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01.03.2016 14:44    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  exodus  vayakhel  

Wisdom of the Heart



Bahya Ibn Pekuda writes as follows in the introduction to his book Duties of the Heart:[1]

Since the pillar of our actions is built on the designs of the heart and conscience, it is only fitting that the wisdom of the commands of the heart naturally takes precedence over the wisdom of the commands of the body.

Chapter 35, which begins this week's reading, in the Hebrew uses the word heart ten times in a variety of contexts, although the English rendition does not always reflect this.  For example, in verse 10, hakham-lev is "skilled" or "wise of heart"; in verse 21, nesa'o libo is "whose spirit moved him" or "whose heart moved him"; verse 22 mentions all "whose hearts moved them," etc.  Metonymically[2] the heart undoubtedly serves as a leitwort in the opening passage of this week's reading and continues to appear throughout the portion.

Generosity of heart encompasses the entire people, who with true understanding rise in perfect harmony to the call to build a tabernacle in which the Lord would dwell among His people:  "Thus the Israelitesall the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord" (Ex. 35:29).

Malbim, in his commentary on this verse, emphasizes generosity of heart as a prominent characteristic in building the Tabernacle:

The essence of the contribution to the Lord, that which was sanctified, lay in the spirit of freewill giving…for the contribution was primarily in the generosity of heart, for there were poor individuals among the Israelites who had nothing in their hands to give, but they offered by their spirit, that is, they thought in their hearts that if they had great wealth they would donate the entire tabernacle and all its implements, and they would make everything of what they had; and the Lord, who knows our inner thoughts, accepted their concurrence as if they had actually given something.

Indeed, the work of building the Tabernacle was unique and could not be accomplished simply through the professional expertise and wisdom of those engaged in the craft, even if it be done with the greatest enthusiasm.  This work had to be accompanied by a deep sense of faith and awe. Therefore the Lord saw to it that the person chosen to be in charge of the work be equipped with suitable characteristics:  "He has endowed him with a divinespirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft" (Ex. 35:31).  Matters are spelled out further at the end of the chapter:  "…have been endowed with the skill to do any work—of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer in blue, purple, crimson yarns, and in fine linen, and of the weaver—as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs" (Ex. 35:35).

Alongside the cognitive faculties necessary for doing any work - certainly for all that had to do with work of designing - skill or "wisdom of the heart" was added as a central component necessary for this special project.  Such skill also is manifest in the special expression appearing in the previous verse:  "and endowed him…with the ability to give directions [u-le-horot natan be-libo or "the ability to instruct He gave him in his heart"]" (Ex. 35:34).

This special skill or "wisdom of heart" was given to the two people placed in charge of the work:  Bezalel and Aholiab.  They were also graced with exceptional generosity of heart and a willingness to teach others the professional aspects.  This is not self-evident:  many a professional chooses to safeguard his professional secrets out of jealousy and a desire to maintain professional prestige, as Ibn Ezra notes in his commentary on this verse:  "For there are many wise people who are hard in teaching others."  Note carefully what he says:  the difficulty in teaching does not stem from didactic weakness or from a difficulty in the subject matter to be studied, but from the wise people (= those skilled in the craft) themselves being "hard."

Bezalel and Aholiab represent the ideal type for building the Tabernacle:  supremely outstanding in their professional abilities yet imbued with faith that gives them humility and magnanimity.  The Midrash gives us additional reasons for their having been chosen for this lofty task.  Exodus Rabbah (chapter 48) writes of Bezalel:

Another explanation of See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  Why is Hur mentioned here?  Because when Israel were about to serve idols, he jeopardized his life on G-d's behalf and would not allow them to do so, with the result that they slew him.  Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said:  "I assure you that I will repay you for this."  It is like the case of a king whose legions rebelled against him, whereupon his field-marshal rose and fought with them, saying, "What!  You dare rebel against the king?"  In the end they slew him, and the king thereupon said:  "If he had given me money, would I not have had to repay him?  Then how much more so is it the case now that he has given his very life on my behalf?  How can I reward him?  Surely, by ordaining that all his male offspring shall become generals and officers?"  Similarly, when Israel made the golden calf, Hur gave his life for the glory of G-d; whereupon G-d assured him:  "By your life, I shall give all your children that will descend from you a great name in the world," as it says, See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel…He has endowed him with a divine spirit (Ex. 35:30-31).  And what is more, G-d also endowed with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge all those who engaged in the construction of the Tabernacle, as it says, Then all the skilled…made (Ex. 36:8).  Not only the men, but even the cattle and beasts, for it says, whom the Lord has endowed with [Heb. ba-hemah][3] (Ex. 36:1); it is written b-hmh to imply that wisdom was given to man and beast, but Bezalel alone was selected for special mention.  This is why it says, See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel.

