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Rashi’s Mussar: God Desires the Hearts of Men

Published on Friday April 9th, 2021

During the embolismic year period of 13-lunar months (384 days), we are privileged to study the Parsha of Vayakhel thoroughly and autonomously, without linking it to Pekudei, as customary. As we previously witnessed in the parsha of Terumah and Tetzaveh, the content of our Parsha may seem overly descriptive, like a redundancy of the preceding sections. Likewise, we sometimes fail to understand some profound lessons that can be applied to our generation. Yet, as always, an unsuspected gem appears before our eyes.

Our parsha introduces the craftsmen who will become the prime contractors of the execution of the tabernacle. In addition to Betzalel and Aholiab, which God designates by name, other craftsmen whose most outstanding character trait is described repeatedly by the Bible text as "Chacham Lev", wise of heart will join the endeavor.

This expression seems surprising because, in principle, wisdom is an expression of the mind. Artisans are known for their expertise, know-how, and their manual and plastic skills. Why does the text mention the wisdom of the heart as a prerequisite for performing this honorable craft?

To unravel this question, one must concentrate on the wonderful capacities of the heart. Our Parshiyot refer to the heart several times. Thus, the people are called to donate for the construction of the tabernacle, according to "the generosity of their heart". Rashi's comments on this verse (Shemot, 35, 5) elucidate the above as follows:

Any man with a spontaneous heart is so described because his heart naturally gravitates towards generosity.

Thus, the heart seems like a precious inner strength that prompts man into effective action, because the heart motivates and guides a man to remove any obstacles standing in his way. The heart infuses man with surplus energy, lucidity, and success, and animates him with a sacred fire to sustain his human ambition.

Unlike the rational brain, which generally relies on theoretical knowledge or on the lessons derived by experience, the heart is likely to lead man to follow his intuition and obey his spontaneous perception of events. The heart is above reason and often fires rationality autonomously, such as in instances where a man confronts existential challenges that call him to reach beyond his nature.

This quality was critical to artisans who had never trained in the arts, and who had to find the intuition and resources within to miraculously execute the sanctuary in every detail. No rational element could suggest that the endeavor was possible, only the heart's conviction and an inflexible will to succeed could give these men the strength and talent to do the job, assisted by divine providence.

The wisdom of the heart elicits a blessing and constitutes precious teaching in our Parshiyot. Drawing inspiration from the holy Zohar, Nachmanides, offers a clue from a verse in our text. Indeed, it is written: "Every Chacham Lev (wise of the heart) shall bring him." Our commentators suggest that Divine Providence is engendered by this wisdom of the heart. That is, the Shechinah will come down to assist man in all his undertakings (Rabbi Munk). Indeed, when a man puts all his heart into the fulfillment of divine will, he draws help from Heaven which may ensure unsuspected success.

We may illustrate the virtues of the heart by analyzing the lives of the tzaddikim. The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin) led the Yeshiva of Volozhin for almost 40 years. He was not only responsible for the well-being of hundreds of students but was also taxed with the burden of financing his institution. Despite having his hands full, he wrote and published several books of impressive richness and depth.

You may think he was a natural genius whose exceptional talent manifested at a young age. But this was not so! In fact, he himself recalled that his parents had thought of teaching him a trade when he was a youth, as they saw no predispositions to study Torah in their young child. When he heard his parents' considerations, the Netziv implored them to give him a second chance. He began to study with all his heart at the cost of considerable effort, and thus, achieved prodigious results.

An additional anecdote will better illustrate the secrets of the Righteous. In the Volozhin Yeshiva, several courses by different prestigious masters were often held simultaneously. Once a student who was very diligent during the Netziv’s leadership was asked why he manifested such fidelity to his master. He told them the following anecdote:

Once, confronted with a difficulty in the interpretation of a commentary in Baba Batra (a Talmud tractate), he questioned the Netziv, known for his outstanding knowledge. The latter felt embarrassed and confessed that despite his efforts and his Tefilot, he himself failed to understand this teaching. He also confessed he had made a few trips to the tombs of the Tzadikim to ask that they intercede in his favor and help him grasp this teaching.

The student realized that the key which brought the Netziv to such levels of knowledge and familiarity with the Torah was above all his wholeheartedness. He wished to focus on his master to learn how to embody this virtue himself (Rav Rozenberg).

His heart beat with the entire Torah existentially. Failing to understand even a commentary of one of the Talmudic treatises was inconceivable to him. He was always motivated by his heart’s yearning. His will reached beyond reason. His love of the Torah was never weighed down by rational arguments. Carried by his heart, the Netziv became an extraordinary man of Torah, which is continuously read and admired till this day.

The path of the Torah and closeness to God passes through the heart. Our Sages teach: "Rachamana Chafetz Liba", God desires the hearts of men. An ignited heart is the best engine to bring everyone to feel authentically close to Hashem and reconnect with the essence and root of his soul.

Let us conclude with some verses from the prophet Jeremiah, which shed light on where the covenant between Hashem and each one of us (31, 32) lies:

"But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel at the end of time, said Hashem: I will give them My law and engrave it in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people”.

Jérome TOUBOUL - © Torah-Box Account

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