Building A Home
Written by Ethan Yen on 28 March 2011
Being a member of God’s chosen people surely has its benefits, as well as its curses. I was fortunate enough to be one of the Israelites that Moses freed from Egypt and unfortunate enough to have lived through enslavement. They were dark times. Every day the Egyptian slave drivers worked us till we bled, and then worked us some more, forcing us to carry bricks to build their monuments to their Gods and Goddesses. They were God-forsaken times. My father – Ahisamach – was one of the few who still held onto the hope that there would be salvation. After our hard days labor, he never ceased to spend time with me, seeing my potential, my talent in the arts. He used to tell me that by the age of five, I traced masterpieces in the sand and traced marvelous designs on the walls that rivaled the Egyptian story-paintings. My father would secretly stow a brick in his clothes and give it to me to practice my engraving and carving. He always reminded me of the importance of my talent and that I should never stop practicing, for it was in art that the Israelites would continue their traditions and sense of identity as a proud people. I never forgot his words, and I suppose it is in his memory that I am writing my story in order to preserve my experience and perhaps more thoroughly chronicle the events in that I have intimately participated in. I only wish that my father could have lived long enough to see the day we had left Egypt as free peoples.
I have very little knowledge on how to properly scribe, but Ithamar the priest has provided me with tips and lessons. I am an artist, not a writer. Before I begin my account, I shall introduce myself. I am Oholiab, son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan, artist, weaver, embroider and deputy architect of the Tabernacle of the God of the Israelites. The following is an account of my experience in building the Tabernacle with Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur of the tribe of Judah. I am not sure of what use my words will be to future generations, but I feel that my words need to be written and that perhaps in some ways, I am attempting to preserve my name. Also, as a man of ninety years old, I find myself with more time that I need to use, and writing will provide an excellent method of taking a break from this chair I am attempting to build. I simply hope my words will be accurate and faithful enough to pay respect to those who are included.
I remember that I was working on an embroidery – one that depicted our miraculous crossing of the Red Sea – when Moses returned from Mount Sinai. It was the first piece of artwork that I had attempted since our exodus from Egypt and my mind was enveloped by the task. Therefore, the first emotion that came through my head when I received very loud news of Moses’ return was that of anger and frustration at being interrupted. Only after realizing that my weaving patterns remained intact did I realize the gravity of the situation. Moses, the one who brought us out of Egypt, the Deliverer, had descended from Mount Sinai after forty days and forty nights of conversing with the LORD. Truthfully, Moses had been gone for so long, I had nearly forgotten about him. This was his second return from Mount Sinai – the first was not a pleasant return, and I prefer not to think about it.
Careful not to disturb any threads, I got up slowly and reached for my staff, heading out of my tent and shielding my eyes from the bright desert sun. I could already hear the footsteps and shouts of people talking rapidly back and forth of Moses coming back from the mountain. I could see Moses’ figure coming toward the encampment, dwarfed by the mountain backdrop and surrounded by empty sand on either side. I remember thinking that it would make a stunning painting, but when I realized the rest of us were also in the same position, walking in a vast unknown desert, I could only shudder.
A growing crowd formed near the edge of the camp, people waiting eagerly for Moses to bring news from his meeting with the God that had brought them out of Egypt. None dared to go out and meet him, even Aaron and his sons, who remained grouped together at the front of the crowd, waiting, the wrinkles and furrowed brows of anxiety painted on their faces. I managed to find a spot not too far from the front and waited as Moses walked closer and closer to the gathering, leaning comfortably upon my staff for support.
I heard whispered questions and saw confused glances. I for one did not show any emotion, perhaps through my relatively old age I had learned to accept things, even after going through so much. Too often I forget the situation we Israelites were placed under, we were, and are lost souls seeking so desperately seeking guidance. We owed our freedom and our lives to Moses, a man who came out of the wilderness by God’s command to order Pharaoh to let us free. So much change had occurred in so little time, we’d witnessed so much that our minds were struggling to grasp the situation and so we looked to Moses, the only one who could converse with God.
There was a noticeable silence as Moses, grasping his staff in one hand and supporting two large stone tablets with his other arm, entered the crowd that had now circled around him. Aaron stepped forward and outstretched his arms in greeting and embraced his brother. The two exchanged quiet pleasantries before Aaron stepped away, bowing toward Moses and stepping backward back into the crowd, signaling the beginning of Moses’ speech.
As a man of art, I pride myself in practicing humility and patience and have acquired quite the reputation among my people as one slow to anger, but even I was beginning to daze off as Moses continued speaking. The laws of God are many and lengthy, too numerous to remember, and I now understand why God chose to have Aaron’s sons serve as priests and why Moses appointed so many officials. I could tell many of the people also were losing interest; the inspirational feeling of the return of the Deliver was quickly wearing off. Moses finished telling us about the Law of the Sabbath for the second time and I prematurely let out a sigh of relief, thinking speech over. I was sorely mistaken; as Moses had simply stopped to take regain his breath. His crowd-addressing skills had improved since his arrival into Egypt.
