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Parshat Vayahkel  Wisdom of the Heart

02/27/2019 03:59:00 PM


In Parshat Vayakhel, we are given a vision of an entire community engaged in artistic craftsmanship. Two chief designer-artists are named: Bezalel and Oholiab, who are given the task of executing God’s instructions for building the Mishkan – the desert Sanctuary. Not only must they engineer a method of construction that can be assembled or dismantled in one day and be fully portable – every piece of it must be exquisitely made and extraordinarily beautiful. A call goes out to the people for everyone with skill in carpentry, metalwork and textiles to come forth and contribute the expert work of their hands. The Hebrew term for this artisanal skill is “chochmat lev” which means “wisdom of the heart.”

How does wisdom of the heart describe the talent and skill necessary to create objects that are both utilitarian and of great beauty? Our culture and language separate and compartmentalize these activities, classifying the work of making cloth, furniture and constructing buildings as of lesser value than the professions which require a more literate, university education. We glorify a small number of great artists whose work is valued for beauty alone. Wisdom is reserved for those of great scholarship in philosophy or religion. Do we see any of these activities as requiring “heart” as an essential component?

The Torah is suggesting that we see the heart as the source of creativity and vision, rather than the mind. Torah suggests that those who work skillfully with their hands are people of great wisdom, perhaps possessing “emotional intelligence”. I would suggest a scenario for understanding these two words in this context. Talent, that inborn ability to take an idea and make or do something, can be seen as a kind of innate knowledge, or wisdom. Taking talent and turning it into skill requires more than just exercising a talent that comes easily. Skill is born of desire – the desire to make something “more” – more beautiful, more ingenious, more efficient, more endurable. It is having the vision of what the basic object could be if it is refined over and over again until it is something quite different. It takes heart – emotionally charged drive and ambition – to take something like a basic ability to weave cloth to the creation of a tapestry.

  1. that our people, despite their generations of slavery and persecution in Egypt, could bring forth these abilities and cooperate together to create the Mishkan, can be a source of pride in the past. Taking this concept of “chochmat lev” forward into our world can elevate our vision of people who work with their hands and the objects they create for our use. We can open our eyes to their value and refuse to take their contributions for granted.

“Chochmat lev” could perhaps be akin to the modern term “emotional intelligence.”

Remarkable descriptions ensue, of women who weave gorgeous tapestry panels of purple, red and blue, which are joined together to make the walls and ceiling of the Tent of Meeting and the walls of the enclosure. We read of the melting down and re-forging of gold, which is then plated over.

Sat, July 4 2020 12 Tammuz 5780