BEZALEL (Heb. בְּצַלְאֵל; "in the shadow [under the protection] of God," cf. Ps. 91:1; similar to the Akkadian ina-ṣilli-Bēl ("in the shadow of Bel"), ina-ṣilli-Nabû, "in the shadow of Nabu," and the like), son of Uri, son of Hur of the tribe of Judah; an expert in metalwork, stonecutting, and woodcarving. Moses appointed Bezalel head of the artisans who were employed both in the construction of the *Tabernacle and its equipment and in designing the priests' vestments (Ex. 31:1–11; 36–39). He was assisted by *Oholiab son of Ahisamach the Danite, who was an expert craftsman and embroiderer (31–6; 35: 34–35).
The Bible views Bezalel's construction of the Tabernacle and its equipment as the execution of a plan that the Lord detailed to Moses on the Mount (Ex. 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Num. 8:4). The idea that the Temple's construction should be detailed according to a divine plan is also found in Ezekiel's vision concerning Jerusalem and the Temple (40:2ff.). Similarly, the author of I Chronicles (28:19) asserts that the instructions for building the First Temple were given "in writing, by His hand." Parallel notions are to be found in the literature of other nations as, for example, in the inscriptions of Gudea, king of Lagash, concerning certain structures he erected in his land, and in Babylonian inscriptions dealing with the temple of Marduk. Drawing upon Exodus 31:3, which describes Bezalel as being endowed with "… a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge…. "Philo viewed Bezalel as a symbol of pure knowledge (II Gig. 23). He inferred from the name "Bezalel" that he knew God by seeing the divine shadow, that is, by seeing only God's works, and not God Himself, as had Moses (ILA 3: 102).
[Yehoshua M. Grintz]
In the Aggadah
When Moses was instructed to erect the Sanctuary and fashion its vessels, God showed him the name of Bezalel written in the Book of the Generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1), in which are inscribed all the deeds of future generations, as the divinely appointed architect. Nevertheless he was told to obtain the approval of the Children of Israel for the appointment, in order to teach that no leader should be appointed without the consent of the people (Ber. 55a; cf. Jos., Ant., 3:104). At the side of Bezalel, who belonged to the aristocratic tribe of Judah, worked Oholiab, of the lowliest tribe, that of Dan, to show that before God "the great and the lowly are equal" (Ex. R. 40:4). God filled Bezalel with wisdom (Ex. 31:3) "because he already possessed wisdom," since "God does not grant wisdom save to those who already have wisdom" (Tanḥ. Va-Yakhel, 2; Ber. 55a). Bezalel had five other names: Reaiah ("the seer"), Shobal ("the builder of the dovecote," a synonym for the Tabernacle), Jahat ("the dreadful"), Ahumai ("the unifier of Israel"), and Lahad ("one who beautified Israel," or "one who was near to the poor"; Ex. R. 40:4).
[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]
Ginzberg, Legends, index.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.