“This is what the LORD has commanded: All who are skilled among you are to come and make the Tabernacle, the home of our LORD as He travels with us to the Promised Land.”
There was a general murmur among the crowd, which had, until now, been relatively silent. A house for the LORD? A home for our God to stay, with us? It was a puzzling prospect, one that I myself confess to being confused over. The idea of seeing some physical representation of God’s presence with us seemed somewhat encouraging among the desert. Moses raised his staff slowly in order to recall the attention back towards him.
“See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel, son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah to lead the construction of the Dwelling Place. He has been filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.”
Every head was turning now; there was no longer a murmur but a general buzz of conversation among the peoples. I could hear many asking his or her neighbor “Who is Bezalel? Do you know a Bezalel?” I remained motionless, preferring to fix my glance on Moses, who remained reassuringly calm. True, I was curious as to what this Bezalel look like, but as an artist myself, I had previously heard stories of a Bezalel, one of great talent in metalwork, jewel cutting and woodwork, circulating amongst the artistic community, but never had I set eyes on him. I would soon understand why that was so.
A man came forth from the crowd, walking nervously towards the imposing figure of Moses. The crowd immediately fell silent, thinking that this man was Bezalel. With one quick glance I realized this was not so, for the man was dressed in the manner of the Shepherds, and I raised an eyebrow in curiosity. The man went up to Moses and quickly bowed before approaching and whispering hurriedly into Moses’ ear. Even in my age, the LORD has smiled on me by preserving my hearing. I leaned in slightly upon my staff as I attempted to make out the conversation.
“Are you sure he is the one the LORD has asked for?”
“Yes, the LORD has commanded that Bezalel be the one to lead in the construction.”
“But he is just…”
“Uri, be at peace, the LORD knows what He is doing.”
The man, Uri, bowed once more, but remained standing next to Moses. The two men shared similar features, the eyebrows mostly, and I wondered if they were related somehow. Uri raised his arm and signaled towards the part of the crowd he had emerged from.
“Bezalel, you may approach.”
All heads turned towards the area, people splitting apart to one side in order to allow this Bezalel to come to the center. There were audible gasps and cries of surprise to signal the approach of the prodigy.
Out from the crowd, stepped forth a young boy.
The reaction was to be as expected. An immediate outcry erupted, men raising their fists and shouting, women staring, silenced by sheer surprise and elders rubbing their eyes to clear up any possible haziness. I watched as the young boy calmly walked towards his father, who grasped him tightly by the shoulders in the hope of shielding his son from the harsh words that burst forth.
“He is only a boy!”
“What does he know of craftsmanship?! This should be a job for a master!”
“We must honor our LORD with the best skills of our people, not with childish works!”
“He is no older than fifteen!”
I shifted uncomfortably in my spot. I looked around the crowd, looking for any familiar faces. Some I recognized fellow artisans who were protesting this new decision while others simply looked back at me with raised eyebrows and shrugging shoulders. I assumed they were in the same boat as I was, unsure as to how to react to such a decision, especially a decision coming from the LORD. I was afraid that someone would begin shouting names of people who would be better chief architects and prayed that my name would not come up. I admit that my skills are nearly unrivaled, but to even dare to claim to have skills worthy enough to design the house of the LORD is near blasphemous.
I inspected the boy; he was small in stature, having not reached his growth. His clothes were simple like his fathers and his hair dark brown. He appeared to be a normal boy, but there was something about him, the way he held himself and remained eerily calm despite being the center of attention. He possessed a faint aura of – dare I say – divinity. It was clear to me, as it was to some of my colleagues that this boy was indeed special, and chosen by the LORD.
Moses voice boomed over the crowd. His command awoke me back into reality, and I realized the volume of the crowd had grown louder and the words more violent and accusatory. Moses words immediately restored order among the people. I imagined it must have been similar to the way Moses confronted Pharaoh back in Egypt.
“The LORD has commanded it, and it will be so!” Moses repeated, now walking about the circle, waving his staff towards the crowd. “Shame on you to complain about the LORD’s decision! Do you not remember that it was He who delivered you out of the hands of Pharaoh? It was He who parted the Seas to allow us to escape? Even among all these things, these miracles, you dare to give complaint? If He has the power to bring plagues of animals, weather and death, can He not decide for himself who he chooses to build his Dwelling Place? He has made clear his requests, and you still doubt his will?!”
I couldn’t help but give a small smile as I heard Moses rebuke his people. Many lowered their heads in shame and others nodded in agreement. It seemed that no one would speak out against Moses or the commands of the LORD now.
“And for those who remain skeptical,” Moses continued, although in a more pleasant voice, “the LORD has appointed another to assist Bezalel in leading the creation of the Tabernacle.”
Glances were exchanged once more, my curiosity spiked. New laws, new customs and a new task with new leaders – today was certainly becoming quite the memorable day.
