THE LEADERSHIP OF THE ARTISAN
Ntziv, HaEmek Davar, Shemot 38:22, in commenting on the reference to Bezalel and Ahali’av at this juncture in the text, questions its necessity. We already know that these two individuals were the chief artisans entrusted with the supervision of the building of the Mishkan. There would also seem to be no specific connection between them and the accounting report that is being presented in regard to the use of the items and material given towards this construction. Ntziv, thus, maintains that the purpose of these verses is to inform us that all the material used in the building of the Mishkan was specifically distributed by Bezalel and Ahali’av and that this was done with great precision. Every person working on a project for the Mishkan only received that which they needed. There was, as such, no hint even of a possibility of misappropriation. And as for Bezalel and Ahali’av, in that they were specifically chosen by God, there was never a question, in any event, regarding their honesty.
These comments of the Ntziv actually helped me to understand the words of T.B. Berachot 55a, There the gemara states that there are three designations that God Himself proclaims: famine, plenty and a good leader. The case of Bezalel is then presented by the gemara as the example of the appointment of a good leader by God. My problem is that the specific Hebrew word that is used by the gemara for leader is parnes which to me has a much more administrative and managerial meaning than I would expect applicable to the position of chief artisan. The words of the Ntziv, however, add a significant administrative and managerial element to this position of chief artisan in connection to the Mishkan. It also explains how Bezalel’s activities were subject to the scrutiny of the entire community, not just in terms of his artistic accomplishment but also in terms of his leadership. He was not solely the one who directed other artisans in their tasks involved in building the Mishkan. In distributing the community’s property, Bezalel had a leadership role that affected the entire community and, furthermore, made him responsible to the entire community. It is no wonder that Bezalel’s appointment can be used as a model for the proper appointment of communal leaders.
This indeed is the basis of the next statement in the gemara. From the case of Bezalel, we are to learn that a leader of a community can only be appointed after first consulting with the community. It seems that before appointing Bezalel, God first asked Moshe Rabbeinu if he found Bezalel suitable for this position. Moshe responded that if Bezalel was suitable to God, he was obviously suitable to him. Then God instructed Moshe that he must ask the Jewish People as well whether Bezalel was suitable to them. The nation, in turn, responded that if Bezalel was suitable to God and to Moshe, he surely must be suitable to them.1 It was thus only after the people also accepted Bezalel that he was appointed leader over the building of the Mishkan. This was not simply an appointment over a small group of artisans entrusted with the Mishkan project. It was a role of community significance, responsibility and leadership for which the entire community had to voice its acceptance.
It may be, though, that my need for the Ntziv’s further clarification of the roles of Bezalel and Ahali’av actually only reflect my misunderstanding of the significant communal nature of the role of an artisan, let alone the chief artisans of a most important communal project such as the Mishkan. In truth, it was the use of the word parnes that bothered me. Applying the language of the managerial world, I see this term as reflecting much more a position in the “line” of management; it was this function that I saw as not being applicable to the artisan. Ntziv’s words simply gave Bezalel and Ahali’av’s positions a “line” component. It may be, however, that the role of the artisan does have an inherent “line” component in the functioning of a community. To manage is to direct others towards a certain goal. This may be done in a direct manner but it may also be accomplished in an indirect manner. The subtle messages that abound within a society can often have the strongest influence on the future direction of a society. This is clearly often the realm of art and the artist. In how Bezalel and Ahali’av built the Mishkan we would find a substantial influence on the direction of the nation.
When we think of the artist, we often think of the physical talent of creating the physical embodiment of the particular art whether in painting, writing or constructing. Our focus is specifically on the physical talent. As such, when we think of Bezalel and Ahali’av, our first thoughts are on what must have been their physical abilities. Given that the plans for the Mishkan were already presented to Moshe Rabbeinu by God, we would further expect their creative thoughts to be limited. These were individuals whose ability with their hands was outstanding; there is little thought on the processes of their minds.
This, however, is not the way Bezalel is portrayed, both in the Chumash text2 and throughout the literature of Torah She’b’al Peh.3 His artistic wisdom is the focus. It was his creativity that was his mark. It is the creative nature of an artist that can transform what one may perceive to be a straightforward and restrained directive into a new vision. Rashi, Shemot 38:22 informs us that Bezalel did not take anything at face value. Rather he applied his mind to determine God’s true directive – and this is exactly what God desired from him. This is the most significant aspect of leadership. This is the leadership that truly determines the future. Working within the parameters that are given, artisans such as Bezalel and Ahali’av find the uniqueness that sets greatness apart and lays the foundation for a better future. This is true leadership and so it must be approached carefully. It, as such, needs the assent of the community, yet the community must, in turn, recognize its need for a leadership that is transforming.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
question can still be asked regarding the exact purpose and benefit of this
questioning. The community, actually, simply relied upon the evaluation of God
and Moshe. In fact, Moshe also simply relied upon the evaluation of God. Why,
we may also ask, if the purpose of this story is tell us the importance of
consulting with a community before appointing a leader over them, was it
necessary for God to also ask Moshe regarding Bezalel’s suitability? It would
seem most interesting, as well, that the people said that if God and Moshe both
found Bezalel suitable, they must also; yet did Moshe not, similarly, only find
Bezalel suitable based on his reliance on God’s evaluation? There must be a
value in recognizing, even if we only arrive at our opinion based solely upon our
acceptance of the view of another, that we are still making a decision to
accept and respect this other’s view. See, also,
2 See, for example, Shemot 31:3.3 See, for example, the further statements on T.B. Berachot 55a. © Nishma 2010
Return to top
© 2010 NISHMA