SALT - Wednesday, 22 Adar I 5779 - February 27, 2019


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            In announcing to Benei Yisrael God’s appointment of Betzalel as chief artisan responsible for the construction of the Mishkan, Moshe tells the people, “See that the Lord called the name of Betzalel…” (35:30).
            The Midrash Tanchuma (35:1) takes note of the curious emphasis in this verse on the “calling” of Betzalel’s “name,” and famously comments, “A person is called by three names – one which his father and mother call him; one which people call him; and one which he acquires for himself.  The best of all of them is the one he acquires for himself.”  The Midrash draws proof to this concept from Betzalel’s selection for a position of stature, which he earned through his “name” – meaning, because of the name he acquired for himself.
            These three names listed by the Midrash are commonly understood as referring to the different factors that contribute to a person’s course in life and modes of conduct.  The name given to a person by his parents alludes to the expectations which are a function of one’s background and upbringing.  People raised in certain kinds of families and communities are naturally expected to follow – and, quite often, do follow – a course that generally resembles those of their families and the communities in which they were raised.  Secondly, our course in life is determined to a large extent by the people around us, by the norms and standards of the group or groups with whom we identify and affiliate in the present.  But in addition, we acquire a “name” for ourselves – we make independent decisions of how to live and how to conduct ourselves, which are not necessarily dictated by our upbringing or our current surroundings.  These are a person’s three “names” – the three primary origins of his conduct and lifestyle: his upbringing, his current social affiliations, and his unique, independent decisions.
            The Midrash here teaches us that the most important factor is the final factor, “ma she-koneh hu le-atzmo” – the lifestyle decisions which a person makes entirely of his own volition.  These decisions are the most difficult ones to make, and require a great deal of courage and self-confidence, but they are also the most valuable, as it is through these decisions that we actualize our unique potential and make our unique contribution which nobody else can make.  In certain respects, we follow the path charted for us by our upbringing and our community.  But in others, we must acquire our own “name,” charting a course that is uniquely our own and which we independently choose.
            Significantly, Chazal chose to express this concept specifically in reference to Betzalel.  The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 48:3) teaches that Betzalel was chosen for the role of leading the construction of the Mishkan as a reward, of sorts, for his grandfather, Chur, who was killed for defending God’s honor in protesting the worship of the golden calf.  Betzalel’s selection for this role was thus a function of his family background, his being Chur’s grandson.  And, of course, his job was to lead the construction of the Sanctuary that would be the central site of worship for the entire nation.  Betzalel’s role, then, was very much linked to his family background and to the needs of the rest of the nation.  We might have expected, then, that his designation would be a function of his first two “names” – his status as Chur’s grandson, and his status as a well-respected member of the nation.  And yet, Chazal here teach us that he was chosen specifically due to his third “name” – the “name” he acquired for himself, his unique character and achievements, and not his family status or social standing.  Even in the capacities of Chur’s grandson and of representative of the people, Betzalel excelled specifically through his independence and uniqueness, through his self-actualization, by maximizing his singular potential.  We can bring the most pride to our forebears and make the greatest contribution to our community by finding and utilizing our unique capabilities, by charting our independent path that allows us to fully actualize our unique inner selves.