Yet I did not realize how memorable it would be for me. Here marks the moment where my life would change forevermore. Where God presented me with the plans he had for me, and I had very little choice but to agree to them. Where even in my old age and all that I had seen, I learned that God could still surprise me.
“Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan has been appointed by the LORD to assist Bezalel as deputy architect. The LORD has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers and embroiderers. He has given both of them the ability to teach others.”
What was left of my smile vanished. I remained as still as possible; the feeling of hundreds of eyes staring ignited an internal fire that I struggled to contain. The uncomfortable sensation, coupled with my mind still attempting to process the information resulted in a very lifelike statue of me, immobile among the crowd, still clutching my staff, my eyes staring blankly. Did my ears deceive me? Did I really hear Moses, the Deliverer of our People, call me? Did the LORD truly call for me by name?
A nudge by a nearby stranger caused me to stumble slightly forward, my feet shuffling in the sand. I blinked, looking toward the center of the circle; my gaze met by those of Moses, calmly staring back at me, a hint of a smile on the corner of his mouth. He nodded slightly, an invitation for me to advance. I cleared my throat nervously and began to step forward, the crowd parting silently to allow me through. I suddenly became very aware of how frail my bones had become. It was as if I was in a dream. My works have been well known throughout most of the Israelites, yet I never considered myself famous, not like Moses; people rarely stopped by my tent.
Before I knew it, I was standing face to face to Israel’s greatest celebrity. From far off he seemed so powerful and confident, almost god-like, yet here, face to face, I could not help but notice he was just another Israelite, although slightly younger than I.
“Do you, Oholiab, master craftsman, accept the duty that the LORD has given you?” Moses looked straight into my eyes, not intensely, but with a serene gaze. A gaze that did not attempt to decipher my mind, but already content with the thoughts they had seen. He smiled kindly. I coughed.
“I do.” I replied, with as much strength as I could muster. Moses nodded and then stepped forward past me, raising his staff. He rotated around, facing everyone in the crowd.
“Does anyone object to this appointment by the LORD?” I looked around as well, meeting the gaze of my fellow artisans. Many were smiling, giving me encouraging looks, and I could only manage to grimace. Others stared at me with piercing eyes, most likely jealous and angry that they were not chosen for this position, and indeed, there were probably a few men who were more qualified than I. I did my best to avoid looking at those who despised me.
“Now go,” Moses continued, projecting his voice, “This is what the LROD has commanded: From what you have, taken an offering for the LORD. Offerings of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil and spices; onyx stones and other gems. These will be used as materials for the making of the LORD’s Dwelling Place – the Tabernacle.”
Slowly the crowd dispersed, heading back to their respective tents, looking for the necessary materials for the offering. I stood still watching everyone leave; some still confused and frustrated, others obedient and complacent. Moses walked over to his brother and the two began talking in lowered voices. Aaron’s sons stood behind him, remaining as emotionless as possible. I think I saw some of them with their heads lowered in shame, they might have joined in the outcry against Bezalel.
I suddenly remembered that I was not alone, and I turned around and was met by the young boy and his father. Uri stepped forward outstretching his hand in greeting and introduced himself with the proper respect of one to an elder. I nodded and introduced myself. He then stepped back and motioned for his son to step forward.
“This is my firstborn son, Bezalel.” I looked down at the boy, his almost angelic face and large dark eyes staring back at me curiously. I immediately felt the sensation of the strange aura that surrounded the boy, and I began to feel uncomfortable. I was not sure how to address the boy, obviously many years younger than I, but placed in a higher position by the will of the LORD.
“Hello Bezalel, it is an honor to meet you.” I said with as calm as a voice as possible. The boy simply continued to gaze at me with those large eyes, as if attempting to think something through. I touched my face lightly, checking to see if there was some sand or ink on my face. His father nudged him, giving a nervous laugh.
“Bezalel, greet the master craftsman.” The boy remained silent and staring. I avoided his gaze as best as I could. For a moment I thought the boy may have been mute. Just before the situation grew too heavy with awkwardness, Moses stepped back in.
“Ah, Oholiab, I see you’ve met Bezalel. The boy built the tent in which I sleep in when he was only ten.” He placed a friendly hand upon my shoulder and gave a hearty laugh, he had passed the two large stone tablets to Aaron and the man seemed more free and casual than he had been before when addressing his people. “The LORD has blessed the both of you with tremendous gifts and the honor to use them.”
“I am humbled.” I replied.
“And you? How do you feel about all this Bezalel?” Moses said with a very jovial tone, “What do you think of your assistant?” All eyes turned to the young boy, who was still staring intently at me.
“I like him.”
The next day the Israelites returned to the border of the encampment carrying all the offerings the LORD had commanded. Those with jewelry, gold and jewels brought them forth and placed them in a large box, while those with the blue, purple and scarlet yarn or fine linen laid them out in rows upon the ground. Other larger metals and acacia wood was placed in a larger pile, a pile that quickly grew. Finally, the spices and oils were gathered. Since the end of the meeting the previous day, the Israelites offered materials for the creation of the Dwelling Place.
