The personage of Hur is mentioned briefly in the Torah and leads to the following questions:
- Who was Hur?
- What happened to him?
This article will answer these questions following the pardes method of exegesis starting with the Torah and then analyzing related citations in the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar.
Literal Meaning – פשט
The Torah introduces Hur in Exodus 17:10 as the assistant to Moses and Aaron, as they climbed a hill to encourage Joshua and the Israelites to fight against Amalek. In the next verse the Torah relates that when Moses raised his hands, Israel was stronger and when he lowered his hand Amalek prevailed. As a result, Aaron and Hur supported the arms of Moses during the battle (ibid. 12) until Joshua weakened Amalek.
The next encounter with Hur occurs in Exodus 24:14 where Moses appointed Aaron and Hur as leaders in charge of the seventy elders in the absence of Moses, who would be with Hashem on Mount Sinai. After this event Hur is no longer heard from in the Torah. The only other mention of Hur involves his grandson Bezalel whom Hashem appointed as the primary architect of the Tabernacle (ibid. 31:2).
The Torah’s brief encounter with Hur leaves the above two questions unanswered.
Chapter 2 of 1 Chronicles provides another clue to the mystery of Hur. In this chapter scripture relates that Caleb the son of Hezron (ibid. 18) married Ephrath אפרת and bore him Hur (ibid. 19). Verse 20 confirms that this is the same Hur of Exodus, “And Hur begot Uri, and Uri begot Bezalel. However the verse does not fully explain Hur’s lineage and does not explain his absence after Exodus 24:14.
Exegesis – דרש
Linage of Hur
The Talmud provides definitive answers to both questions, showing the importance of the oral law when interpreting Torah. Sotah 11b identifies Caleb the son of Hezron as the same Caleb son of Jephunneh יפנה of Numbers 14:6, one of the two righteous spies of the 12 spies that Moses sent to scout the land of Israel. The name Jephunneh is not a given name but rather a character trait of Caleb who turned away from the advice of the 10 spies. In addition the Talmud (ibid.) identifies Ephrath as Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron meaning that Hur was a nephew of Moses and Aaron. Here too the name Ephrath is not a given name but indicates that through Miriam the Israelites were fruitful פרה and multiplied (Exodus Rabbah 1:17).
Death of Hur
The Talmud Sanhedrin 7a relates that Hur protested the making of the golden calf and was killed by an unruly mob. Hence both questions are resolved by the Talmud. However the Talmud does not indicate what expression or tone of voice used by Hur led to an escalation in the confrontation resulting in his murder. Exodus Rabbah 41:7 provides the answer by noting that Hur used the expression”cut off necks” when arguing with the mob. This phrase may be understood in several ways as follows:
- Brainless fools – referring to the mob (literally heads cut off – in the vernacular “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off”).
- Ungrateful people – again referring to the mob. The mob was composed of people without a head/neck to look back at all the good Hashem has done for the Israelites (e.g. Exodus from Egypt, splitting of the sea, manna, and giving of the Torah).
- Cut off my neck – referring to himself. Hur expressed his stiff opposition by saying to this mob,”You would have to cut off my neck to make a golden calf”, or in the vernacular, “Over my dead body” and so it happened that they murdered Hur.
Absence of divine protection
The reader may ask, “Why did Hashem not intervene to save Hur, especially since his intention was for the sake of heaven?” The Zohar 2:223b answers that Hur approached the people with anger and should have taken a less confrontational stance, like his father Caleb in the case of the ten spies. The author would like to add the following points to Hur’s precarious position:
- Appointment – Unlike Moses and Aaron, Hashem did not appoint Hur to a position of leadership. Rather the decision was made by Moses.
- Nepotism – People may have resented Hur, the nephew of Moses and Aaron, feeling that his position was not due to his merit but rather to nepotism.
- Qualifications – People may have suspected that Hur was not qualified for leadership because the Torah did not mention his qualities.
- Age – Hur was less than 30 years old at this time.
Despite these points, Exodus Rabbah 42:1 acknowledges that Hur was the greatest of his generation after Moses and Aaron and in fact a prophet (Leviticus Rabbah 10:3). However he did not convince the people of his greatness perhaps because of his young age. His father Caleb was only 40 years old when he spied out the land of Israel (Joshua 14:10), about one year after the incident of the golden calf. Hence Hur was less than 30 years old when he reprimanded the Israelites. By contrast Moses was 80 years old and Aaron 83 at that time.
