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Vayakhel 5781 ~ March 12, 2021

And let every חכם לב, chacham lev, wise-hearted person among you come and make all that Adonai has commanded. (Exodus 35:10)  This commandment is in connection to the building of the Mishkan.  It is a direction that follows the wrongful building of the Golden Calf and the redirection of the Children of Israel to the building of a house of God.

I love the term חכם לב "wise-hearted"--maybe because I have finally come to understand it. It says to me that there is a type of understanding that has nothing to do with one's intellect or education, a kind of emotional wisdom that is, perhaps, even more important to our mental and spiritual health. Any person who never lost an argument but still felt like they lost will know exactly what I mean!  There is a certain wisdom that no amount of education in the world can every produce or foster.  Some of the great entrepreneurs of the world had no education, coming off the boat or living in poverty. Yet, their חכמת לב gave them the edge. I think of one of my own cousins, who never went to college, yet is a millionaire many times over because of his  חכמה, business acumen.  You can simply sense that wisdom in certain people.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky writes: “Very often, in my life, my intellectual understanding has surpassed my emotional comprehension of a situation. Or my willingness to try. But too much analyzing can be paralyzing.  It doesn’t matter how much one knows, but how much wisdom one has.”

I always marvel at those who sit back and take in an entire conversation and only chime in at key moments, with words of like pearls. Many years ago, one of my ritual chairpersons and I had a routine. He would take out pennies and pass one to me during a ritual meeting. He did this penny passing every time he thought that I might want to talk but chose not to. About half and hour into one discussion, someone from the committee asked me why I hadn’t given an opinion and would like to hear what I thought on the issue. The ritual chairperson and I started to chuckle. We told them about the pennies. From across the room a nickel rolled down the table. “Here rabbi, here is a nickel. Now tell me what you are thinking!” 

As it has been said so many times “one who does all the mitzvoth over and over again, is not necessarily the most religious Jew. Observing the commandments can only be real, when one has the heart. Like the story of the עם הארץ, a common person who constantly prays to God saying: “take the aleph bet and make it into prayer for me.” A learned Jew comes and teaches him prayer. One day the  עם הארץ, common person,  forgets the words. He stops praying, for fear he will say the wrong thing before God. Who was the חכם לב, wise-hearted person?  And who is the חכם לב, the wise hearted person in our world:  A parent or grandparent, a schoolteacher, the fifth child whom beyond  the four in the Haggadah who has a new world interpretation of Jewish life? Perhaps it is  the schoolteacher of our children?  One of the Psalms declares: “get us a heart of wisdom.”

So how do we obtain a heart of wisdom. Rabbi Kerry Olitzky pointed me to the lives of those doing teshuva, or shall I say recovery. "Easy does it" and “Keep it Simple” are two of the statements of חכמה, chochmah, wisdom that people are taught to value.  At times, life so often refuses to cooperate! That's where heart-wisdom is necessary. In this week's portion, for instance, there is a detailed litany of instructions for building the Tabernacle. They are anything but simple. And, yet the basic principle linking all the "fine print" is quite simple: This is the way God wants it done. For the wise-hearted, that is enough.

This Shabbat, as we read the special maftir portion, Parashat Hachodesh,  we are reminded that Passover is but two weeks away. A friend suggested that instead of suggesting that one have a kosher Pesach, one should wish people a Pesach sam’each, a Passover full of joy and celebration. With the anticipation of our nation’s return to a more familiar normal, perhaps his  חכמה, chochmah, wise words, seem quite appropriate.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782