Moses called a meeting early in the day, requesting that all skilled craftsmen and designers attend. I arrived on time, just as I prefer to be, and already saw some of my fellow artisans gathered near the pile of materials, whispering amongst themselves while others talked in scattered groups. When they saw me approach, they ceased their talking and spread out to face me. I nodded solemnly, attempting to gauge their emotions. They each returned the nod, whether in respect for my age, or for my new position – I did not know. I worried that they would look with jealousy towards me, and I tried to hide the worry in my voice.
“Greetings Oholiab,” Igal, son of Maki replied. He was a large man. Years of training with the chisel and hammer in Egypt developed his muscles as well as granted him masterful skill in carving and engraving. Many men admired him for his strength as well as dexterity. We had exchanged words previously, but I had never considered him a friend.
“Has the meeting begun? I am not in the habit of arriving late.”
“No, we were simply discussing…yesterday’s events.” Igal explained, avoiding my gaze. I nodded, understanding his meaning perfectly. I looked beyond the group who remained silent.
“And where are Moses and Bezalel?” Igal coughed into his large, rough hands.
“The Deliverer has not arrived yet, and the boy…” Igal and the rest of the artisans turned towards the direction of the material piles, “the boy is inspecting the offerings.”
The men moved aside a little to allow me to see. I had forgotten how small Bezalel was, his child body blended in with the acacia wood. He was on the pile, his face pointed down, intensely inspecting each piece as more and more Israelites added more and more of their offerings to the pile. If I did not know who Bezalel was, I would have thought it was simply a curious boy playing on the pile of wood. I watched as the boy bent down and began running his petite hands on the grain of the wood, so delicately I could only shudder. Some of the child’s movements were so similar to that of a grown man, a grown skilled master craftsman, that the very image made me feel…inferior? I had never seen any of Bezalel’s works, yet already by his movements and mannerisms I could tell that he was special.
Moses arrived shortly thereafter, apologizing for his tardiness. No one could blame him, as the leader of our people; the man had many jobs to do in very little time. He brought with him one of the tablets the LORD had given him, but covered it with a red cloth. I assumed that even engraved words by the LORD were holy enough to destroy mere mortals.
A table was brought forth and the meeting began with Moses expressing his gratitude to all the men who showed up and how the LORD would smile on them for contributing their gifts to the glory of the LORD. Bezalel, given his height was standing right next to Moses as he spoke, looking almost directly up. Moses uncovered the tablet for his eyes only and repeated the LORD’s instructions out loud for the creation of the Tabernacle. I admit, I do not learn best when listening, I am more of a visual learner, which might have contributed to my confusion as Moses read out the instructions. The repetitions of phrases such as “curtains” and “poles” and such quickly became lost within my mind. I tried as hard as I could to grasp the mental image, but failed, and by the looks of many others, they were just as confused if not more. Perhaps it was my old age, but the task at hand seemed even more incomprehensible as Moses continued to read. Moses stopped abruptly and looked up from his reading.
“Does anyone understand any of this?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. Apparently, he too, was confused. He looked about, waiting for an answer, or for a nod, but none came. His eyes met mine and I could only shamefully shake my head. I could feel the heat of the blood rushing to my face in embarrassment as I admitted my ignorance. This was not a good start for me as deputy architect, especially one so experienced as I.
“Yes, I understand. Please continue.” Everyone immediately turned to look at the source of the voice. Bezalel had seated himself upon the sand floor and was looking up at Moses. His fingers traced out lines and shapes, forming what appeared to be a tent and curtained walls. The boy was tracing out the Tabernacle using the instructions that Moses read. No one said a word, letting the sight sink in. Only Bezalel could understand clearly what the LORD wanted, and in my mind there was no doubt that he was the correct person for the job. God had blessed the boy with not only artistic talent, but a gift of understanding God’s will. Moses smiled and let out a small chuckle, before continuing to read the rest of the instructions.
Once finished, Moses covered the tablet and turned his head down towards Bezalel, who had completed his sand sketch.
“Did you get it all?” Bezalel nodded and stood up, only reaching Moses’ waist. Moses gave the boy a pat on the back and chuckled softly.
“Truly you live up to your name, Bezalel. You truly are in the shadow of God.”
“There is just one thing.” Bezalel said, still staring at his sketch.
“And what is that?” Moses inquired, slightly frowning.
“The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.” I turned to the pile of materials, as did Moses and the others. Bezalel was right, throughout Moses’ reading of the instructions, the Israelites had continued bringing forth their offerings and the piles had grown to be almost twice their original amount. I smiled faintly, thinking that Moses’ scolding the day before had driven many of the people to overcompensate for their shame. Moses let out a loud laugh.
