Braid the Parashah

Vayakheil 5784

Is skill relevant when it comes to serving God and if so, what makes a person skilled? This week’s Torah portion, Vayakheil addresses these questions in a really interesting way as Moses instructs the Israelites in the construction of the tabernacle.

The text distinguishes between gifts brought from those who have a חַכְמַת־לֵ֖ב (chochmat-lev) verses those who have a נְדִ֣יב לֵ֗ב (n’div lev). Chochmat lev describes someone with a “wise heart” and is typically translated as “skilled.” N’div lev describes someone with a “willing or inclined heart” and is often translated as someone whose heart is moved. Those whose hearts are moved are instructed to give items they already own (earrings, rings, etc) while those who are skilled are instructed to make things, to sew, or to build.

This brings up so many questions for me, one around the association between skill and wisdom. The translation of chochmat-lev as “skilled” was not immediately obvious to me because the rabbinic period associates wisdom with Torah scholarship. But this text is clearly referring to people who had hard skills like embroidery, carving, designing, and weaving, all of which have very little to do with Torah wisdom.

Here, the commentary is really helpful. There is a suggestion that God endows every human with the capacity to obtain hard skills but just because a person has potential, doesn’t mean they will actualize it. In fact, only a small number of Israelites became “skilled.” How did they do so?

Through wisdom, of course.

They were wise in determining which “best fit” skill to pursue in the first place, and they were also wise in their ability to hold the proper balance between self-confidence and humility, something most people lack. Too little confidence prevents a person from achieving their potential and too little humility leads to failure that inevitably occurs when a person thinks they already know everything.I love this teaching and find the parallels to contemporary times astounding. It amazes me how deeply our ancestors understood the many issues facing our society today. It also encourages us to ask ourselves, how can we embody wisdom as we strive to become skilled?

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