It takes a lot to build a Sanctuary in the desert. And it takes perhaps, even more to adorn the Kohanim (priests) who serve, in beautiful vestments that both symbolize deep spirituality while depicting splendor and glory. You need more than golden threads and fine tapestry. You need more than the ability to weave and design ornate garments. You need devotion, and you need heart. Not ordinary heart. Not the heart that pennant winners have or athletic coaches call for. You need a special type of heart. You need a heart filled with wisdom — Divine wisdom. That is why Hashem commands Moshe to gather “all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom” to make the priestly garments (Exodus 28:1).
But the Torah is unclear. Were these select people Divinely ordained with a spirit of wisdom for this particular mission, or were intrinsic “wise-hearted” people imbued with an extra “spirit of wisdom”?
If the former is correct, then what did Hashem add? And if all their wisdom was divinely-gifted, then why didn’t Hashem simply ask Moshe to “gather all the people in whom I have invested a spirit of wisdom”?
Rav Sholom Shwadron, the Magid of Jerusalem, of blessed memory, once told a story about the famed Dubno Magid, Rabbi Yaakov Kranz.
The Dubno Magid once spoke in a town and a few maskilim (members of the enlightenment movement) attended. After the talk one of the cynics, who was totally unaffected by the warm and inspiring message, approached the famed Magid. “The sages tell us,” began the skeptic, “‘that words from the heart, penetrate the heart.’ Rabbi,” he snickered, “I assume that you spoke from your heart. Your words, however, have had no impact on me whatsoever! How can that be? Why didn’t your words penetrate my heart?”
Rabbi Kranz smiled. In his usual fashion, he began with a parable. “A simpleton once went by the workplace of a blacksmith, who was holding a large bellows. After a few squeezes, the flames of the smith’s fire danced with a rage. The man, who always found it difficult to start a fire in his own fireplace, marveled at the contraption. He immediately went and purchased the amazing invention. Entering his home, he smugly announced, “I just discovered how to make a raging fire with the simple squeeze of a lever!”
He set a few logs in the cold fireplace and began to push the two ends of the bellows together. Nothing happened. The logs lay cold and lifeless. Embarrassed, the man returned to the blacksmith and explained his predicament. “I want a refund!” he shouted. This blower doesn’t work!”
“You yokel,” laughed the experienced blacksmith. “You were blowing on cold logs! You must start a small fire on your own! If you don’t start with a spark, a fire will never erupt!”
The Magid turned toward the maskil and sadly shook his head sadly. “If there is no spark, the largest bellows will not make a fire.”
In telling Moshe whom to choose for the sacred task of designing the Mishkan, the Torah tells us how G-d invests. He wants people that were imbued with a ruach chachmah – a sprirt of wisdom. But he prefaces the statement by telling us how one receives spiritual wisdom. The gift of spiritual wisdom does not go to just anyone. Hashem looks for those who have wisdom of heart. Those who understand what it means to be kind, compassionate, and loyal. Those who have the devotion to His will and the desire for more enlightenment get His ordination. The people who were imbued with Hashem’s Divine spirit previously had a spark. And from that spark grew a force – a Divine force – that propelled wise hearts into a Divine spirit of wisdom.
Hashem tells us that we must begin the process on our own. If we supply the heart, He will supply the power to have deep, spiritual, even holy insight. He will supply the force. We must make sure, however, that we put the heart before the force.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.