Wisdom of the Heart

ואתה תדבר אל כל חכמי לב אשר מלאתיו רוח חכמה ועשו את בגדי אהרן לקדשו לכהנו לי

“You shall speak to all of the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aaron, to sanctify him to minister to Me.” (Shemot 28:3)

Parshat Tetzaveh introduces us to the unique garments which were worn by the Jewish priests during the time that they served in the Tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple. Because these vestments were so special and holy, they couldn’t simply be made by anybody who possessed the necessary skills and craftsmanship.

G-d specifically instructed Moses to command the wise of heart to make these special garments for Aaron and his sons. However, this is difficult to understand. We as a society are accustomed to associating wisdom with the brain. Why does the Torah emphasize the wisdom in their hearts?

Rabbi Leib Chasman (1867-1931) explains that our understanding of wisdom represents a fundamental flaw in human thinking. From the Torah’s perspective, a wise person is not merely a Harvard professor who is able to intelligently discuss esoteric topics in difficult academic subjects. If his actions don’t reflect his sophisticated intellectual knowledge, the facts and theorems which he has stored in his head, or even developed and proven and named after himself, are essentially meaningless.

An expert botanist who is intimately familiar with the characteristics and medicinal properties of every plant and herb in the world, yet nevertheless chooses to recommend and distribute poisonous plants instead of healing ones can hardly be defined, from a Torah perspective, as wise. He is more comparable to a donkey loaded up with a pile of thick tomes on the subject of botany. The knowledge that he has acquired in his brain remains for him an external load which has failed to penetrate into his heart.

The Torah recognizes that the primary criterion for determining wisdom lies in the ability to connect one’s mind, and the information stored therein, with his heart, which guides and determines his actions. It is for this reason that G-d stressed the importance of selecting the truly wise – the wise of heart.

This concept is illustrated by a story which is told about Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. To his embarrassment, his students once bumped into him in a section of town known for its immoral activities (what they were doing there has yet to be established). Unable to reconcile his current behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings that he espoused during his lectures, his students pressed for an explanation. The legendary philosopher answered them, “When class is in session, I am your great teacher, and I share my pearls of wisdom with the world. At other times, I am not the philosopher with whom you are familiar.”

We live in a society which holds wisdom and its seekers in high esteem. Hopefully, this atmosphere motivates us to pursue education and wisdom, as Judaism clearly places a high value on the importance of study. Yet as we are doing so, it is important to be cognizant of the Torah’s lesson about the true definition of wisdom. As we each pursue our various studies, we can remember this message in Parshat Tetzaveh, which teaches us to make sure that whatever we study penetrates our hearts as well as our minds, positively guiding our actions and interpersonal relationships.

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