“So it seems, so it seems. I will notify them to bring no more offerings.” And with that, Moses seemed to have ended the meeting. I looked about, noticing that the other artisans were slightly peeved. They had come to the meeting expecting to participate and give their input, but were incapable of understanding the instructions and were overshadowed by Bezalel, a mere boy. But Bezalel had proved himself already to be more than just a mere boy, which probably contributed to everyone feeling very uncomfortable. I didn’t want them to leave having done nothing; it would not be a good start for construction, especially since Bezalel was to lead men three to seven times his age.
“Before you go,” I said, stepping forward. “Please,” I outstretched my arms to show my friendship, “write your name upon a list so that we may know how many have decided to contribute their gifts to the glory of our LORD.” And so a bottle of ink and parchment was fetched, and each man present put his mark upon the sheet so that a list was made. As each man did so, Bezalel stared up at them from behind the table, his eyes wide and dark. It seemed to me that the boy was trying to gauge each man, as if peering into each man’s soul. The purpose of this was unknown to me, perhaps the boy wished to evaluate each man’s talent simply by observing him. His staring made many men anxious, and they tried their best to avoid eye contact. But as they left the table and meeting, I could tell they were thankful to have done something besides listening to incomprehensible instructions.
The men dispersed once it was arranged for the start of construction to commence the next day. I too, prepared to leave, grasping my staff for support, but Moses’ voice interrupted my process.
“Oholiab, please stay for a while longer. There is something I’d like to discuss with the two of you.” Moses and Bezalel were still at the table, both looking at me. I obliged, walking over, realizing that my duties as deputy architect were not over for the day, indeed, they had just begun.
“I know that by the looks of it, many of the men do not understand the vast project they are to undertake, including you.” Moses began. I nodded. I could feel my face burning red in embarrassment, already I was failing in my position.
“Not to worry, Oholiab,” Moses said consoling, “It took the LORD two times to explain the instructions to me before I could even begin to grasp what he wanted made.” He gave a slight chuckle before he continued, “However, I have instructed Bezalel to help you understand the plans so that the two of you may know what is to be done, and so the two of you may teach the others what is to be done.” I looked at Bezalel, whose face remained expressionless.
“That would be helpful, thank you.” I responded.
“Good,” Moses said, “Now I must be off, there is much to be done. May you find favor in God’s eyes.” And with that, Moses took up the covered tablet and walked back into camp, leaving Bezalel and me alone at the table, on the border of the encampment, surrounded by large piles of wood, jewels and metals. A boy and an old man, tasked with the creation of God’s dwelling place with the Israelites.
“So,” I said, attempting to break the awkward silence. I was still not sure how to talk to Bezalel, and the fact that the boy did not initiate any conversations did not help either. I decided for now, that I would simply address him as an equal. “What are we to do?”
Bezalel continued to stare at me; he had already erased his sand sketch and had a piece of blank parchment in front of him. Yet he did not make a move towards the brush.
“You know, I don’t think God chose the two of us because we are the best craftsmen, or the best teachers.” Bezalel said, his voice cutting sharply in the silence. I grimaced, thinking his words were meant at a subtle insult to my skill. Bezalel was moderately well-known for his skill as an artisan, a child prodigy, there was no doubt in his skill, so he must have been insulting mine. I was beginning to think the boy was spoiled, and arrogant in his talents.
“Really?” I retorted, more aggressive than I would have liked, “Why do you think God chose us?”
“Well,” Bezalel said, apparently unfazed by my change in tone, “we both know many crafts, which is crucial for being leaders, but I think it’s more than just our skills. It’s who we are.”
“Oh?” I said, my initial feelings of offense were beginning to subside and being replaced by curiosity.
“Yes, God has brought the two of us together, old and young. But most importantly,” He said, pausing for dramatic effect, “I think he chose us in the hope that we could help unify Israel.”
“Unify Israel?” Now I was very confused.
“Yes, God chose me because I am from the Tribe of Judah, one of the most prominent and highly respected tribes of Israel. And you are from Dan, the people descended from a maidservant. Your people have not been well-respected, yet here we are: one of Judah, one of Dan, working together and leading the rest of the craftsmen of Israel to build the Lord’s Dwelling Place.”
Bezalel may have only been a boy, but the words that came out of his mouth were full of wisdom beyond his age…or he may have just been crazy. I had never thought about our appointments, my mind had simply chosen to ignore asking why I was chosen. I thought I was being given a great honor, but I had never fully realized the responsibility my appointment possessed. I was beginning to feel a great weight in my stomach. So much depended on us, and there was no room for mistakes when building the Lord’s home on the earth. True, Israel had always experienced some division between the tribes, and sometimes it escalated into conflict, but I had never given much thought about it. There had been an incident years ago when some boys had thrown mud at me and laughed, calling me “descendent of a whore” but I never thought much about it. Bezalel was right, the position was more than just a leadership task, it was a social statement as well. As if leading men was not a difficult task already.