Hints and allusions – רמז
Although the Torah does not explicitly mention the murder of Hur, the Talmud (ibid.) finds an allusion in Exodus 32:5, “Aaron saw and built an altar before him”, as explained in the following table.
|Hebrew – Text
|Aaron feared אהרן ויירא
|From the slaughtered מזבוח
With an extra letter, where required, the alluded interpretation is Aaron feared for his life and understood that the mob would kill him just as they slaughtered Hur. (Note: this allusion only works using the Hebrew text.) Actually Aaron should have given his life rather than making an idol. However he reasoned that if the Israelites had killed him there would be no hope for the people since the sin was so grievous (Talmud ibid.). In addition he did not plan to make an idol but only agreed to collect the gold as a delaying tactic, until Moses would come down from Mount Sinai and the people would return to their senses.
Secrets of Torah – סוד
Bezalel – Tikkun (rectification) for Hur
At this point the reader may ask, “The mystery of Hur is now resolved but it seems that his story is over.” However Exodus Rabbah 48:5 alludes to the Kabbalistic principle of tikkun (rectification) where the offspring of one or later generations complete the mission of a previous generation or in the literal language of this Midrash, “Bezalel cured the wound (of idolatry).” In this case Hur’s descendants continued his work to serve Hashem in the proper manner, first in the Tabernacle in the desert through Bezalel and later through King Solomon in the temple in Jerusalem. In addition the Midrash sees the appointment of Bezalel as a reward for the self-sacrifice of Hur when protesting the making of the golden calf (ibid. 3). The Torah indicates the rectification of the points of Hur’s limitations mentioned above:
- Appointment – Hashem appointed Bezalel as the main architect of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:2).
- Nepotism – Moses announced to the Israelites that Hashem (and not Moses) appointed Bezalel to his position (ibid. 35:30).
- Qualifications – The Torah specifically mentions that Bezalel was blessed from Hashem with wisdom, insight, and knowledge (Ibid. 31:3 and 35:31).
- Age – Even though Bezalel was only 13 years old when he constructed the Tabernacle, his divine gifts enabled him to fulfill his mission admirably (Sanhedrin 69b).
Hur’s Family and Descendants
Continuing on this theme of Hur’s legacy, the author would like to point out the following word associations that link Hur and his descendants through the generations. His name in Hebrew is spelled חור and when these letters are rearranged we obtain רוח (spirit) which runs through his family in scripture. The following table lists his prominent family members with names in English and Hebrew, relation to Hur, and relevant verses that contain the word רוח (spirit).
|1 Samuel 16:13
The word רוח (spirit) may have many meanings (e.g. wind, passion, spirit, level of the soul, and divine inspiration) depending upon the context. The following paragraph will examine this word in relation to the personalities mentioned above and the means of using this divine gift.
The Torah attests that Caleb possessed a different spirit in that he resisted the advice of the ten spies. However he balanced his passion for the land of Israel with the political realities of the situation. After the ten spies said that it was impossible to conquer the land of Israel (Numbers 13:28), Caleb silenced the people before presenting his argument in favour of conquering the land by advising the people to rely on divine assistance (ibid. 30). In addition he gained control of the floor by appearing to initially criticize Moses thereby appeasing his opponents (Sotah 35a). Then he praised Moses and told the other spies with divine help we can perform miracles. Unlike his son Hur he did not confront his enemies directly and did not display anger.
Bezalel was gifted a G-dly spirit (רוח) of wisdom, insight, and knowledge to construct and supervise the making of the Tabernacle and its utensils. In fact his name in Hebrew means in the shadow of G-d (i.e. divine protection and knowledge) (Zohar ibid.). The Talmud Berachot 55a states that Bezalel knew how to join the letters with which heaven and earth were created. By combining the attributes of the physical with the spiritual he could fashion a Tabernacle as the meeting place between the Israelites and Hashem.
Exodus Rabbah 40:4 notes that Bezalel was privileged by scripture to be assigned 5 additional names which relate to his role in the Tabernacle. A name, original or added, when recorded in scripture, reflects a person’s essence, actions, or destiny (e.g. Berachot 7b expounding upon the names of Reuben, Judah, and Ruth), even if the some of the names are not used in practice. The following table lists the names of Bezalel in English and Hebrew, explains the meaning of each name and provides the first verse in scripture where mentioned.
|Hashem showed Moses and Israel his destiny
|1 Chronicles 4:2
|Bezalel made the Tabernacle (like a dovecote)
|1 Chronicles 4:1
|Bezalel placed reverence on Israel
|1 Chronicles 4:2
|Bezalel connected Israel to Hashem
|1 Chronicles 4:2
|Bezalel gave to glory and majesty to Israelites
|1 Chronicles 4:2
The Midrash expounds on his additional names by comparing similar Hebrew words to these names, albeit by re-interpreting a letter or form where required.
Reaiah – ראיה
The first name ראיה literally means a sighting or proof. In this context Hashem showed Moses and the Israelites that Bezalel was destined to make the Tabernacle right from the beginning of creation. In this manner Hashem removed the doubts of the Israelites in terms of the appointment of Bezalel and any concerns of nepotism which the Israelites may have had about Hur as mentioned above.
