Over the last few weeks, we have been reading weekly Torah portions outlining the plan for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – the temporary Ark that accompanied the Children of Israel during their 40-year journey in the desert – as well as the ritual objects it contained. In this week’s Torah portion of Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) we read how the necessary funds and materials for the construction of the Tabernacle were collected and the process of the construction.
The portion starts with a description of the nation’s generosity. Moses had only just requested the nation’s “generous of heart” to give a donation, and immediately the entire nation, women and men, volunteered to bring their gold dishes, leather, materials, and anything else needed to build the Tabernacle. The contributions made by the women earned a special mention in the Torah when, in addition to their financial contribution, they volunteered to do the actual work: spinning the wool and weaving the fancy materials, a job that was complex and painstaking.
For this they were termed “wise of heart.” Other women, “whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom,” were in charge of spinning the goat wool, a job even more complicated than weaving the other materials.
The term “wise-hearted” is repeated numerous times in this portion, and it raises a question: Why does the wisdom of these talented artisans refer to the heart? We are used to associating wisdom with the brain, and feelings with the heart. However, in the description of the building of the Tabernacle, time and time again we encounter wisdom associated with the heart. The answer to this lies in comprehending the manner in which the architects of the Tabernacle were chosen.
Moses told the nation about this choice this way: “Moses said to the Children of Israel: ‘See, God has called by name Bezalel . . . . God has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship… both him and Oholiab'”(35:30-34). Bezalel and Oholiab were joined by others who assisted in the construction of the Tabernacle and its tools: “Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise-hearted person… to know how to do… all the work of the service of the Holy” (36:1).
These verses seem to show that “wisdom of the heart” is a characteristic that precedes wisdom. It is the potential that is actualized when God gives a person wisdom, insight and knowledge. But what is this “wise-heartedness” that is necessary to receive wisdom, insight and knowledge from God? It is the wisdom that comes from one’s heart, wisdom that stems from the desire to empathize with others, do for them, be good to them. This is the wisdom essential for building the Tabernacle, God’s home, since God does not reveal the Divine Presence in a person’s talent but, rather, in one’s heart. A person who is not “wise of heart” themselves, even if one received wisdom and engineering training from God, will not have the necessary tools for building the Tabernacle. This job necessitates more than talent. It requires a strong desire stemming from the heart. The inference in the choice of Bezalel and Oholiab is that God purified and refined the hearts of these “wise of heart.” God chose them and bequeathed to them spiritual assistance; God gave them wisdom and designated them to build God’s house.
The level of the women who wove the materials was even loftier. They did not need this choice. They were naturally prone to this. Their wisdom came straight from the depths of their hearts. Their work expressed the emotional depth and rich inner world, and their choice was therefore obvious.
God does not provide us with wisdom of the heart. It stems from our work. Our role is to lift our hearts, enrich our emotional worlds, and turn the wisdom with which we were blessed into “wisdom of the heart,” wisdom and talent whose goal is to grasp how to help others. Our goal is make our house into a Tabernacle – a place that sheds light all around it.