One might conclude from this homily that Bezalel was selected for this lofty role only because of his pedigree and as the reward earned by his late father for the devotion he had shown when the golden calf was made.  But the Sages appreciated Bezalel in his own right, as we see in Berachot 55a:

Rabbi Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan: Bezalel was so called on account of his wisdom.  At the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses:  Go and tell Bezalel to make me a tabernacle, an ark and vessels. Moses went and reversed the order, saying: Make an ark and vessels and a tabernacle.  Bezalel said to him:  Moses, our Teacher, as a rule a man first builds a house and then brings vessels into it; but you say, Make me an ark and vessels and a tabernacle.  Where shall I put the vessels that I am to make?  Can it be that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to you, Make a tabernacle, an ark and vessels?  Moses replied:  Perhaps you were in the shadow of G-d [Heb. be-zel El] and knew!

Rav Judah said in the name of Rav:  Bezalel knew how to combine the letters by which the heavens and earth were created.  It is written here, He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill [hokhmah], ability [tevunah], and knowledge (Ex. 35:31), and it is written elsewhere, The Lord founded the earth by wisdom [hokhmah]; He established the heavens by understanding [tevunah]; by His knowledge the depth burst apart (Prov. 3:19-20).  Rabbi Johanan said:  The Holy One, blessed be He, gives wisdom only to one who already has wisdom.

So we see that Bezalel was chosen by G-d to build His Tabernacle by virtue of his professional expertise and his wisdom of heart. The merits of his ancestors also stood him in good stead, for in his personality he embodied the devotion of his grandfather Hur, who also was known for his worship of the Lord.  Alongside Bezalel in building the Tabernacle was Aholiab son of Ahisamach (Ex. 35:34).  Presumably he too was chosen by virtue of suitable qualifications for the job, but Midrash Tanhuma (Va-Yakhel 13) adds an explanation which Rashi cites in his commentary on verse 35:

Aholiab was from the tribe of Dan, one of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the concubines, yet with regard to the work of the Tabernacle the Omnipotent placed him on a par with Bezalel, although the latter was from one of the more noble tribes, in order to confirm what Scripture says (Job 34:19):  "The noble are not preferred to the wretched."

In other words, construction of the Tabernacle was characterized by oneness of the entire people, subsuming all classes.  The choice of Aholiab alongside Bezalel to lead the work of constructing the Tabernacle provides concrete illustration of the idea of all being equal and one in wisdom, for "the Holy One, blessed be He, requires the heart" (Sanhedrin 106b)—the Lord desires the heart of man, and this can be found in all classes of people.

A homily in Yalkut Shimoni (Prov., par. 929) says:[4]

"But where can wisdom be found" (Job 28:12), teaches us that Solomon used to seek and say, where is wisdom to be found?  Rabbi Eliezer says in the head, Rabbi Joshua says in the heart, and reason dictates that it is as Rabbi Joshua says, for Scripture says wisdom is in the heart, as it is written:  "You put joy into my heart" (Ps. 4:8), and joy is none other than wisdom, for it is written, "Get wisdom, my son, and gladden my heart" (Prov. 27:11), as well as, "My son, if your heart gets wisdom, my heart, too, will be gladdened" (Prov. 23:15).

On this Rabbi Soloveitchik commented:[5]

These two views complement each other.  Rabbi Joshua cannot refute the view of Rabbi Eliezer, that intellectual wisdom resides in the head, nor can Rabbi Eliezer refute the view of Rabbi Joshua, that the intuitive emotional wisdom of the soul resides in the heart; and one cannot survive without both.

Thus the work of building the Tabernacle marks the nexus of both these sorts of wisdom.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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