|The Voice of Torah-Vayakhel-The Teacher as Stonemason|
|Written by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger|
Behold, God has proclaimed Betzalel by name…filled him with wisdom and insight…to know stone cutting for setting, and wood carving (charoshet even l’malot v’charoshet eitz). [Shemot 35:30-33]
Rashi, back in Parshat Ki Tisa, makes a point that a stonecutter is called a “craftsman” while a woodcutter is called a “carpenter”. What he does not explain is why it is so important to distinguish between the two, why it would not be sufficient just to designate them both as “craftsmen”, and why it is the stonecutter who receives the more general appellation “craftsman” while the woodworker is assigned a much more specific term. I would like to see if we can answer these questions.
Furthermore, I would like to know why, when the Torah mentions Betzalel’s prowess as a stonecutter, does it insist on adding the extra words “for setting” (l’malot)?
I believe the last question is the key to understanding the entire picture. The two crafts require different terms because they are actually absolute opposites. The stones we are referring to here are precious stones. The wood of the wood carver is ordinary wood. The job of a wood carver is to take a plain, nondescript piece of wood and make it into something special. He must look at a wood block, envision something that does not yet exist, set about to give it shape, and bring it into existence by way of his handiwork. It is hard work and it requires great skill. But the stone cutter has – arguably – an even more difficult job. His subject material already possesses extraordinary value; it is a precious gem. It’s just that it is unable to fit into its setting because of rough edges or foreign material encasing it. The cutter’s job is not to create what is not there, but to extract what already is – working with nerves of steel to be sure he does not scratch it, damage it, or cut away too much – revealing its beauty as he cuts. This craft requires the opposite talent of that of the wood carver. The wood carver creates beauty out of raw material; the stone cutter extracts beauty from its captivity. What makes the carpenter’s job easier is that if he makes a mistake, he can always revise the vision and build something smaller or of a different shape, and if he ruins it completely he can say “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and start over with another plain block. The stone cutter does not have this leeway. He is given an already precious jewel that is his to rescue, not create. If he makes a mistake, the gem is lost. And even if he succeeds, it is not going to be known as his creation; all he will ever be is the backstage craftsperson that enabled this gemstone to live up to its own brilliant potential.
And so the Torah tells us first that Betzalel was great enough that he possessed opposite abilities – both the ability to create a masterpiece from plain raw material and the ability to enable something already masterful to achieve its full value and fulfill its promise. Next, it informs us that the uniqueness of the stone cutter is that it is “l’malot” – it is the enabling, not the cutting, that defines his craft. Finally, we learn that while the carpenter may have specific skills, for which he is entitled to a unique name, the stone cutter uses a more impressive skill set, such that his name gets to be the generic name for all craftsmen, as the ultimate accomplishment of a craftsman is not to glorify himself, but to help others reach the expression of their glory.
With this, we can explain why the Torah teacher has traditionally been compared to a stone cutter. The educator must relate to his charges not as a carpenter, thinking he needs to impose his vision on raw material, but rather as a diamond cutter who must identify the unique beauty lying dormant within each student, and use delicate skills and patience to cut away only those parts that will block him from being able to find and fill his space, taking care in the process not to chip, scratch, or otherwise harm the gem of a human being that is entrusted to his talents.