“The Wise-Hearted Person”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

One of the dominant terms found in this week’s parasha, parashat Vayakhel, is the expression חֲכַם לֵב, a wise-hearted person.  This expression appears at least half a dozen times in chapter 36 of Exodus.

The expression חֲכַם לֵב, appears first in this week’s parasha, parashat Vayakhel, in Exodus 35:10. Describing the building of the Tabernacle, the Torah declares, וְכָל חֲכַם לֵב בָּכֶם, יָבֹאוּ וְיַעֲשׂוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה השׁם, every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the L-rd has commanded.

However, the first time the expression appears in general with respect to the Tabernacle, is in last week’s parasha, Kee Tisah. There, in Exodus 31:6, the Torah states, with respect to the architects of the Tabernacle, וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי אִתּוֹ אֵת אָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן אֲחִיסָמָךְ לְמַטֵּה דָן, וּבְלֵב כָּל חֲכַם לֵב נָתַתִּי חָכְמָה, וְעָשׂוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ, and I behold have assigned with him [Betzalel], Oholiav the son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and I have endowed the heart of every wise-hearted person with wisdom, and they shall make all that I have commanded you.

Within the context of the Tabernacle, the Torah utilized the expression “wise-hearted” to specifically describe the artisans who are expert and knowledgeable in the various skills that are necessary to design and to build the Tabernacle.

The term חֲכַם, generally means a wise, knowledgeable person, or someone who knows how to research, study and gain knowledge. The word לֵב, on the other hand, represents internal feelings, often underscoring sensitivity and compassion.

There are people for whom learning and education always remain theoretical. However, there are others who are capable of internalizing what they learn until the knowledge becomes part- and-parcel of their very personalities. These people are known by the biblical idiom as “Chachmei Lev,” wise-hearted people who not only learn, but internalize that learning until the learning and the feelings become united.

The Tabernacle is far more than a mere external, physical structure.  It represents the focal point where the Presence of G-d dwells in the hearts of Israel. That is why the builders of the Tabernacle must be endowed with exceptionally wise hearts.

The desire for wisdom is one of the human’s greatest natural cravings.  Although the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden came from the tree known as the “Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil,” that tree, together with the “Tree of Life” represented two of humankind’s greatest natural desires and fantasies: the quest for immortality and the desire for omniscience.

The Torah clearly seeks to balance the gift of cerebral endowment, tempered by a sensitive heart and caring feelings. Contemporary life looks upon intelligence almost mechanically and artificially, often defined simply by what we call today intelligence quotient (IQ).  Not only is intelligence often divorced from caring and values, it has become almost impossible to distinguish between what we might call “culture” and “civilization.”

Society today often reveres those who have advanced degrees, like PhDs, after their names, irrespective of their ethical and moral qualities and behaviors. Like the race for money and worldly possessions in much of the Western world, there is a race for being recognized for superior intelligence. Failure to achieve this recognition is often looked upon as living a meaningless or inferior life.

The architects and builders of the מִשְׁכָּן, the holy Tabernacle, the dwelling place for G-d’s Divine Presence, needed to be, not only, skilled craft persons, but also people who were kindhearted and thoughtful, who had open hearts, and were prepared to do acts of loving-kindness. The workmen in the Tabernacle, not only needed to be skilled in metal work, working with precious stones, carpentry, weaving and sewing, but also needed to invest the Tabernacle with the best human qualities possible, representing, the greatest Divine qualities, since humankind is created in the image of G-d.

This understanding of wisdom is a far cry from the contemporary understanding of wisdom and the measurement of Intelligence Quotients. The Al-mighty did not want His “house” to be built by the most skilled workmen or the most intelligent workmen. The house of G-d needed to be built by “Chachmei lev,” by wise-hearted people who are warm-hearted and prepared to invest their very hearts and souls into the dwelling place which would be the focus of the Divine Presence.

May you be blessed.

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Shabbat Parashat Shekalim

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Shekalim. On this Shabbat, an additional Torah portion, known as parashat Shekalim, is read. It is the first portion of four additional thematic Torah portions that are read on the Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. This week’s supplementary Torah reading is found in Exodus 30:11-16 and speaks of the requirement for all the men of Israel, aged 20 and above, to bring a half-shekel in order to be counted as a member of the People of Israel. In later years, these shekels were donated to the Temple in anticipation of the festival of Passover, when funding for the daily sacrifice had to be renewed.