Large and Small – Parshas Ki Sisa

One of the interesting comments that Rabbeinu Bechaya shares (based on Midrash Tanchuma 13) regarding the construction of the Mishkan, Tabernacle, is that concerning the two people who were in charge of the entire project. Betzalel from the tribe of Yehuda was the head advisor and Ahaliav from Dan was the second-in-command. The comment is about the fact that Yehuda was a royal tribe and the most respected. Dan was considered the lowest stature tribe in Israel. Hashem specifically appointed a representative from the highest and lowest tribe to come together in order to build His home. The lesson is that to Hashem socioeconomic status is irrelevant. When people come together for the right reasons great things can be accomplished.

Luchos Tablets

In another seemingly unrelated form, Rabbeinu Bechaya discusses why the Tablets are referred to in our parsha as, “Luchos even, Tablets of stone (Shemos 21:18).” He brings down the Midrash which states two reasons: (1) Negative: The Ten Commandments represent all of the Torah laws. Many of the laws contain negative commands that include punishments. The most common punishment is that of stoning. Thus the Tablets were made of stone to hint to this. (2) Positive: We find that Yaakov Aveinu was referred to (see Berieshis 49:24) as the “Rock of Israel,” this refers to his great strength of character. Yaakov inspired his children to follow the Torah and to be committed to its ideals despite all challenges. Yaakov was solid as a rock when it came to keeping the 613 mitzvos in the evil Lavan’s house. Additionally, we find that the Beis Hamikdash is referred to as a rock (see Isaiah 28:16) because of its solid basis. The merit that allowed the Jews to accept the Torah was the fact that they would build a home for God. How can we understand the stark contrast found between these diverse perspectives?


Two Outlooks

The two themes expressed by the word ‘rock’ point to two themes that are present in all situations and systems in life. When it comes to something important and powerful there are always rules of usage and ways to either maximize and use the item for positive things or get hurt from misuse. Say one buys a fancy oven, he can cook with it and enjoy the ease of letting it self-clean. But if he does not read the manual, or if he deliberately uses it for unintended purposes he can get terribly hurt. If one buys a brand new car he can get on the highway and drive to great places, but if he is careless or acts foolishly he can God-forbid lose his life.

The Luchos express this exact dichotomy. We deserve the Tablets because we follow God with commitment and dedication like our forefathers. We too can achieve greatness like Yaakov in his personal life. We can use the Torah as a way of building a Beis Hamikdash, a place where we get close to Hashem. At the same time if we are careless or act foolishly, we must know that the Luchos can be a stone as well. There are standards, expectations and requirements for using this world properly. Negative actions do carry negative repercussions. One who follows the Torah as his guide, his manual, will learn how to achieve success and fulfillment.


Tying it all together, one can now understand the theme here. The Mishkan was built after the Jews served the Golden Calf and turned their backs on Hashem. They acted foolishly and many people died because of this horrible mistake. Hashem specifically called on two men from opposite ends of the spectrum, one of royalty and one of lowliness, to build his home and to bridge the gap. Betzalel and Ahaliav together represent the two ends of the spectrum, that of highness and reward and that of lowness and punishment. The tribe of Yehuda were the first to jump into the Yam Suf and merited to have it split for them. The tribe of Dan were the last to pass through and they were carrying the idol of Michah which was used to create the Golden Calf. The sea wanted to destroy them but God held it back. This was not a time of punishment, it was a time of inspiration. The nation saw how Yehuda and Dan were connected with one goal and they too joined with an outpouring of hearts and with a desire to give money and talents to help build the Mishkan. This is why the two leaders names refer to a connection with Hashem. Betzalel means, “In the shadow of God” and Ahaliav, refers to the tent made for God and the fact God is the foremost Being in the Jewish heart. This is the bridge that brought the nation together and still remains our strongest theme thousands of years later.