Torah from Around the World #313

Recent Issues

By: Rabbi Michel Schlesinger is the Rabbi of

Congregacao Israelita Paulista

(CIP) in Sao Paulo and the representative of the

Brazilian Jewish Confederation

(CONIB) for interreligious dialogue.

The sin of the golden calf is committed in this week’s


, Ki Tisa. Ironically, in the same portion of the Torah where this artistic expression of the people is condemned, the art of Bezalel is revered.

What differentiates the golden


from the Tabernacle? Why did the artistic creation of Bezalel generated holiness while the people’s creativity produced profanation?

In order to answer this intriguing question, we shall refur to the words used by the Torah to describe Bezalel:

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with intelligence, with knowledge (bechochma, uvitvuna, uvedaat)


The classical critic of the 11th century, Rashi, helps us to establish a difference among these three attributes of the Sanctuary architect: “

wisdom, intelligence and knowledge


To the French exegete,


is our possibility to learn from others. An experience that becomes concrete only in community. A knowledge transfer goes through generations and requests human relations.

After this, the critic explains, comes


, which would be the possibility to analyze in a solitary, individual and singular way, what has been studied. The intelligence becomes concrete in our possibility to verify the acquired information and confront it with our set of experiences, learning and beliefs. Only then should we reach our own conclusions.



, according to Rashi, would be the possibility of connecting to God. It is interesting to note that spirituality, according to this comment, is the result of men’s learning with each other and the individual analysis one should make out of this apprenticeship.

In the lack of any of these elements, be it the interaction among people, be it our capacity of analysis, the relationship with God becomes compromised.

What could then have happened in the episode of the golden


? According to Rabbi Abigail Treu from the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York, the people got mixed up. The Israelites misunderstood the message of God. They should not have made a sacred object, but turned the world into a sacred place. By means of their attitudes, they should have transformed their food, speech, clothing, work, their very own time and relationships, into sacred deeds. The challenge was not in doing sacred things, but they already used to do turning into sacred the things.

Maybe, shall I suggest, the people sinned because they skipped the phase which is intelligence. They learned that they should be sacred, but they did not ask themselves how to transform the life they already possessed into something holy. They tried instead, to create something completely new. As if the universe that already existed were not sacred. As if it was not possible to see the trivial with holy eyes. Because of this, wisdom, which is the connection with God, was broken.

The difference between Bezalel and the golden


is in the comprehension that we extract holiness from the world in the way we relate to it. We do not produce sanctity from nothing, but we discover the sanctity that already exists in the many aspects of life.

May we become people of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. May our connection with the divine be born out of the proper learning with the community and through an in-depth and honest individual analysis. May we transform the lives we already have into sacred opportunities.

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