Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Alex Harris, who will be Rosh Shoafim (entering 8th grade) this summer. Alex spent seven summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as a chanich (camper), four summers as a madrich (counselor), and was Rosh Shoafim last summer. He graduated this December from the University of Michigan specializing in the Middle East and Jewish History.
A Wise Heart: Reflections on Parashat Vayekhel-Pekudei
by Alex Harris
Shoafim’s summer theme in 2019 was chacham lev, a wise heart. The term appears a few times throughout Tanakh, and is most prominently featured in this week’s parashah, Vayekhel-Pekudei: “Moses then called Betzalel and Oholiab, and every wise-hearted person whom the Lord had put wisdom in their heart, everyone who carried in their heart, to undertake the task and carry it out.” (Exodus 36:2) In this pasuk (verse), Moses calls upon two artisans – Betzalel and Oholiab – and their assistants to construct the vessels needed for the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle that the Israelites carried through the desert. Moses’ reason for choosing Bezalel and Oholiab, it seems, is due to their wise hearts. But what is a wise heart?
Mishlei (Proverbs) 10:8 describes, “He whose heart is wise accepts commands.” The Malbim (1809 – 1879, modern-day Ukraine) adds in his commentary on Mishlei, “And [so] every man (including a wise one) has a constant war with the impulse of his heart and the desires that move him to the opposite of the way of wisdom. But a man who is already accustomed to the way of wisdom, to the point that it is second nature for him, and the heart – which is the controlling power within him – no longer calls [him] to evil at all, is called wise-hearted…”
According to the Malbim, one who is wise-hearted is able to discern right from wrong and has had definitive experiences in their life which guide them in the right direction. In other words, a wise-hearted person is one who learns from their mistakes.
So what made Bezalel and Oholiab wise-hearted? The simple answer is that God endowed them with their special abilities. Earlier, in Exodus 31:2-3, it states, “See! I have designated Bezalel…I have endowed him with the Divine spirit, with artistic wisdom, intuitive understanding, inspired knowledge and in all manner of workmanship.”
However, there is a deeper meaning to Bezalel’s designation. While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the mitzvot (commandments) from God, the Israelites begin to worry. When God delays his return for forty days and forty nights, the Israelites turn to pagan idolatry which they were familiar with from Egypt by constructing the golden calf. The construction of the idol, a physical representation of God, is the exact opposite of the transcendent, monotheistic Jewish God. It represents the antithesis of Judaism as a worldview.
Furthermore, since all of the Israelites gave willingly to the construction of the golden calf (Exodus 32:3), it is not such a stretch that Bezalel and Oholiab, being the most talented artisans amongst the Israelites, participated in or even led its construction. Following Moses’s return, the Israelites realized their sin and repented, resulting in a new, everlasting covenant with God.
According to Rashi, the Mishkan was constructed to atone for the sin of the golden calf. In fact, the gold used for the Mishkan was the gold from the golden calf itself. If Bezalel and Oholiab had been the chief architects of the golden calf, their appointment as the chief architects of the Mishkan, the physical dwelling of God on earth, has a new, deeper meaning.
Bezalel and Oholiab’s teshuvah (repentance) is a lesson for all of us on the power of learning from past mistakes. They teach us that each of us is imbued with powers, skills, and abilities each of which is unique and divine. However, it is up to us to decide how to use our abilities whether for good or for evil. To be wise-hearted means to actively self-evaluate and strive to do the right thing especially when we make mistakes.