The following article by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory, originally appeared in Freemason magazine, July 2009, vol. 41, no. 3 (published by the United Grand Lodge of NSW and the ACT).My maternal grandmother was the only grandparent I ever knew. My other grandparents died before I was born. The one who is relevant to this story is my father’s father, who bore the distinguished Biblical name of Betzalel (or “Bezalel”; literally, “in the shadow of God”). In his memory I have the same Hebrew name, which I use on Jewish religious occasions.
Why am I giving my readers these personal details which appear to have nothing to do with the masonic life? Simply because in all the years in which I have been a Freemason I have wondered why our three Craft degrees, which name so many Biblical personages, do not give Betzalel a mention – not my grandfather, but the Betzalel who was the expert architect and artisan responsible for the construction of Israel’s first sanctuary.
Countless Biblical figures have a place in the Craft. My late friend and mentor, RW Bro Harry Kellerman, once gave me a list of them for the purposes of a Who’s Who in Free masonry which I will hopefully one day complete. There is no Betzalel in the list. Other Crafts men are there. There is Solomon the king of Israel, Hiram the king of Tyre, Hiram Abiff (who may or may not be identical with the first Hiram). But no Betzalel!
We do of course have Tubal Cain, the son of Lamech (correctly, Lemech – the “ch” is as in the Scottish “loch”) and Zillah, and the brother of Na’amah (Gen. 4:22).
Tubal Cain who “forged implements of copper and iron” has a double-barrelled name with two components – “Tuval”, a smith, from a root that means to bring or produce, and “Kayin”, which the Jewish sages derived from a root that means to complete or make perfect; they believed that he overcame the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother.
In forging metal implements he gave mankind a choice between being a Cain who destroys and a Tubal Cain who constructs.
The contributions which Tubal Cain’s family made to the emergence of civilisation are exceptional. Yaval was the inventor of tents and animal husbandry, Yuval the inventor of musical instruments and Tubal Cain the inventor of metal implements.
Freemasonry rightly accords to the family credit for the basis of human culture. They were builders who had ideas and practical capacities. As progenitors of so much that later generations take for granted they deserve to be known and remembered.
But so does Betzalel. In making the tradition of temple-building possible he should have been honoured much more by the masonic Craft. If Hiram Abiff could have a degree built around his life and legend, surely Betzalel deserved no less.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.