Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur is renowned as the master craftsman responsible for the construction of the Tabernacle, its accouterments and the garments of the priests. In rabbinic lore, his fame extends ways beyond technical genius and incredible talents. The Sages noted that the Torah ascribes to him something greater: “And Moshe said to the Israelites, ‘See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur from the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with a spirit of God in wisdom (ruah hakhmah), in understanding and in knowledge…’” (Exodus 35:30-31)
In one midrash, the sages attempted to discern the nature of Bezalel’s special wisdom:
[Bezalel’s wisdom is to be understood by relating it to the following verse:] ‘I will heal their rebellion; I will love them freely for My wrath has turned back from them.’ (Hosea 14:5) When they made the calf, the Holy One Blessed be He said to Moshe: ‘And now leave Me be, that My wrath may flare up against them’ (Exodus 32:10) Moshe said to Him: ‘Test them, when they make the Tabernacle. What was written regarding the sin of the calf? ‘Take off the golden earrings’ (Exodus 32:2) And what did they bring? Rings! And when they made the Tabernacle, they made it from free-will offerings. And what is written about that? ‘All whose heart urged them, they brought broaches and earrings and rings and pendants’ (Exodus 35:22) With earrings they sinned and with earrings, they repaired their relationship with God. And God’s message was expressed by the prophet Hosea: ‘And instead of its being said of them, ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said of them, ‘Children of the Living God’. (adapted from Exodus Rabbah 58:6)
This midrash tries to contend with one of the greatest problems which face humans – how to deal with wrongful behavior and its effect on the wrongdoer. Was it possible for those who participated in the sin of the “golden calf” to restore themselves to a state where they could again reconcile themselves with God? Can we right our wrongs? The “ruah hakhma” or wisdom, suggested in this midrash, is that a lesson can be learned from the fact that the very same gifts offered in the sin of the calf could also be used to build the Tabernacle and to worship God instead. Negative acts can be turned into positive acts. In building the Mishkan or Tabernacle, Bezalel created a paradigm for all areas of life. We have been given the opportunity to cleanse ourselves, to fix the way we live and to live another day – to be renewed and redeemed through this means of repair.