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The Princess and the Maidservant

The Princess and the Maidservant

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The results were in.

Of all of the applicants, two master artisans had been chosen to oversee the awesome task of the Tabernacle's construction.

Moses said to the Children of Israel: "See, G‑d has proclaimed by name, Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah...and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He imbued them with wisdom of the heart, to do every work of the craftsmen, and artist, and embroiderer…to do all the work for the labor of the Sanctuary."1

Why did G‑d prefer a merger over a sole supervisor?Building the Tabernacle, G‑d's terrestrial residence, must have been a most sought-after contract; it's safe to say that those who scored the job must have had, in addition to talent, considerable merit.

What was it about Bezalel and Oholiab that caused them to land this coveted assignment? And while the job was extensive, why did G‑d prefer a merger over a sole supervisor; a move which carries the potential to create differences and difficulties?

Rashi, the Bible's chief commentator, sheds light on the issue. Bothered by the Torah's inclusion of Bezalel's grandfather while recording his lineage – usually the Torah suffices with mentioning an individual's father, as it does with Oholiab – Rashi remarks that "Hur was the son of Miriam."2 I.e., it is to note Bezalel's pedigree, that his illustrious grandfather is mentioned.

But why does Rashi ascribe Hur's greatness to the fact that he was the son of Miriam? Hur had his own solid merits on which to stand!

Scripture makes two mentions of Hur being singled out for honor from amongst all of Israel. In one instance he stood alongside Moses,3 and in the other,4 next to Aaron.

Furthermore, Hur's devotion to G‑d superseded even that of his uncle Aaron. When the Israelites sought to make the Golden Calf, Hur tried to obstruct them, and ended up getting killed for his efforts—while Aaron reacted more mildly, and though well intentioned, took part in making the idol.5

So why not attribute the choice of Bezalel to oversee the Tabernacle's construction to the fact that he was a grandson of Hur, who both lived and died to sanctify G‑d's name? Why the need to mention that he was also the great-grandchild of Miriam?

Equal Opportunity

Let's break for a moment to discuss Oholiab, Bezalel's partner.

G‑d set a precedent for providing equal opportunityWhile the verse elaborates on Bezalel's ancestry, talk of Oholiab's lineage is kept to a minimum. Because, in reality, there is little about Oholiab's family-roots worth mentioning. "Oholiab was from the tribe of Dan, the lowest of all tribes, of the sons of the maidservants [his mother was Bilhah6]."7

But if Oholiab stemmed from ordinary stock, why was he chosen to partner with Bezalel, whose family-tree could hardly be matched?

Herein lays the point: "The Omnipresent put him on the level of Bezalel with regard to the work of the Tabernacle, who was of the greatest among the tribes, to fulfill that which it says,8 'And the nobleman is not recognized ahead of the pauper."9

In this moving display of sensitivity, G‑d set a precedent for providing equal opportunity. His message was clear: "My home will be built by representatives of all My children without distinction. The privileged and the underprivileged, the sophisticated and the simple, the illustrious and the plain, the rich and the poor, are all welcome to take part in this sacred building campaign."

Kings of flesh and blood show favoritism; not so the King of all kings.

(Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why when counting His children through their contributions, G‑d commanded, "The wealthy shall not increase, and the destitute shall not decrease from half of the shekel."10 As if to say that each of them matters the same.

Not surprisingly, it was from this collection of half shekels that the sockets that formed the base of the Tabernacle were made. Both the literal and figurative foundation of G‑d's home is to be built and predicated on the ideal of equality.)

The Maid and the Princess

The descendant of a princess links arms with the descendant of a maidservantIn order to underscore the uniqueness of the partnership between Bezalel and Oholiab, Rashi mentions Hur's mother, Miriam. The woman who was the matriarch of the Davidic line of kings and leaders.11

The picture is now complete. The descendant of a princess links arms with the descendant of a maidservant.

Attributing Bezalel's greatness to the fact that he was a grandson of Hur would only highlight the greatness of one individual ancestor; mentioning that he was the great-grandson of Miriam underscores the bloodline of a family of priests and leaders.

