Batya Hefter

Seeing with the Heart

“Moshe said to the children of Israel, ‘See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehuda, and he has filled him with the spirit of God – in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and with talent for all types of craftsmanship” (Shemot 35:30).

Moshe uses an emphatic verb “See, the Lord…” Why is this necessary? What are the people not seeing?

A midrashic reading fills the lacuna.

The children of Israel said to Moshe, ‘ Who will make all of this?’ Moshe said to them, ‘Bezalel.’ They began to gossip against Moshe and said, ‘God did not tell Moshe that the Mishkan is to be built by Bezalel; rather, Moshe appointed him of his own initiative because he is his relative(!) [Hur is the son of Miriam]. Moshe is the king, Aaron his brother is the High Priest, his sons are deputy priests, and Elazar is the head of the Levites…all of this honor Moshe seeks! Moshe responded to them saying that he did nothing of his own volition but rather it was God’s choice. And Moshe was showing them saying, “See…”(Midrash Tanhuma)

When Moshe appoints Bezalel to orchestrate the construction of the tabernacle, the children of Israel react with envy and suspicion. Consequently, Moshe desires to clear himself of suspicion and to prove that it was God and not he who chose Bezalel.

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef, the Isbitzer Rebbe, says that Moshe’s response to the people is to beseech them how to “see” and develop and refine a new cognitive faculty.

Moshe says ‘See” that is to say, understand, that God has appointed Bezalel. If you look with a kind eye, ayin tovah, you will be able to see clearly that it is God’s will that Bezalel be the primary artist in the craftsmanship of the Mishkan. If only you compare the tapestry made by Bezalel to the tapestry of others, you will see that the beauty and grace of Bezalel’s is greater. This is despite the fact that the objective precision of the craftsmanship of both are identical. … The language of ‘see – understand’ means that in order to actually understand, one must employ a non-rational intuitive faculty. (Mei HaShiloach Parshat Vaykhel).

Moshe desires to give the people the ability to see beyond appearances. This is not an intellectual faculty since both tapestries are objectively identical.

Moshe’s call to recognize the unique quality of Betzalel’s craftsmanship and chosenness by God is indirectly a beseeching of the children of Israel to recognize Moshe’s own special qualities and chosenness.

Moshe Rabbenu himself is a leader whose greatness does not shine out, he is not appreciated at face value. He lacks charisma, he has a speech impediment, and his people are suspicious of him (see the episode of Korah). To see Moshe’s greatness requires that the children of Israel develop and refine an inner capacity to perceive with the heart or ‘bina she’ba’lev.’ By guiding the people to perceive with their heart, Moshe hopes that they will also be able to appreciate his depth and recognize that all of his actions are sincere and not motivated by self-interest.

Moreover, Moshe’s desire to help the children of Israel develop an intuitive faculty that is analogous to the aesthetic faculty, is beyond personal vindication.  Moshe’s ultimate goal is to enable the people to see beyond the world of appearances – the details of creation – and to experience God Himself.  In a sense, God Himself “suffers,” so to speak, from the same lack of recognition as Moshe. One can see all the intricate details of the universe and isolate specific details for analysis and explanation – energy, gravity, physics – and yet fail to see God, as the ground of that universe.   

Moshe, the spiritual leader of the children of Israel, wants them to have a religious faith, which emerges from a ‘seeing’ which is lodged in the heart.

About the Author
Batya Hefter is founder and Rosh Beit Midrash of The Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion and the founder of the Women’s Beit Midrash of Cleveland. She holds a Masters in Rabbinic Thought from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After being the Executive Director of the Women’s Beit Midrash for 21 years, she is now the director of the newly emerging Transformative Torah Project whose focus is to transmit the teachings and spiritual path of the hasidic masters for the seeking modern Jew.