“So here is where the tent is to be placed.” Bezalel said, carrying me out of my train of thought. I realized the boy had begun showing me the plans for the construction. I looked down, and prepared myself for the largest and most important project of my life.
“We need five men working each of the ten curtains and another five working on each panel of the roof of the tabernacle. Finally, we need the rest of you men to help Bezalel in constructing the frames with the acacia wood.”
I tried to project my voice as loud as it would carry. I was not used to being in such a leadership position over so many men. True, I mentored a few boys in the art of embroidering and weaving, and admittedly, they turned out to be fine artists, but I never had experience teaching or leading a large group. It was a different strategy. With mentoring, I could focus on every detail and mistake that my apprentice did and correct it on the spot, but here, I could only talk in generals, and it would be hard to supervise everyone.
“I hope I do not need to remind you all of the importance of our work.” I said as a final reminder, “We are building and designing the home and temple of our Lord, there can be no mistakes. Our hearts and minds must be completely invested in this project. This will be your greatest project you have and ever will commit to.” And with those words, the men dispersed, separating themselves into groups by concentration. Besides going over the plans of construction after the first meeting, Bezalal and I had discussed who we wished to lead each team in weaving and designing each curtain and how to separate the groups. Bezalel insisted that each group have a man from each tribe, and I told him which men had worked together before, so that their styles and methods would not interfere with each other.
I did not need to see Bezalel’s works of art to know he was a master craftsman. The way he described his plans and the materials showed me how much knowledge he contained, and how much passion he had for his art. He was not only skilled, but intelligent, scheduling the construction as well as calculating the necessary materials. As I continued to listen to him, I grew more respect for him.
Leading a team of four other men, I showed the other leaders of the small groups how to form the weaves for the curtains and what colors to use. They listened silently and I sent them off to their jobs, and the construction of the Tabernacle commenced.
While I and the other embroiderers and weaves worked on the curtains, Bezalel had taken the rest of the men and they started to make the wooden frames. Bezalel explained to them what the frames were to look like and each of the men began working, leaving Bezalel to work on his own beam. It seemed that the men were willing to listen to the boy, but that was about as far as they were willing to go. They did not wish to cross the will of God, yet they were not going out of their way to assist him.
“Hey Bezalel, come play with us!” Some kids, presumably Bezalel’s friends, had come over to the work site, shouting at the child prodigy as he continued to work. I looked at Bezalel to see if he would respond, but the boy remained working, his face unmoving, as if he had not heard the call. His friends continued to call for a bit, but realizing that they were being ignored, went away from the camp, slightly annoyed. I grimaced at the sight, understanding that Bezalel could not play with his friends because of his new responsibility. He was still a boy, even with his divine talents.
“Igal!” I called, the large man stood up from the wooden beam he was working on with his friends, “Go and assist Bezalel with his beam.” The man looked at me for awhile, hoping that I was jesting, but my face told him this was not so. Igal sighed loudly, not wanting to directly challenge my authority, and slowly made his way towards Bezalel. The boy looked at me for a long time, probably wondering why I had called Igal over to help him. I hoped he wouldn’t take it as an offense to his skills. I went back to my work and after awhile, Bezalel returned to his. We worked hard throughout the day.
For six weeks we worked on the frames and curtains. On the night at the end of the six weeks, I decided to take a walk over to the construction site to observe the progress we had made. The frames were stacked together and the crossbars were placed in another pile, ready to be put together the next morning. I ran my gnarled wrinkled hands over the rolled up curtains, each uniquely designed with blue purple and scarlet yarn, cherubim forever flying against the linen. I had personally embroidered the curtain that served as the entrance of the tent. I inspected the work with a critical eye, hoping to catch any mistakes before all the curtains were to be put together.
I then spotted Bezalel sitting on the acacia wood beams. The boy was staring up at the sky, his feet swinging back and forth off the ground carelessly. I approached, careful not to startle him, placing my staff down upon the sand as quietly as I could. I knew by now that Bezalel had heard me coming, the boy was extremely observant, yet out he pretended not to acknowledge me out of politeness.
“What are you doing so late at night Bezalel? Shouldn’t you be asleep?” I inquired, acquiring a fatherly tone. Over the weeks that had passed, Bezalel and I had conversed more often, mostly about matters with the Tabernacle, but I had become accustomed to his odd mannerisms. I learned to shake off the uncomfortable feeling as he stared with his large wide eyes and allowed him freedom to do and say what he wanted. I learned that the boy really had a genius mind, his thoughts working tirelessly all day, forming patterns and ideas that required to be marked down so the boy would not forget. Often he would need to write them down just so that I and the others could understand. Yet his attention to detail was amazing, and it served him well when carving out the beams. I knew that the men had grown to respect Bezalel, and some had even begun to talk to him as in joking ways, as if treating him like his age instead of as a superior. Bezalel seemed to not mind, and I could have sworn that after one session of playful teasing by Igal, Bezalel had managed to give a faint smile. Bezalel had few friends, and even fewer now that his days were filled with work, and I knew the boy was lonely, even if he refused to show it.
