Tuesday, March 21, 2006

parshat Vayyaqhēl: Behold, Hashem is Called/Credited

Midrash Rabba (48:5) has an interesting spin on the singling out of Betzalel. While it is homiletic, it fits into an existing theme in the peshat of the pesukim, and also relies on a very clever play on a linguistic ambiguity in the text, one which most casual and many serious readers of midrash will miss.

It begins with a citation from Yeshaya 54:16. The context on a peshat level is beautiful in its own right:
טו הֵן גּוֹר יָגוּר אֶפֶס, מֵאוֹתִי--מִי-גָר אִתָּךְ, עָלַיִךְ יִפּוֹל. 15 Behold, they may gather together, but not by Me; whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall because of thee.
טז הן (הִנֵּה) אָנֹכִי, בָּרָאתִי חָרָשׁ--נֹפֵחַ בְּאֵשׁ פֶּחָם, וּמוֹצִיא כְלִי לְמַעֲשֵׂהוּ; וְאָנֹכִי בָּרָאתִי מַשְׁחִית, לְחַבֵּל. 16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals, and bringeth forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
יז כָּל-כְּלִי יוּצַר עָלַיִךְ, לֹא יִצְלָח, וְכָל-לָשׁוֹן תָּקוּם-אִתָּךְ לַמִּשְׁפָּט, תַּרְשִׁיעִי; זֹאת נַחֲלַת עַבְדֵי ה' וְצִדְקָתָם, מֵאִתִּי--נְאֻם-ה.
17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their due reward from Me, saith the LORD. {S}
Hashem has created the smith who brings forth the weapons, and creates the wasters. Hashem is in full control of the situation, and so they will not not succeed since Hashem does not will it.

The Midrash takes pasuk 16 and reads it as referring to Betzalel: הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי, בָּרָאתִי חָרָשׁ - "Behold, I have created the smith..."

After all, the complex work of the Mishkan requires great craftsmanship. Perhaps this can all be attributed to Betzalel's greatness. However, Hashem created the smith, and gave him this wisdom and skill.

The midrash interprets the continuation of the pasuk as referring to how the Mishkan atoned for the sin of the golden calf. נֹפֵחַ בְּאֵשׁ פֶּחָם because the sin golden calf involved fire (as Aharon said, "and I cast it into the fire and this calf came out.") Perhaps this same phrase refers to Betzalel's fixing of the sin (see commentaries). Presumably, וּמוֹצִיא כְלִי לְמַעֲשֵׂהוּ is understood as a reference to the Mishkan and its vessels. The midrash draws a parallel to the student of a doctor who places a plaster on a wound, and the wound heals. People praise the student of the doctor, but the doctor says to them, "Praise me who taught him." Similarly, people would praise Betzalel, saying that he created the Mishkan with his own wisdom and understanding -- chochma and tevuna, and Hashem says, "It is I who created him and taught him, as it states הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי, בָּרָאתִי חָרָשׁ. Therefore, Moshe said (in Vayekhel, in Shemot 35:30) רְאוּ קָרָא ה בְּשֵׁם.

How is this pasuk in Vayakhel a prooftext? Perhaps it is not. Perhaps this is a way of concluding the homily, now that we have drawn the idea of Betzalel, mentioned in this pasuk. However, then לפיכך, "therefore," which introduced the pasuk, is a bit awkward. Perhaps what was meant was the continuation of the pasuk - sometimes a derasha is made from the continuation, and only the beginning is cited. Indeed, the next pasuk, as we shall see, continues the current pasuk and bears a message with a similar theme on the near-peshat level. However, is not necessarily what is happening here.

Rather, it is possible that the midrash engages in a close reading of the pasuk, and makes use of a nice ambiguity in the phrase רְאוּ קָרָא ה בְּשֵׁם.

If you recall, a while back I discussed an ambiguity in parshat Vayeitzei, in the naming of Yaakov's sons. Three phrases are used - וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ; עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ; and עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ. The first two certainly seem to mean "she called his name." The last, as various scholars note, means either "he called his name" or "therefore was his name called," which is the passive. I should how even without emending the text, the text as vocalized can also mean "she called," and I give other examples of this phenomenon. Locally, there are two עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ and only one עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, and so Speiser emends the one (קרא) to match the two (קראה), but I argue there that if one is emending, one should emend to have the two match the one, since globally the phrase together with עַל-כֵּן always occurs with קרא, which is used with an anticipates the passive. See my post of Vayeitzei for more details.

Anyhow, what comes out of this discussion is the fact that קָרָא can mean either "he called" or "was called." In this instance, in Vayakhel, the pasuk states רְאוּ קָרָא ה בְּשֵׁם, I put forth that the Midrash is noting the ambiguity and reading it, "Behold, Hashem is called/cited/credited." See the usage of Amar X Beshem Y. Thus, when Betzalel is credited, Hashem is credited as well.

We thus have two common elements of midrashic construction - (1) a pasuk taken from a distance location and applied to local subject matter, and (2) a close reading of a local pasuk, taking advantage of a syntactic ambiguity.

However, there is most often a third element - that of the midrash expanding upon a theme evident either in the peshat level of the text, or the near-peshat level of the text. In fact, we have this third element. Indeed, the syntactic ambiguity might not be what the midrash is getting at in this instance, given the explicit nature of the theme here. (I personally think that each supplements the other, as happens often enough in midrash.) The pesukim in Vayakhel:

ל וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, רְאוּ קָרָא ה בְּשֵׁם, בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן-אוּרִי בֶן-חוּר, לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה. 30 And Moses said unto the children of Israel: 'See, the LORD hath called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.
לא וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹקִים, בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה. 31 And He hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.
Thus, pasuk 30 designates Betzalel as the craftsman, and pasuk 31 makes clear that it is Hashem who has filled him with the spirit of God, and has given him this chochma and tevuna, and thus Hashem should be credited.

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