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Wise Hearts

Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20 )

by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

Every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that God has commanded #(35:10) Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands (Exodus, 35:25)
He [God] filled them with a wise heart to do ... every craft (35:35)
The wise-hearted among those doing the work made the Tabernacle (36:8)

The repeated references to the trait of “wise-hearted” cannot be without significance.

On the verse, “Every man whose heart inspired him came” (Exodus 35:21), Ramban comments that none of the Israelites had learned the skills necessary for the work of the Sanctuary and the vestments. However, because they were intensely motivated to do the Divine will, they discovered that they were in fact able to do the skilled craftsmanship. This might be interpreted as a miraculous endowment of skills they had not had. However, the words of Ramban indicate that it was not an endowment of something new. Rather, it was a discovery that they had these skills within them.

This is an important lesson. Clinically, I repeatedly encounter people who are not aware of their inherent skills and personality assets. In my writings on self-esteem I point out that not only are many people oblivious of their personality assets and potential, but even when these are pointed out to them, they persist in denying them. One can only wonder why intelligent people are not able to accept such factual information.

It is not uncommon in psychotherapy to repeatedly point out something to a patient, but it does not have the slightest impact upon him. After regularly pointing this out for a year and a half, there is a sudden insight. The patient may then say, “Doctor, I've been coming here for a year and a half. Why haven't you ever pointed this out to me before?”

During the year and a half of therapy, when the therapist interpreted the patient's symptoms, the patient said, “I understand everything you've said, but it doesn't make me feel any better.” I can conclude only that intellect is subordinate to emotion, and that intellectual knowledge that is not accompanied by emotional knowledge is ineffective. If there are emotional factors that do not allow a person to accept something about himself, whether it is something good or something bad, no amount of intellectual information will register.

According to Ramban, this is what happened with the Israelites. Many people did not have an inkling that they had the requisite skills for the intricate work in crafting the vessels, vestments and curtains of the Sanctuary. But their devotion to God and their desire to do His will resulted in “their hearts being elevated in the ways of God” (II Chronicles 17:6). Their spirits soared, and the emotional fervor enabled them to discover the skills within them.

We usually think of wisdom as associated with the mind and brain rather than with the heart. We associate the heart with emotions rather than with wisdom. The Torah repeatedly refers to the “wise-hearted” to indicate the overriding influence of emotion over intellect, and that only when one's emotions permit can one implement the powers of the intellect.

We have untouched reserves of both physical and mental abilities. Under conditions of stress, people have been known to perform physical feats that they never thought were within their capacities. There is reason to believe that some geniuses were not of such superior intellect, but rather that their emotional investment allowed them to fully utilize their potential.

This is an important principle in education. If we can stimulate interest and desire for knowledge in children, they are likely to excel in their studies. A good teacher is, therefore, one who can reach the students in a way that they become “wise-hearted.”

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