In God's Shadow
UMJC, Featured Blog by Rabbi Isaac Roussel, March 18, 2020
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1–40:38
by Rabbi Isaac S. Roussel, Congregation Zera Avraham, Ann Arbor, MI
Many years ago, when I was a much younger man, I was earnestly seeking God’s will for my vocation. I was in the middle of a Master’s program in Chemistry, but wasn’t sure that it was what He wanted me to do. After much prayer I got an undeniably clear answer to finish my degree. I obediently finished and two years later, I again began seeking for what was next. I agonized in prayer for weeks. I can remember praying about this as I was driving to my mother’s house one Sunday and God said to me, again undeniably, “Do what you want!”
I was stunned. Did I hear wrong? Why would he say that? I wanted some direction! To know that I was on the right path! I began to wonder if I had just heard wrongly. But then a week later I was praying with a gifted friend of mine, whom I had said nothing about this to, and she said to me, “I see God laying roses in your path, but which one to pick up is up to you.” I was absolutely farblunget! I couldn’t believe my ears!
To top matters off, a week later I was on a personal prayer retreat and happened upon the text of Elisha’s encounter with the woman who had built him a room to stay in when he passed through (2 Kings 4:8–17). He asks her, “What can I do for you in return?” She replies “I have no son.” And Elisha says to her, “You will have one this time next year!” This hit me solidly between the eyes. While I had read this story several times, it never occurred to me that Elisha didn’t ask Hashem’s opinion. He just granted her this boon. How could he do that? What if God didn’t want this woman to have a son?
That weekend I read and prayed further. I also found this amazing passage. In 1 Samuel 10:6–7 (CJB), Samuel says to the newly anointed King Saul, “Then the Spirit of Adonai will fall on you; you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man! When these signs come over you, just do whatever you feel like doing, because God is with you.”
This whole series of events was assaulting my view of what it meant to be in Hashem’s will. Could it be that he didn’t really care what I did with my career? To be honest, I even found myself feeling a little hurt that I wasn’t special enough for him to give me a particular life mission or task.
What I eventually concluded was that God is interested in us spending enough time with him that we imbibe his values, and that the details are less important. “Be holy as I am holy” is his dictate (Lev 19:2). Some people certainly do have particular missions, but I think that this is more the exception than the rule.
So what does all of this have to do with our parasha this week? In our text we read about God selecting Betzalel to oversee the making of the Mishkan. Two midrashim point to Betzalel’s unique qualification for this work. In one (Genesis Rabbah 15:10), Moses is having a hard time understanding how the menorah is to be constructed. He asks God three times because he kept getting confused. Finally, God says to him, “Go ask Betzalel, he can do it.”
Moses is astonished that Betzalel easily fabricates the menorah. He exclaims, “God showed it to me several times, yet I couldn’t understand how to make it; yet you, who never saw it, were able to make it on your own? Betzalel, you must have been standing in the shadow of God, betzel El, when he showed me how to make the menorah.”
The second midrash comes from the Talmud (Berachot 55a). God tells Moses to have Betzalel make the Mishkan, the ark, and the furniture. Moses, however, reverses the order when he tells him—furniture, ark, and Mishkan. But Betzalel says “Moses, one usually builds the house and then its furnishings.” To which Moses exclaims, “That is exactly how Hashem instructed me! Were you standing betzel El, in God’s shadow, when he instructed me?”
The implication here is that Betzalel, whose name literally means “in God’s shadow,” was attuned enough to God that he knew what God really wanted.