Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Alter of Kelm on Ki Sisa

The following was sent to subscribers of R Zvi Miller’s Salant Foundation email list:


HaShem selected Betzallel to form the vessels of the Mishkan, i.e., Tabernacle. However, the criterion to serve as the “chief artisan” was not based on his artistic ability. Rather, HaShem selected Betzallel because he had “a good name.”

In light of this the Midrash cites the verse (Kohelles 10:1), “Dead flies putrefy the fragrant oil, whereas a good name falls on a corpse and does not putrefy.”  This poetic verse cries out for an explanation! Moreover, what possible application can we draw to Betzallel from the concept of “a good name falling on a corpse?”

Rather, the verse metaphorically uses the terms “fragrant oil” and “a good name” to depict two divergent types of people in relationship to the performance of Mitzvoth.

“Fragrant oil” refers to a person who suppresses his negative impulse in order to perform a good deed. For instance, Shimon is miserly by nature. Therefore, in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), he consciously forces himself to give to others. HaShem recognizes his struggle and merits him accordingly.

However, the inner conflict impedes him from giving generously and joyously. As a result, he does not find much favor in the eyes of the community. Resultantly, his Mitzvoth are like fragrant oil, putrefied by dead flies, i.e., his unrefined character traits.

Whereas, a “good name” refers to a person who has rectified his character to pure goodness. Through the combination of his excellence of character and the Mitzvoth that he performs, he faithfully and graciously serves his community.

In this light, “a good name falls on a corpse and does not putrefy.” That is, even when he performs Mitzvoth that might awaken base character traits, his goodness is constant and absolute.

Betzallel transformed himself. That is, he was filled with compassion and kindness, and had no inner harshness, whatsoever. The Mishkan was the place where HaShem revealed His compassion and forgiveness. Therefore, HaShem chose Betzallel, to assemble His holy dwelling place on earth, amongst the Children of Israel.

[Based on Ohr RaShaz of the Alter of Kelm]