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    Three marks of an artist – Ki Tissa

    Bezalel, by James Tissot, c. 1896

    This week and next the Torah reading depicts the craftsmen who created and decorated the Tabernacle. The team leaders were B’tzalel, son of Uri and grandson of Chur, and Oholiav, son of Achisamach (Ex. 31:1-11; 35:20-36:2).

    B’tzalel happens to have been my paternal grandfather’s name, which in turn I inherited. My Biblical namesake was the grandson of one of the two great supporters who upheld Moses’ arms during the battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17) and the great-grandson of Miriam, the sister who made Moses’ career possible (Ex. 2).

    Not that this distinguished lineage by itself assured B’tzalel of being appointed as chief artist and artisan. It was not who but what he knew. He and Oholiav were versatile workers in a range of media.

    According to the sages, they were also special in that they did not keep their secret arts to themselves but shared them, unlike some experts who prefer to hold on to their secret formulae. They were also distinguished in that they worked alongside their team members, not just standing by whilst others toiled.

    The Torah praises them for three skills: wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Ex. 31:3, 35:31). All three are qualities of the Divine Artist Himself: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the earth; by His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies dropped down the dew” (Prov. 3:19-20).

    B’tzalel’s name means “in the shadow of God”. The true artist has a spark of the Divine genius.

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