Thoroughbred

More than just promoting egalitarianism, G‑d used this opportunity to make an important declaration. As our creator, He considers us all to have exemplary lineage. As His children, we all come from great stock.

A prominent businessman and longtime supporter of Chabad started a beginners' service at his congregation. He proudly reported on his initiative to the Rebbe. But when he told the Rebbe that he had arranged services for 130 Jews with no Jewish background, the Rebbe's smile vanished.

"What?" the Rebbe asked looking hurt, "No Jewish background?"

"Go back and tell them they have a background. They are the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah."

The Rebbe's smile then returned.


What's in It for Me?

We were all created equal, no one more equal than the next. We are all G‑d's children. Let's work on seeing things the same way.

You don't have to come from somebody to be somebody!A couple once sought the Rebbe's advice. Someone had suggested a young man as a match for their daughter, but they hesitated to go ahead with it because while they stemmed from very distinguishable lineage, the young man did not.

Was this a valid reservation or not, they asked.

The Rebbe responded: "You would surely not have refused to take Abraham as a son-in-law, even though his father, Terah, worshipped idols…"

You don't have to come from somebody to be somebody!

And what of one blessed to be born into privilege and status?

One Sunday, the mayor of Haifa passed by the Rebbe for "dollars." He mentioned that he was a descendant of illustrious Chassidim. The Rebbe responded with a smile, "It's not enough just to be a 'descendant'; one should strive to be a living example!"

Footnotes
2.

Ad loc.

3.

When the Jews were at war with the Amalekites, Moses, Aaron and Hur ascended a mountain, and the latter two supported Moses' hands while he prayed—leading to the Jews' miraculous victory (Exodus 17:10-13).

5.

See Rashi on Exodus 31:5.

7.

Midrash Tanchuma, 13. See also Rashi ad loc.

9.

Midrash, ibid.

11.

See Rashi on Exodus 1:21.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—Chabad.org, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Bo Warsaw March 17, 2016

thank you. These words give me some sense of self esteem.
My "idol" is Abraham and I see a lot of Isaac in my son.
Jewish root is always the same - the only difference is that some are close relatives to Patriarchs and some are distant. Reply

Ms. Avigayil MacArthur via chabadnashoba.org February 22, 2014

Lineage by the Women I like this... it shows that Moshe -- who certainly knew the laws related to lineage -- viewed lineage via the women (Bilhah and Miriam).

Not quite how some view things these days. Reply

B Sydney March 15, 2012

Davidic line? "Rashi mentions Hur's mother, Miriam. The woman who was the matriarch of the Davidic line of kings and leaders"

How is Miriam a progenitor of the Davidic dynasty? Reply

Dr. Simcha Baker Modi''in, Israel March 15, 2012

Murder of Hur I have always wondered why the sin of murdering Hur takes a much lower status than the sin of the Golden Calf. It appears that this murder is totally ignored in the Commentary. After all the murder was an affront to G-d in as much as it was the taking of a life that contained G-d's essence in the form of Hur's soul AND he was standing up to prevent a desecration of G-d's Name. Why is this issue of such little import that it is not discussed as being, perhaps, more egregious an act than making a Golden Calf that some commentators suggest was ONLY to replace Moshe - a very dubious justification for making an idol? It appears to me that TWO of the 10 Commandments were broken by the sin of murdering Hur. Is the possible answer simply that it was G-d's will that Hur's grandson be the prime architect in the building of the Tabernacle, both as a 'reward' to Hur for his action and for the reasons expressed in the article (everybody counts)? Reply

Anonymous Calgary, AB March 11, 2010

I have noticed that after the Prophets have received a message or vision from G-d, they then without much ado go back to their community and go about their business as usual.
I believe that is because they can 'sense' that in the Eye of G-d they are no better or worse than any of His other children.
The L-rd sees differently than we do. Reply

PoMaflah Sharon, MA March 7, 2010

This was adressed in my sixth grade class... And surprisingly, this is about the only Rashi I like. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel March 7, 2010

Very inspiring! Thanks for this inspiring piece.
What a great way to begin my week!
I especially enjoyed the little stories which emphasized the parshah's message. Reply

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