Phew! So much happening this Shabbat, it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe an overview of the two parashot? Or that it is a special Shabbat, Shabbat HaChodesh? Or that it is the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar, and suddenly it’s only 18 days until Pesach?
This week I’m going to forsake the bigger picture and focus on a word in Vayakhel. As HaShem instructs Moshe on the details of the Mishkan, the word “lev” (heart) is used 14 times. Multiples of 7 in Judaism always have special significance, so what do we learn here? There are three compound words containing ‘lev’ – nadiv-lev, meaning generous-hearted; nisa-lev, meaning whose heart inspired them; chacham-lev meaning wise-hearted; and once ‘lev’ appears by itself.
It is suggested that these heart words describe different people and activities. The nadiv-lev – generous of heart – are the ones contributing resources willingly to the project. Nisa-lev describes how excited people are to do the work or give gifts. Chacham-lev refers to the men and women and leaders of this project, Bezalel and Oholiav.
We might think that in the context of the Mishkan, the words refer only to skill, but the tradition actually extends it much further. Bezalel is specifically named to lead this enterprise not only because he is a gifted craftsman, but also because he is spiritually on a very high level (BT Berachot 55a). His “wise-heart” means not only skill, but ethical grounding, fear of heaven and intellectual knowledge.
When we use our skills and knowledge for projects not for our own self-aggrandisement, but the for the good of all who might benefit from the project, something very special can be created. Vayakhel and Pekudei, Shabbat HaChodesh and the not-too distant Pesach are all instances of putting our Chochmat-lev into the joyous communal endeavours of the Jewish people, and our own families.