Shobal – שובל
The Midrash interprets this name as a dovecote by substituting the last letter ל with a ך (using the Atbash system) to obtain the word שובך. The dovecote refers to the Tabernacle in terms of its height and a place of assembly for the Israelites to commune with Hashem as doves flock to their cote, with sufficient place for all. The analogy to a dove is appropriate for this context because the Israelites are compared to doves, namely faithful and peaceful (Song of Songs 2:14, 5:2, and 6:9). In addition only doves may be brought to the Tabernacle for offerings from fowl (Leviticus 1:14).
Jahath – יחת
The name יחת has two of the letters of the Hebrew word חתת meaning overpowering fear (Genesis 35:5). This name implies that Bezalel placed a reverence and awe on the Israelites for Hashem though the construction of a beautiful Tabernacle made with gold, silver, and copper draped with multi-coloured tapestries. In the case of the Tabernacle the word imposing rather than fear would apply to the structure.
Ahumai – אחומי
The word אחה, which means to sew, shares the first two letters of this name. Therefore this name refers to Bezalel’s success in connecting (literally sowing) the Israelites to Hashem through service in the Tabernacle. The sewing also refers to the weaving and embroidery of the curtains and partitions of the Tabernacle. In addition the word אח meaning brother implies that Bezalel made the Israelites like a brother to Hashem to serve Him with love and dedication.
Lahad – להד
This name refers to the glory (הוד) and majesty (הדר) that Bezalel conferred to the Israelites through a magnificent Tabernacle. The words הדר and הוד use two of the letters of the name להד namely ד,ה. These words also appear in Psalms 96:6, 104:1, and 111:3 as the expression והדר הוד, indicating Hashem’s glory and majesty.
This article examined the different names of Bezalel to highlight how he bestowed the following benefits to the Israelites in their service to Hashem and their withdrawal from idolatry:
- Rallying point for Hashem.
- Reverence to Hashem.
- Connect to Hashem.
- Glory and majesty to the people (self-confidence).
In this manner Bezalel accomplished what Hur attempted to do (i.e. connect the people to Hashem and withdraw from idolatry) but was not successful. In addition Bezalel achieved his objectives by working with the Israelites, contributors of materials and numerous artisans, as opposed to Hur he worked against the people in a confrontational manner. As such we can see Bezalel as the rectification of the soul of Hur especially through his lineage. The Zohar (ibid.) points out that the father of Bezalel was named אורי, meaning my (divine) light of inspiration and kindness. It is interesting to note that this word appears seven times in scripture, twice referring to the divine light (Isaiah 60:1 and Psalms 27:1) and the rest to Bezalel’s father.
King David was also blessed with the spirit of Hashem upon his coronation by the prophet Samuel as the verse states (1 Samuel 16:13),” And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And a spirit (רוח) of Hashem passed over David from that day forth.” This spirit encompassed his physical strength and military prowess (Rashi on ibid.) as well as a spirit of prophecy which led him to write book of Psalms (Radak on ibid.). Again we see that the spirit of Hashem leads to a benefit on a national scale in this case material (i.e. military) and spiritual (book of Palms) as opposed to Hur’s action which was confrontational.
It is interesting to note that the when the spirit of Hashem entered David it departed from Saul as the very next verse states, “And the spirit of Hashem departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Hashem frightened him.”
The Messiah a descendant of King David and consequently a descendent of Hur is extraordinarily blessed with spirit of Hashem as the verse (Isaiah 11:2) states, “And a spirit (רוח) of Hashem will rest upon him (the messiah), a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence of Hashem.” Similarly we see that the spirit of Hashem, as mentioned in six different contexts, combines pragmatism, political leadership, and spirituality for the benefit of the Israelites and in fact the entire world.
Based upon the Zohar mentioned above, the author would like to point out that the gematria of wrath חרה is 213, one less than spirit (רוח), implying that a slight lack in Hur was a contributing factor to his demise. However his descendants through the spirit of Hashem in effect rectified hid actions.
Based upon the different descendants of Hur who were privileged to receive the gift of the spirit of Hashem we can apply the following lessons when confronting a volatile situation:
- Avoid anger (Hur).
- Be accepted by the people – though divine appointment (e.g. Bezalel).
- Crowd control (e.g. Caleb)
- Benefit the people (i.e. political capital) (e.g. King David).
- Consider all the options (e.g. messiah with six different spirits).
This article analyzed the mystery of Hur, his disappearance and demise through the different levels of Pardes. It is interesting to note the overlap of levels between Talmud and Midrash in terms of hints and secrets showing the depth and fluidity of Torah interpretation. Of course one can never fully understand the ways of Hashem in terms of life and death (Psalms 36:7) . However there are several important lessons to learn about Hur’s approach to dealing with a difficult situation as summarized above.