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Parshas Tetzaveh (5774)

"Wise-Hearted" Jews and Olympic Wannabees

It is interesting that the reading of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Tetzaveh, coincides with the start of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

When looking for skilled artisans and craftsman to make the intricate Bigdei Kehunah, priestly vestments, for Aaron the High Priest to wear, G-d instructed Moses: “And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aaron, to sanctify him to minister to me” (Exodus 28:3).

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz ZT”L comments that it would seem from this verse that one had to first prepare for himself a “wise heart” and only then would G-d grant him the wisdom and ability that he desired. The question is how does one go about getting a “wise heart”? And what does it even mean to have a “wise heart”? After all, isn’t wisdom in the brain and not in the heart?

The answer – explains Rav Chaim – can be found in the story of how King Solomon came to be the “wisest of all men”. G-d appeared to Solomon in a prophecy and asked him what reward he would like for being such a loyal servant. Solomon asked for wisdom and understanding to be able to properly lead the Jewish people. G-d said to him that because he did not request great wealth, but instead expressed a tremendous desire to gain wisdom and understanding, he would be granted great wisdom plus great wealth (see I Kings 35-15).

We see from here that G-d made Solomon the “wisest of all men” only because he desired wisdom so much that he was willing to forgo all the riches in the world in order to attain it.

And this was exactly what G-d instructed Moses when looking for skilled artisans who had the wisdom and ability to make the priestly vestments. He told him to speak to the “wise-hearted” Jews, because only to those who are “wise-hearted”, i.e. they yearn for great wisdom in their hearts and truly want to be wise and understanding, does G-d grant such wisdom.

This amazing Torah concept stands in sharp contrast to the Olympic Games, which celebrate only pure talent and ability, but do not take into account how much an athlete desires a gold medal. A fellow might want to be the best snowboarder in the world – and he might even pray to G-d every day that he be granted a spot on the winner’s podium – but Olympic wannabees remain just that – wannabees – and they don’t come home with any medals in the end.

A beautiful story is told about the great Torah scholar, Rabbi Yehoshua Eizek Shapiro ZT”L, known as Reb Eizel “Charif” (“The Sharp One”) of Slonim (1801-1872): When his daughter was ready to get married, Reb Eizel sought out the top yeshiva student in the famed Yeshiva of Volozhin. He entered the study hall and announced: "I have a very difficult question on a passage in the Talmud. Whoever can supply the correct answer will win my daughter's hand in marriage." Soon a long line formed, and one by one the students tried to provide the answer. And one by one, Reb Eizel explained how their answers were incorrect. This went on for three days, but when no one came up with the correct answer, Reb Eizel had no choice but to pack his bags and leave. He had just reached the edge of the city, when he heard a voice shouting after him: “Rebbi! …the answer, the answer!” He turned around to see a young man running in his direction. Reb Eizel’s eyes lit up and he asked: “Do you have the answer to my question?” The student responded: “No, Rebbi … but I want to know the answer!” "Aha!" shouted Reb Eisel. "If you have such a desire to know the truth, then you will be my son-in-law!"

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