A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Each of us is an artist conjuring beauty, holiness

Ki Tissa opens with God telling Moses to take a census of the Israelite people. Each shall contribute a half shekel. The wealthy should not pay more nor the less fortunate less. We read about details involving the priests as well as the commandment to keep Shabbat. Moses is presented with the tablets “inscribed with the finger of God.”

Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, an anxious and fearful people gather around Aaron, who takes their jewelry and casts a golden calf. Moses rushes down the mountain, smashes the tablets, and havoc ensues.

Tucked in Chapter 31 are verses that add beauty to the chaos of idolatry. God tells Moses that God has singled out by name, Bezalel, from the tribe of Judah to be the artist. He was “endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability, in knowledge of every kind of craft.” His skill is a wisdom of the heart.

Rashi commented: “Wisdom is what a person hears from others and learns; and knowledge is Divine inspiration.”


It is an artist, from the tribe of Judah, not a priest, who will design the Tabernacle where God and Israel shall meet. Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” What does it mean to be in the shadow of God?

Have you ever asked yourself what your Divine gift is? Do we not each have a holy seed planted from the Eternal One that, given nourishment, helps us find our purpose and direction in life? It takes courage and faith to ask ourselves what the gift is, and then to actualize it.

A shadow is not an independent form. It is “a dark area or space produced by a body coming between rays of light and surfaces.” Between God and light, Bezalel exists. We must feel the presence of God and invite light into our lives to be the source of our own creativity. We must give the shadow form and this meaning.

Are we each not singled out for a purpose, a task? Is your task to create harmony where there is discord? Is your purpose to bring smiles to darkened places? Do you speak words of hope and encouragement? Is your purpose to listen without interruption? Are you a soul filled with sympathy or empathy, or a “yes, but” person? You are an artist with your words and actions. Your creativity is building a tabernacle where people gather and feel welcome and safe. Perhaps the tabernacle is within your own soul or in your family. It is a tabernacle of forgiveness and peace.

After Moses asks God for forgiveness for the people who have sinned by the golden calf, Moses requests that he may see God’s Presence. “Oh, let me behold Your Presence.” (Exodus 33:18) This reminds us of the experience at the Burning Bush, where Moses requested to know God’s name. Why is Moses making this request especially at this moment? Did he need reassurance from God? Was it a desire to be more connected after the people had so gravely sinned? Was the ask as much for God as it was for Moses? Or, as I read, “Did Moses see the shadow that falls in our lives when God is no longer there?” God did not say yes but found a way to answer Moses.

We read that Moses had to carve the second set of tablets. He radiated after HE did this and had a personal interaction with God. Moses did the work. Bezalel did the work. This is where real beauty is made: through action.

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you’ll soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you wisely invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”

With beauty comes holiness; each of us is an artist, reflecting the Divine within and around us. We may find God’s Presence in the work we do and the words we speak. Even from the cleft of a rock.

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh is senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.

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