Spiritual Genetics

“You look just like your grandmother! I haven’t seen such a skilled basketball player in this league since your father graduated from high school twenty-five years ago. You have the voice of an angel, just like your brother did ten years ago when he was in my choir.” 

Genetics are fascinating and play quite a role in all our lives. There is also something called spiritual genetics. There are Kohanim, priestly families, Levites, first born children, and families that have traits passed down from previous generations. We see this concept front and center in this week’s Parsha, Pikudei.

וּבְצַלְאֵ֛ל בֶּן־אוּרִ֥י בֶן־ח֖וּר לְמַטֵּ֣ה יְהוּדָ֑ה עָשָׂ֕ה אֵ֛ת כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְוָ֖ה אֶת־מֹשֶֽׁה׃ 
Now Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, had constructed all that G-d had commanded Moses. 

Throughout the Torah, it is common for people to be referred to together with the name of their father. Here, Bezalel is called not only by the name of his father Uri, but by the name of his grandfather, Hur as well. Why?

Who was Hur? Hur was the son of Caleb and Miriam. He accompanied both Aaron and Moses up the mountain when the Israelites were at war with Amalek. He was appointed as a leader and guided, together with his uncle Aaron, when Moshe journeyed up Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. The Midrash Rabbah reveals a frightful moment in our national history that ended the life of Hur. The Midrash states that when the Israelites wanted to build the golden calf, Hur stood up defiantly in the name of G-d and warned them against it. In a moment of passion and rage, the Israelites hurled Hur into the flames of the fire that formed the golden calf. Hur tragically gave up his life for the honor of G-d and Israel. 

The tabernacle, the holy space that housed the presence of G-d in the desert and in Israel until the Temple was constructed, was built as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf. Since the Israelites failed to see G-d, and instead looked to a golden calf to worship, they were commanded to build a gold-filled sanctuary to commune with G-d and experience His presence. 

Although Moshe was taught all the details of how to build the tabernacle and all of the holy vessels, it was Bezalel that served as the architect to design this holy space. Why Bezalel? The Gaon of Vilna explains that since his grandfather, Hur, gave up his life to sanctify the name of G-d, Hur’s grandson merited to design the space that would celebrate G-d and G-dliness for generations to come. This indeed is spiritual genetics. This is why the verse above mentions not only Hur’s father, but his grandfather as well.

Grandchildren throughout the world have inherited all types of positive physical and spiritual qualities from their ancestors. Let’s strive to bequeath greatness to our grandchildren as Hur did for Bezalel.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence