Rav Kook Torah

VaYakhel: Art and Creation


“Moses informed the Israelites: God has selected Betzalel... and has filled him with a Divine spirit of wisdom, insight, and knowledge in all craftsmanship.” (Ex. 36:30-31)

What exactly were these three gifts of wisdom, insight, and knowledge that God bestowed upon Betzalel? The Sages wrote that the master craftsman was privy to the very secrets of creation. Betzalel knew how to “combine the letters with which the heavens and the earth were created,” and utilized this esoteric knowledge to construct the Tabernacle (Berachot 55a).

We find that King Solomon mentioned the same three qualities when describing the creation of the universe:

“God founded the earth with wisdom; He established the heavens with insight. With His knowledge, the depths opened, and the heavens drip dew. (Proverbs 3:19-20)

What is the difference between wisdom, insight, and knowledge? How do they apply both to the Creator of the universe and to the human artist?

Chochmah, Binah, and Da’at

Chochmah (wisdom) is needed to design the fundamental structure. In terms of the creation of the world, this refers to the laws of nature which govern the universe. The intricate balance of natural forces, the finely-tuned ecosystems of life — this is the underlying chochmah of creation.

In art, chochmah fulfills a similar function, determining the work’s underlying structure. Using wisdom, the artist decides on the overall composition, the balance of light and shade, colors, perspective, and so on.

Binah (insight) refers to the future vision, the ultimate goal. The Hebrew word binah is related to the word boneh (‘to build'). The emphasis is not on the current reality, but on the process of gradually building and progressing toward the final, complete form. Therefore, Solomon ascribed chochmah to forming the earth, and binah to establishing the Heavens. The foundation of the earth - its current physical structure — is based on chochmah. Binah, on the other hand, corresponds to the Heavens, the spiritual content that reflects its final form.

What is binah in art? The spiritual aspect of art is the sense of wonder that a great artist can awaken through his work. Betzalel was able to imbue the Tabernacle with magnificent splendor, thus inspiring the observer to feel profound reverence and holiness. The great beauty of his work succeeded in elevating the emotions, as it projected a majestic image of God’s grandeur.

The third attribute, da’at (knowledge), refers to a thorough attention to detail. “With His knowledge... the heavens drip dew.” The rain and dew were created with da’at. They sustain every plant, every blade of grass, every creature. God created the universe not only with its fundamental laws of nature (chochmah) and spiritual direction (binah), but also with meticulous care for its myriad details — da’at.

Attention to detail is also important in art. The artist should make sure that the finest details correspond to the overall composition and heighten the work’s impact.

Betzalel knew the letters of creation, the secret wisdom used to create the universe. With his gifts of chochmah, binah, and da’at, Betzalel was able to ensure perfection in the Tabernacle’s structure, its vision, and its details. His holy sanctuary became a suitable vessel for God’s Presence, completing the sanctity of the Jewish people by facilitating their special closeness to God.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 263-264)