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Wisdom of the Heart

By: Rav Yonny Sack

In this week’s parasha, Vayahkel-Pekudei, we learn of the actual construction of the Mishkan and its vessels.  Moshe calls for people to assist in the construction by saying “all those wise of heart (Chacham Lev) should come and do that which Hashem commands” (Shmot 35:10) . Those of the Jewish people who were fitting were being summoned to assist in the building of the Mishkan. Why does the Torah (repeatedly throughout this parasha) refer to the wisdom required to participate in the construction as “Chochmat Lev” –wisdom of the heart? What is the connection between this wisdom and the Mishkan? And isn’t wisdom sourced in the brain and not the heart?

The Pardes Yosef (R Yosef Patzanovski, 1937, Lodz) makes a brief comment on this pasuk which is most thought provoking. He says: 

"החכמה הגדולה מכל הוא שלא יהיה חכם יותר מדאי, רק שיעשה מה שציוה ה' "

“The greatest wisdom of all is not to be too ‘clever’, rather, only to do as Hashem has commanded”.

 Here the Pardes Yosef connects the beginning and end of the verse we quoted above to say that the verse is teaching us that those who are truly wise are those who are ‘wise of heart’, and those who are wise of heart are those whose wisdom leads them to “do that which Hashem commands” as opposed to the ‘wisdom’ that only serves personal agendas.

In other words, some people are gifted with a sharp intellect or have learnt copious amounts of information, even in Torah learning, but their knowledge and wisdom has not been internalized. It remains in their brain and instead of being used to connect with Hashem it is employed to suit the desires of their heart. For example, a person might use their deep understanding of the psychological workings of people only to manipulate, control and intimidate others to ensure they fulfill their selfish motives.  Another person might use their vast Torah knowledge or expertise in a secular field to feed their ego through showing off their wisdom whenever the opportunity arises. Another ‘wise’ person may use his intellect to rationalize away any inner dissonance he may feel from the in-congruence between the way he lives his life and what he knows to be true. This is wisdom of the brain which serves to fulfill the foolish desires of the heart.

The Dubna Maggid offered a famous parable which expresses this idea beautifully:

There was a King (as in all good parables) who went for a walk one day in the forest with his faithful servant Egor (Embellishments are mine) . As they walked through the overbearing lushes green pine trees, the King noticed a target on the trunk of the tree that lay ahead of them. Deeply wedged into the bull’s-eye of the target was an archer’s arrow. The King and Egor were duly impressed. They walked further through the forest only to find another target and again the arrow pierced precisely in the bull’s-eye. The King became curious to find the faultless archer to whom these arrows did belong. Suddenly a rustling was heard not too far away. And there they saw him, the Archer himself, a tall and regal looking young marksman.  The King approached the man, hoping to secure him as one of his personal body guards asking first; “Are you the archer to whom these arrows belong?". "Yes it is I" responded the archer. "Well I must ask you,  how is it that you are able to hit the Bulls-eye with every shot? Where did you learn your trade?” asked the King. The Archer looked at the King and simply replied “Oh your highness, it is quite simple really. I first shoot the arrow and only then paint the target around it”.

This is the ‘wisdom’ and ‘skill’ of rationalization. Shoot the arrow first - selfishly desire something -  and then draw the target -  explain to yourself why your choice is in fact a righteous one.  The irony is that the smarter a person is the more ingenious he will be with rationalizing his selfish behavior. As a result, there is simply zero definite correlation between intellectual wisdom and righteous behavior [1].  Amazingly.

 What is true wisdom then? How can one work to avoid the danger of selfish rationalization? In Torah teachings true wisdom, wisdom of the heart, is that which is infused with Yirat Hashem (Fear of G-d). As the Messilat Yesharim says emphatically: “Behold that Yirah (Fear of G-d) is Chochma (wisdom) and it alone is chochma (wisdom)”.  In other teachings, the Torah refers to Yira as the Otzar (container) for wisdom, meaning that without Yira you simply do not have wisdom, or in the words of the Midrash [2] “Anyone who has knowledge but does not have in his hand fear of sin, he has nothing in his hand.”  No matter how much you have learnt, no matter what you know, it is simply worth nothing [3] if you do not have Yira. What then is this Yira that we are referring to? Simply put, Yira is the realization and internalization that the presence of G-d is in your midst. This Yira must be in the heart. It must imbue a sense of awe, and it must resonate deeply within the person such that they desire to do what is right according to Hashem and not what is ‘right’ according to their own lower self.  Yira thus ensures that the wisdom is not residing in the ‘intellectual’ realm alone, but has penetrated to the very depths of the person’s personality and is expressed through the person’s choices and way of life. 

 The Sefer Meor Einayim[4] explains that Yira is the gate through which one must pass in order to arrive at the King (Hashem’s) chamber. Only once one has passed through this gate can they find true wisdom.

It is Yirat Hashem which will combat the selfish rationalizations and ensure that one’s intellect is employed for attainment of meaningful, higher goals.

With this in mind we can begin to understand why the Mishkan had to be built only by those with wisdom of the heart (imbued with Yirat Hashem) for one who was laden with wisdom of the intellect alone, a wisdom which did not penetrate their heart could not hope to build a true sanctuary for Hashem [5]. One with such wisdom is more likely to build a bama (an altar) for themselves than a resting place for the Shechina (Divine Presence).

Let us therefore all work to imbue our hearts with the awesome awareness of Hashem’s presence in our lives, in our midst, and then we too will be fitting to play part in the construction of our own personal  sanctuary of G-dliness within ourselves.

As King Shlomo, the wisest of all men writes in the final lines of his Kohelet: “The sum of the matter when all has been considered; Fear Hashem and keep His commandments, as that is the essence of man”.  

Shabbat Shalom

 


[1] One need not look too far into history to see how the greatest evil was perpetuated by PHD laden intellectual murderers such as was the case amongst a large proportion of the Nazi barbarians.  

 [2] Shmot Rabba 40  

[3] Or worse than nothing as the wisdom will only be used to suit personal selfish interests.

[4] By Rav Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernoble, Parashat Shmot

[5] Rav Shach as brought in the Sefer Talelei Orot.

 

 

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