“Just thinking.” Bezalel replied absent mindedly, his head still tilted towards the stars. I decided that I would join him, taking a seat next to him and slowly lowering myself down upon the wood with the support of my staff.
“About what?” I inquired softly, looking up at the stars. They were particularly bright over the desert sky which reminded me both of the glory of the LORD as well as the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere. Moses had continued to lead the people across the desert over these six weeks. We would stop for the day and the craftsmen would continue with their work, sometimes even working while we traveled. Moses insisted that the tabernacle be finished by the first day of the first month. That left us with very little time, and absolutely no time to make mistakes.
“Truthfully,” Bezalel began, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know we are making the Tabernacle, and I know we were given instructions, but there’s still so much left to interpret. What designs are we to make? What if I make a mistake? What if I design something that does not please God?” Bezalel’s eyes widened even more, his head lowered and looked at me, an expression of fear and worry across his face. I relaxed as I saw the child come through the face of Bezalel. I rested a hand upon the boy’s shoulder and smiled warmly.
“I’m sure whatever you do will please God, you are an incredibly talented boy.”
“But how will I know what he wants?”
“No one know exactly what he wants,” I said, “In fact, we’re lucky enough to know that God wanted us specifically to lead in the construction of his home. We can only do what we feel is best, and do it with all our heart and mind, and that will be enough.” Bezalel seemed to be pleased with the answer, and nodded in understanding.
“That’s another thing, if God is so powerful and all-knowing, why does he want to live in a tent?”
“That’s a good question,” I replied, not knowing the answer. It seemed logical that God would want the some sort of permanent temple, filled with riches and such, but the Tabernacle was a portable tent, filled only with the essentials for making offerings.
“Maybe he just wants to be with us wherever we go, and a tent is the easiest way to do that.” Bezalel thought out loud, his face set in a comical grimace. I smiled.
“Perhaps you are right.” The two of us sat in silence for a while longer before Bezalel got up on his feet and turned around, giving me a hug. I raised my arms in surprised, but returned the embrace.
“Thank you,” Bezalel said.
“For letting me know what I need to do.”
“What did I tell you?”
“To do the best I can, and hopefully that will be enough.”
The frame and curtains were put together the next day to make sure they fit together nicely. Once done so, they were taken down to be packed into more portable sizes for traveling. I came to the work site the next day to see a small tent erected, a tent that Bezalel prohibited any from entering, claiming that he was working on the Ark inside – the container in which the Testimony was to be placed. Apparently whatever I said last night had inspired the boy, and he worked all day in private, refusing to allow anyone to see what he was doing. I had no problems with this, as it made sense to reserve the most important piece of the Tabernacle for the most skilled and talented craftsman, and it seemed clear that Bezalel was said craftsman. While Bezalel worked alone, the others began making the Table, Lampstand and altars. As the days passed, Bezalel would come out of his tent, occasionally giving advice on carving and engraving to the others before retreating into his tent. He reminded me of myself before I was tasked with helping to create the Tabernacle, cooped up inside his tent, furiously working on a project. The boy seemed livelier however, a smile on his face wherever he went.
While Bezalel and some of the men worked upon the furniture and accessories that were to be placed in the Tabernacle, I went to see the Incense maker to order the correct incense to be made. Ithamar, son of Aaron, arrived to record the materials used in the creation to be written down in the historical documents.
Just like Bezalel gave himself the task of creating the Ark, I decided to take on the creation of the priest’s garments. Granted, I did have help from fellow embroiderers, but I insisted on making the Ephod myself. I went into the house of Aaron to record the measurements of him and his sons, a very formal affair. I could tell that Aaron’s sons were excited to be placed in such a high honor, the house of Levi forever holding the position as priests. Aaron seemed quieter than when I had last seen him speak publicly, during the trials in Egypt. His face was furrowed in worry and thought; perhaps he was still ashamed with the incident with the Golden Calf.
All in all, the creation of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, as well as the Priestly garments, was completed in a span of four months, just in time for the New Year. I finished with the laying of the stones and gems upon the Ephod, each engraved with a name of a tribe of Israel to symbolize the whole. I realized that in our endeavor, all craftsmen from all tribes had managed to work together as a cohesive unit, forming new friendships. It was indeed a bright time for us artisans, a time when the LORD smiled upon us and honored us by having us use our gifts for his name.
After the work was complete on the last day, the men congratulated each other before dispersing for well-deserved rest. I found myself marveling at all the work we had accomplished, thankful that I could be a part of it. Bezalel emerged from his tent, clearly worn out by the intensity of his work. I smiled at him and beckoned him to approach.
“Have you finished with your private project?”
“Yes,” Bezalel replied tiredly, “It is done.”
