Deborah Abecassis Warshawsky. 

vayakhelThirty minutes before Shabbat I asked the girls to tidy up the room they were sharing in Florida – pick up from the floor clothes and towels and books and tissues and discarded tags from new items, remove their electronics from their beds, maybe even find their pyjamas since the room would be dark later.  One daughter responded with her usual delay tactic, “In a sec,” her eyes never leaving her screen.  One daughter got off her bed, eyes still on her tablet, and sat on the floor to begin sorting the pile of laundry into the bags I had left for this purpose (days before), watching Netflix all the while.

One daughter put her clean laundry into her two drawers and organized them into four piles per drawer.  She went to help her sister sort the dirty laundry with such efficiency – since she was not also watching Fuller House – that Netflix sister went back to watching on her bed.  She collected her sisters’ books and magazines and put them in their respective backpacks.  She tidied the surface of their shared dresser and the counter in the bathroom.  She took her assignment seriously and completed it (above and beyond what was requested) with competence, earnestness and fervour.

In this week’s parashah, Va-Yakhel, Moses reiterates everything that needs to be done to complete the Mishkan; the Israelites bring their generous offerings of required materials; and skilled foremen are appointed to lead the workers in its actual construction.  Repeatedly, those who are involved in the various trades and crafts are referred to as “wise-hearted:”

  • Every wise hearted person among you is to come and make all that the Lord has commanded.
  • Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands; and they brought the spun yarn of the turquoise wool, and the purple wool, and the scarlet wool and the linen. All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats.
  • He (God) filled them with wisdom of the heart to do every work of the craftsman, and the artist, and embroiderer … and the weaver; those who perform every labour and those who make artistic designs.
  • Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise hearted man into whom God had imbued wisdom and insight to know how to do, shall do all the work of the service of the Holy, according to all that the Lord has commanded.
  •  Moses called for Bezalel and for Oholiab, and for every wise-hearted man within whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, everyone whose heart lifted him up, to approach the work to do it.
  •  The wise-hearted men among those doing the work made the Tabernacle out of ten curtains…

 What is wisdom of the heart?  What does it mean to be wise-hearted?  And why is this quality so fundamental to the character of those building the Mishkan?

Wisdom is commonly associated with our minds and with knowledge, and our hearts symbolize our emotions. Some may argue that wise hearted is an oxymoron.

Rather, the term captures a delicate nuance that mixes smarts and ingenuity with compassion and inspiration.  It’s more than empathy.  It’s understanding what needs to be done, having the skill and knowledge to do it and infusing one’s actions with meaning, with zeal, with reverence and piety.

The construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings was more than just a building project.  It represented the eternal presence of God among the people, which in turn encapsulated the historical relationship between God and the Israelites from the past and their destiny in the future.  The people involved in the Tabernacle’s creation needed to bring all the varied layers of knowledge and meaning, wisdom and devotion, understanding and hope and awe to every skill and task and craft they tackled.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yohanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, gives wisdom only to one who already has wisdom.  The comment is supported by a verse from last week’s parashah, in which God says, Into the heart of all who are wise of heart I have put wisdom.  One may ask why God gives wisdom to one who already has it, rather than to someone who lacks wisdom altogether.  The contrast between wise of heart and wisdom suggests that only one who is wise-hearted can be receptive to the kind of wisdom that God will impart.

Wise-hearted is a unique quality, and the repeated mention throughout the parashah and the Mishkan’s construction of those people who embody this characteristic demonstrates their necessity and indispensability to the larger community.  We need those people who infuse routine tasks with spirit and sparkle, brilliance and creativity, innovation and imagination.

They show us how to be present in every task of every day.  They teach us to understand the connotations and implications and ramifications and significance of every task we complete – not only for us as individuals, but for all the people around us.

They remind us that whether we are spinning goat hair or sorting laundry, we are part of a larger story and we must be mindful of how we contribute to the sacred spaces we create – for ourselves, for our families and loved ones, for the world at large.  For God.

One wise-hearted daughter doles out the best hugs to whomever needs one.  She asks her grandpa to show her his sailboat and take her for a ride.  She climbs onto the lap of a mourner at a shiva house.  She cleans her room before Shabbat.  Not because her mother asked.  Because she understands – on many levels – the impact a clean room would have on the inhabitants of that room, on the rest of her family, on the sacredness of Shabbat.

Wisdom of the heart.  The more of it we have, the more we are given.

Shabbat Shalom.

An Akiva parent, Deborah has an MA and PhD in the history of Jewish Bible Interpretation from McGill University as well as a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) also from McGill.