Intelligent Design

Parashat Ki Tissa
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz

Intelligent Design

V’emale oto ruach Elohim bechochmah uvitvunah uv’da’at uv’chol melacha’ – ‘And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge for all his craftsmanship.’

We learn from this verse then, that Betzalel ben Uri, Master Craftsman is divinely inspired. We tend to gloss over these verses in search of what follows: the description of the Tabernacle and the laws of Shabbat. But I’d not like to take us there yet. I’d like to linger a little longer at ‘wisdom, insight and knowledge’.

Why does the Torah tell us that Betzalel possesses these three qualities? The Torah is usually terse and one descriptor would have been enough. Yet we get three for the price of one!

Chochmah, binah and da’at.
Wisdom. Insight. Knowledge.

Rashi picks up on too and gives us a very meaningful interpretation:
Chochmah, wisdom: ‘mah she’adam shomea me’acherim v’lamad’ – ‘what a person hears from others and learns’.
Binah, insight: ‘mavin davar melibo, metoch devarim shelamad’ – ‘with his heart [intellect] he understands other things from among the things he has learnt.’
Da’at, knowledge: ‘ruach hakodesh’ – ‘the Holy Spirit’.

Rashi seems to suggest that there is a hierarchy of understanding, a depth of knowledge that is progressive or cumulative. Knowledge is nuanced, layered and complex. Wisdom, then, is socialised learning – from the Academy and from the world. It is not reliant on our own faculties; it is external. That doesn’t make it any less valuable but it does make it extrinsic to our own experience. Chochmah is outside of us.
Binah, then, holds the middle ground. It is that thing we learn from outside, from context but is also reliant on the application of personal interpretation. If Chochmah is about reading a book of philosophy or science, with clear theorems and peer-reviewed evidence, then Binah is the reading of a book of poetry or the studying of a work of art: a mingling of learned skill and personal interpretation.
But then there is Da’at, a deep, intuitive knowing – something completely intrinsic and innate to each individual: that place where soul and God meet, where revelation is translated into intuition.

This is why Rashi considers it ‘Ruach haKodesh’, the Holy Spirit. There is no way to test or evaluate this knowledge: objective standards of ‘truth’ or accuracy simply don’t apply. And yet many of us can think of an experience where we have felt such a thing. Where we have been compelled by deep intuition, to make choices or overcome obstacles or simple do what is right even if it seemed against better judgment.
Ruach haKodesh is the domain of prophets and mystics but each of us has a touch of the mystic in us if we attune ourselves to find it.

So why does the Torah tell us this about Betzalel? He’s a craftsman, not a leader, not a prophet. He’s from the small and underrepresented Tribe of Dan. He doesn’t seem to have an impressive yichus, lineage. Is he just a Joe Schmo who’s good with his hands? Yet, this Joe Schmo is entrusted with creating beauty for the Tabernacle – serviced by haughty priests with impeccable pedigrees, paid for by the hard-earned shekels of the common Israelites. Betzalel is just an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift. And it is Betzalel’s craft – melachah - that becomes the template for all creative work – avot melachah – that is forbidden on the Sabbath. Betzalel represents the dignity of empowering, creative, meaningful work that shapes the foundations of our world.

But none of this can be achieved without that deep spiritual connection to our deepest sense of self: the Ruach haKodesh.

And ironically, it is the stoppage of work on Shabbat that allows us to attune ourselves to our own chochmah, binah and da’at: wisdom, insight and understanding. This trinity of the mind is what humanises and we need rest, repose and reflection in order to be humanised.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that during the Weekday Amidah, our first blessing after the three generic opening blessings prays for ‘chochmah, binah and sechel’ (the equivalent of da’at). We need to be persons of integrity, wholeness, in order to live in and move through the world with integrity. Many of us lead fractured lives during the week; distracted by to-do lists and mobile technology, by computers, extracurriculars and the daily commute. But in all of us there lives a Betzalel, a true artist, if we only give him or her the chance to emerge.

Let’s allow ourselves to be in touch with our highest knowledge and deepest intuition. Betzalel teaches us that no pursuit of knowledge or creativity needs to be belittled or looked down upon. If you have a gift to give, give it freely and believe yourself to give it. How many of us stop from reaching our fullest potential because we believe we simply cannot? If Betzalel, a humble man, could rise to such a great task, then so can we.

Trust your intuition, be willing to learn from others, retain your innate curiosity and carve out the time to do so. Sometimes God’s lessons for personal development really are that simple!


Shabbat shalom. 

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