Wisdom of the Heart

Vayak-hel By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Feb 19, 2014 / 5774

In many ways, Parashat Vayak-hel repeats the instruction of previous parashiyot. Moses assembles the entire community and urges them to bring gifts. More than that, Bezalel and Ohaliav are singled out as the artisan architects that will bring the vision of the Tabernacle to realization. They are identified as individuals endowed with “Godly spirit, wisdom, insight, and knowledge” (Exod. 35:31). In addition, Torah speaks of another quality gifted to them as well as to a select group of Israelites: “wisdom of the heart.” Indeed, the notion of “heart” appears repeatedly in the instructions concerning the Tabernacle. How are we to understand the central role of the heart? What is Torah expressing in underscoring this concept?

Professor Ze’ev Falk explains,

[T]his quality is expressed in the verses that follow in connection to both Bezalel and Ohaliav: “God filled them with the wisdom of the heart” (Exodus 35:35) as well as “Let Bezalel and Ohaliav and all those wise of heart that God has endowed with wisdom and understanding in all of these things execute the sacred work of the sanctuary . . . ” (Exodus 36:1–2). Similar to this is the description given of Solomon’s wisdom in I Kings 10:24 where “God places wisdom in his heart.” Perhaps there is a connection between the ability of the heart to direct the works of the Tabernacle and the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision on the teachings of the sanctuary, “Set your heart carefully to everything that I tell you regarding the laws of the Temple of the Lord and all the instructions regarding it” (Ezekiel 44:5). And there is also a connection to the Torah found in the heart: “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom . . . The teaching of his God is in his heart . . . ” (Psalms 37:30–31).” (Divrei Torah Ad Tumam, 230)

With regard to the heart, Ze’ev Falk truly enriches our understanding. Wisdom of the heart is a knowledge gifted to artisans and those who are exceptionally wise. Ezekiel’s words reinforce this notion, connecting the heart to the sacred home of God. Accordingly, the heart adds a dimension of depth and way of seeing. For artists, it allows them to see differently and bring their vision to fruition. For truly wise people, the heart allows them to sense nuances in a way that is challenging at best to the normal layperson. Ezekiel also explains that the heart must be joined to the head in the House of God. The Divine may not be experienced in two separate and distinct realms. Only by joining the heart and the head can we, as a Jewish community, create a harmonious dwelling place for God and for ourselves.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.