re the queen.” Maybe! Ester didn’t realize it and Mordechei had a question. With the benefit of hindsight we all have it clear.

None of us know exactly why we were created. As we are called upon to do things, we can’t be sure if we are realizing our purpose in life. Ester didn’t know. Perhaps our minds are clouded by our idea of what we should become and G-d's idea just gets in the way.

The lesson from Betzalel and after him Ester is that the next time you are called upon to do a task, however uncomfortable, for our people, our families or our friends  - rise to the call. Do it like a hero. Mi yodea –who knows? Maybe it is for this very moment that we were born into this world.

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