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Wisdom of the Heart

Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

Parshas Tetzaveh introduces us to the unique garments that were worn by the Kohanim during the time that they served in the Temple. Because these vestments were so special and holy, they couldn't simply be made by anybody who possessed the necessary skills and craftsmanship.

God specifically instructed Moshe to command the wise of heart to make these special garments for Aharon and his sons (Exodus 28:3). This is difficult to understand. We are accustomed to associating wisdom with the brain. Why does the Torah stress that their wisdom was found in their hearts?

Rabbi Leib Chasman explains that our understanding of wisdom is fundamentally flawed. From the Torah's perspective, a wise person is not 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 named after himself, are essentially meaningless.

For example, an expert botanist who is intimately familiar with the scientific characteristics and medicinal properties of every plant and herb in the world, yet chooses to recommend and distribute poisonous plants instead of healing ones can hardly be defined as wise. He is more accurately compared to a donkey laden 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 evaluating wisdom lies in the ability to connect one's mind, and the information stored therein, with his heart, which guides his actions. It is for this reason that God stressed the importance of selecting the truly wise - the wise of heart.

This concept is illustrated by a well-known, if perhaps apocryphal, story which is told about one of the famous Greek philosophers. In between lessons, his students once encountered him in a section of town known for its immoral activities (what they were doing there hasn't been established).

Unable to reconcile his behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings that he espoused during his lectures, his students pressed him 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 you. At other times, I am not the philosopher with whom you are familiar."

We live in a society which holds wisdom and its pursuers in high esteem. We benefit from this atmosphere which motivates us to pursue education and wisdom, as Judaism clearly places a high value on the importance of learning. Yet as we pursue our studies, it is important to be cognizant of the Torah's message about the true definition of wisdom. Parshas Tetzaveh teaches us to make sure that whatever we study penetrates our hearts and becomes part of us so that it influences and guides our future actions and makes us truly wise.

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The Baal HaTurim points out that from the birth of Moshe until his death, this week's parsha is the only one (except for a few parshas in Deuteronomy, in which Moshe speaks in the first-person) in which his name isn't mentioned a single time. He explains that this is because in next week's parsha, Moshe beseeched God to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf. He requested (Ex. 32:32) that if God wouldn't forgive them, his name should also be erased from the entire Torah.

Although God ultimately accepted Moshe's prayers and forgave the Jewish people, the Talmud (Makkos 11a) teaches that a conditional curse of a righteous person will be fulfilled even if the stipulation itself doesn't come to pass. God partially implemented Moshe's request by removing his name from one entire parsha.

This explanation still begs the question. Why was Moshe's name specifically left out of this week's parsha as opposed to any other?

The Vilna Gaon notes that the yahrtzeit of Moshe, 7 Adar, traditionally falls during the week of Parshas Tetzaveh. In order to hint that it was at this time that Moshe was taken away from the Jewish people, the Torah purposely removed his name from this parsha. The Oznayim L'Torah contrasts this with the non-Jewish approach of establishing holidays on the day their leader was born or died. We, on the other hand, recognize that as great as Moshe was, he was still human. The date of his death isn't even explicit in the Torah, and during the week when he passed away, he isn't even mentioned in the parsha.

Alternatively, Rabbi Zev Leff explains that Rashi writes (4:14) that Moshe was originally intended to serve as the Kohen Gadol, but the position was taken away from him and transferred to his brother Aharon. Parshas Tetzaveh deals almost exclusively with the unique garments and inauguration procedure for the Kohen Gadol. One might have thought that Moshe was bitter at being reminded of the loss of what could have been his and would want to compensate by at least having his name mentioned repeatedly. To demonstrate that Moshe was genuinely happy about his brother's appointment, his name isn't mentioned a single time in the parsha which should have revolved around him, as he willingly stepped aside to allow Aharon his moment in the spotlight.

Finally, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef suggests that the word ספרך (Your book), from which Moshe requested to be removed, can also be read as ספר-ך - the 20th portion in the Torah, which is Tetzaveh.

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The Megillat Esther stresses that our observance of Purim is not in commemoration of the fact that the Jews fought and killed their enemies because if it was, we would celebrate it on 13 Adar when that happened. The Meshech Chochmah explains that in contrast to other nations which declare the days on which they achieved military victories to be national holidays, Judaism doesn't believe in celebrating the downfall of our enemies, as King Solomon writes (Proverbs 24:17) "Do not rejoice over the downfall of your enemy."

The Talmud (Megillah 10b) teaches that the angels wanted to sing a song of praise to God at the Red Sea, and God responded, "My creations and handiwork are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing!?"

For this reason, the Torah doesn't describe Pesach as the Yom Tov when God punished the Egyptians, but rather as the Yom Tov when God freed us from Egypt. Similarly, on Chanukah our celebration is only due to the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days and of the rededication of the Holy Temple, but not of the military victory over the Greeks.

Similarly, Purim wasn't established to commemorate the death of Haman or the defeat of our enemies. Rather, we celebrate Purim on 14 Adar, the day when the Jews were able to rest and return to their normal lives of serving God without distractions. He adds that this had the additional benefit of not inspiring jealousy on the part of our Achashverosh and our other non-Jewish neighbors. During the time between the original miracle of Purim and its enactment as a Yom Tov, the number of anti-Semitic enemies had surely increased, and the last thing Mordechai wanted to do was give them ammunition and reason to hate us more.

He adds that for this reason, the Torah commands us in Exodus 12:16 to make a Yom Tov on the seventh day of Pesach, while the Jews were still in Egypt and well before they had arrived at the Red Sea. The reason is that if God only told us to make a festival on the seventh day of Pesach after the splitting of the Red Sea, we might mistakenly think that it's a Yom Tov to celebrate the death of the Egyptians. Therefore, it was told to them in advance to make it clear that it is part of the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, but not a commemoration of the downfall and suffering of the Egyptians.

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