Living in the Shadow of God

March 4, 2024

In the Torah portion of Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20), we are reintroduced to Bezalel, son of Uri and grandson of Hur from the tribe of Judah, who was tasked with the construction of the Tabernacle. When we first meet Bezalel we are told he is an extremely talented artist:

In fact, he was so talented that in 1906, Israel’s leading academic institution for art, design, and architecture was established and named in his honor: the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

However, Bezalel’s craftsmanship served a purpose beyond mere aesthetics.

Gifted with “a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft,” Bezalel’s artistic ability was unparalleled. He was charged with making designs in gold, silver, and copper, cutting stones, carving wood, and engaging in all forms of artistic craftsmanship that were used to construct the Tabernacle, the sanctuary that housed the presence of God in the desert, and all of its parts.

But the construction of the Tabernacle, from its framework and hangings to its furniture, the cherubim, and the vestments of the priests which were designed for “dignity and adornment” (Exodus 28:2), seems out of place. Judaism places its emphasis on inner beauty rather than outer beauty, and cautions against physical manifestations of things, primarily because they could lead to idol worship. The second of the Ten Commandments, for example, forbids making graven images.

How did Bezalel’s artistry and the construction of the Tabernacle transcend these concerns?

According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the answer can be found in Bezalel’s name, which means “in the shadow of God.” The name Bezalel highlights the idea that his creations were not merely artistic expressions, but reflections of divine beauty. Unlike secular art, which can exist for its own sake, Bezalel’s work for the Tabernacle was a spiritual endeavor, pointing viewers towards something far greater than themselves—the presence and glory of God.

The Tabernacle, enriched by Bezalel’s artistic designs, was a space where the divine glory was manifest. The fact that it was designed “in the Shadow of God,” teaches us that in Judaism, art is not simply decorative but carries a deeper, spiritual aim: to awaken our awareness that the universe is a divine masterpiece.

The Hebrew word for art, omanut, shares a root with the Hebrew word for faith, emunah. This word beautifully illustrates how in Judaism, art is a pathway to appreciating the ultimate creativity of the Creator. Rabbi Sacks concludes that this perspective shifts our understanding from the Greek admiration for the holiness of beauty to the Jewish perspective of the beauty of holiness.

Through this lens, omanut (art) deepens our emunah (faith), inviting us to find God in the divine details of the beautifully crafted world around us. With this perspective, we can truly live our lives “in the shadow of God.”

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Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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