Wisdom of the Heart or How to Create Light

Tezaveh torah portion (Parasha) continues with the instructions of creating the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The Children of Israel receive meticulous instructions regarding the clothes of the high priest.

The Parasha gives two reasons for the creation of the high priest’s clothes: the first, splendor and beauty: “thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty”; the second, sanctity: “they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him.”

Were the high priest’s clothes prepared for splendour and beauty or for sanctity?

There is a nice story about the prophet Eliyahu, who came to town dressed in simple clothes. When he walked into an event that took place in town, nobody noticed him. Eliyahu went out and returned to the event dressed in a fabulous gown. Suddenly everyone gave him attention and respect. When they brought him water to wash his hands (netilat yadaym), Eliyahu dipped his gown’s sleeves in the water, and explained, you did not see me, but rather honored my gown, let my gown wash its “hands”…

It is human to see the garment and miss out on the human being, miss out the holiness. How can we find the inner holy intention of “they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him?”

The book of Genesis teaches us that the first garment was given to Adam and Eve by God: “And God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.”

Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, the Rambam) suggests that from the moment of his inception man is constantly challenged to choose between the light (Hebrew: Or spelled with alef), and the skin (Hebrew: Or spelled with ayin). That is, between the spiritual Or (light) and the material Or (skin), between the garment (material Or) and the holy (the spiritual Or, light).

In today’s torah portion the holy priest’s garment is transformed from the material to the spiritual through the deed of the wisdom of the heart: “And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office.”

What is the wisdom of the heart? In Veyakhel torah portion it is an act done with the intention of holiness: “And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun… And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair.”

Rabbi Shimshon Hirsch suggests that the women were happy to spin the goat’s hair with their own hands, to take an active part in the creation of the holy Tabernacle.

What is the act of spinning and weaving? It is the talent to turn goat’s hair into threads, to weave the threads into a fabric of beauty, unity and holiness. The craft of the wise-hearted women artfully weaves a community through interlacing threads.

Unlike the temple of Solomon, that was a permanent house of holiness, the tabernacle is a tent that is dismantled and reassembled during the time the Children of Israel wander through the desert. This constant flux requires a commitment to the holy work. The true place of holiness lies in the heart of people: “And I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and will be their God.”

From the artful weaving, from the wise-heart commitment to the community, the garment of holiness is created; each member of the community finds his and her inner light.

Weaving Threads from the Distaff of the Moon

In “Wisdom and Dreams,” William Butler Yeats uses weaving as a metaphor for creative writing: an art that weaves threads into colorful fabrics, joins words into inspirational poems, the wisdom of the heart manifested in the wisdom of art.

I pray that I ever be weaving
An intellectual tune,
But weaving it out of threads
From the distaff of the moon.

Wisdom and dreams are one,
For dreams are the flowers ablow
And Wisdom the fruit of the garden:
God planted him long ago.

   ~ William Butler Yeats, Wisdom and Dreams

Feature Photo: Women weave, spin and comb flax. A miniature from an illustrated manuscript of the treatise “On Famous Women” by Giovanni Boccaccio (15th century).

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