Betzalel: Man’s Lofty Intellect
God endowed Betzalel (Exodus 35:39) with the wisdom and artisanship required to build the Mishkan. The wisdom which he possessed embodied in a human being was of course subject to human limitations. However, our Sages expanded on the provenance of Betzalel’s cognitive abilities.
Of Betzalel’s prodigious intellect the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael teaches us: “Rabbi Tanhuma in the name of R. Huna said: it does not say ‘and Betzalel did like all that Moses commanded him’ but ‘like all that God Commanded Moses’ – his thinking coincided even with those things that he did not hear from his master (Moses)” (Peah 1:2)
The Torah gives a subtle hint that Bezalel’s own human cognition was independent of God’s revelation to Moses: “and Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Yehudah did all that God commanded Moses” (38:22).
The Torah does not state that Betzalel built the Mishkan according to the specifications which Moses gave him, but according to those that God gave Moses. In other words, Betzalel divined the specifications on his own and these specifications coincided with those that God gave Moses.
While Man’s intellect may have its limitations, Betzalel’s example teaches us that the same intellect has the capacity to divine God’s will, to understand God’s world and to reason out God’s ideals without a direct revelation from God Himself.
However, in seeking out truths one must always acknowledge one’s limitations. The Talmud of Eretz Yisrael teaches us: “Rabbi Hiyya the son of Ba came to Rabbi Le’ezer. He said to him: Persuade Rabbi Judah the Prince to write me a letter of recommendation so that I can go out to another country for sustenance. He persuaded him and wrote: Behold we sent you a great man. What is his greatness? That he is not embarrassed to say ‘I have not heard’ [the law]” (Hag. 1:8).
A man’s true greatness lies not his ability to know but in his ability to say “I do not know”. It is not mental aptitude alone that enables him to reach truths, but a predisposition to intellectual honesty and an awareness of one’s human limitations.