“Congratualtions!” I said, “I cannot wait to see your work.” I fetched a waterskin and handed it to Bezalel, who wiped his brow before receiving it in thanks. We both sat down upon a bundled up pile of wooden beams. Bezalel returned the waterskin and I took a sip myself. I then realized that the boy’s face was not happy at all, and he was once again deep in thought.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, “You should be happy, we are finally done!”
“True,” Bezalel said, giving a half-hearted smile.
“Then what is wrong?” I inquired once more.
“I didn’t know about my gift until I was three years old.” Bezalel said, replying to my question in the way he always did: indirectly. “I managed to draw a near-perfect portrait of my mother in the sand; my father claimed that the hand of God directed me. I managed to build my first tent at age five and then carved my first statue at age eight. It was clear to me that I was special, I was different. Kids my age didn’t do those kinds of things, and no other person had ever possessed the kind of talent I possessed. Even though I knew this, I could not help but feel alone and outcast, my talents ostracizing me from the rest of the children. It frustrated me to know that God created men unequally, some that excelled at nothing and some that excelled at many things.”
“For a time it frustrated me, knowing that I had so many gifts and not knowing what to do with them. I felt that much hope from my family rested on my shoulders, they believed I was destined to do great things and make a great name for myself and for my family. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that God had called me by name to use my gifts not for myself, but for God. I was to build the Tabernacle, the Dwelling Place of the LORD.” Bezalel outstretched his hands to encompass all that was done.
“My purpose was spelled out for me, I was lucky enough to have the LORD personally tell me what he wanted me to do – my purpose in life. You were blessed with the same. Not many people have that luxury, to be told what they were born to do and allowed all the skills to do it. For that, I am extremely grateful to God. Men spend all their lifetimes looking for their purpose; they would give all their wealthy simply to know what they need to do. But now what am I supposed to do? What am I to do now that I have completed the task that God has given me? What am I to do now that we are finally done, and I am only thirteen years of age? I still have my whole life ahead of me. Nothing can match up to the work that I have done, and I will never dare to create anything near to its greatness.”
I blinked, and then looked at Bezalel, to find him staring right back into me. For the first time I maintained eye contact, looking into those deep dark eyes and seeing wisdom, confusion and a desire for faith. I did not know how to respond to him. In all my years of living, I had never thought about what this boy thought about, and I would never be able to experience what he experienced in already his short amount of life.
“Your life isn’t over. The history books may only write your name down for what you did when you were thirteen, but you will still live a life. The importance is not outshining your previous achievements; it is finding peace with yourself and God. God will continue to use you, it simply won’t’ be recorded. Take me for example. It took eighty some years before I learned my purpose, and I certainly didn’t spend those years doing nothing or looking for a task I would never hope to achieve. As artists, we do what we love to show everyone the wonders that God has created, through our talent and our images. Some people will never know their purpose in life, but God will provide all that is needed for one to fulfill his purpose. Once that purpose is over there is always more that can be done.”
On the first day of the first month, Moses came to the site to inspect the work on the tabernacle. He was pleased at the construction of the frames and curtains, and marveled at the handiwork of the furnishings. I showed him the priestly garments, which he approved and he, Bezelel and I walked into the Tent of Meeting, where Bezelel showed us the Ark.
And what an Ark it was! Even though we were inside the tent, the Ark still managed to radiate a bright aura. Gold overlaid the acacia wood, the Ark surrounded by rings and poles to carry it. The cover was decorated with two cherubim at each end facing inwards, their wings stretched upwards, as if just descending from the heavens above and casting shadows over the rest of the Ark. The cherubim faced each other, their heads bowed low as if in prayer. Intricate designs adorned the sides of the Ark and I could not help but shed a tear. I patted Bezalel on his back to show him my appreciation for his work. He smiled up at both Moses and I, clearly happy that we both approved.
The ceremony came in the afternoon, Moses had ordered the Israelites to stop traveling this day, in honor of the setting up of the Tabernacle. All furnishings were brought inside the Tent, where Moses would personally arrange them at God’s request. Aaron and his sons arrived and were anointed after donning their new garments. All the artisans lined up in two rows leading to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and Moses blessed all of us, congratulating us in our superior craftsmanship and saying how God would reward us greatly for our work and how the Tabernacle not only displayed the work of God, but the work of people working together in unison at God’s request. It was indeed a beautiful sight.
We were not allowed inside the Tent during the ceremony. Moses entered alone, carrying his two tablets to place within the Ark, he carried the sacred laws of the LORD and the identity of our people. I watched as he entered the tent and moments later bright shining from the heavens descended in the form of a cloud, entering the tent from above. I shielded my eyes for fear of blindness, but I knew it was God who had come to inspect his new home. God had come to reside with the Israelites in their wanderings, to be with his chosen people. I managed to look over at Bezalel who also had shielded his eyes. Moses exited the tent for the glory of the Lord had settled upon it, and there it stayed, Bezalel and I exchanging smiles, our work done, our purpose fulfilled, our lives to continue.
“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out…So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and the fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.”