Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10) A Skillfull and Wise Heart


            Take a look at one of the opening verses this week. In Exodus 28:3 we read of the instruction to bring forward Aaron and then instruct “all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve me as priest”. OK, straight forward, even if a bit awkward translation-wise. Yes, the overwhelming thrust of the portion this week concerns making the clothing for the priesthood and especially the high priest. There are tons of comments on how “clothes make the person” as well as the curious “choshen mishpat” that Is described in 28:15.

            But, as I was looking at this portion, somehow, I became focused on this verse 3 and the curious translation of the Hebrew chochmai-laiv. Many translations have the word skillful. Even a few words later the phrase ruach-chochmah still us worded as skill. If you look at the Plaut translation, there is a small note on this verse which says that this phrase is an “idiomatic translation of chochmah, literally “wisdom” (p.618) Interesting to equate the idea of the wisdom of the heart with skill! Of course, the theology of the Torah has the fact that God created this spirit (ruach) of wisdom, but seemingly not in everyone, for the beginning of the verse states that you need to use only the skillful of people.

            I began to think then of the idea of what this means if we just looked literally at the Hebrew and saw the translation as those with a “wise heart”. What could that mean? What does it mean to have a wise heart, a heart whose spirit is wise? Let you mind play with that for the Shabbat? Does this echo the idea from last Shabbat of the value of our own life experience?

It seems, even in the verse the way it is translated, that not everyone is endowed with this chochmai-laiv! What lessons in life teach us of the value of developing a heart of wisdom? And what is wisdom after all?

            Let me suggest that what this could mean for us as we get older is that we come to understand that a wise heart has nothing to do with academics, as you know. Rather, this is the way we chose to live out lives now. Do we live a life defined by compassion, gratitude, justice, and love? Do we make decisions based not on how we think, but how we feel, checking in with our heart as well as out head? Has our longevity helped redefine what it means to be wise?

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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