Understanding of the Heart

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

Translated by Kaeren Fish


Dedicated by Benay and Ira Meisels
in commemoration of the 30th yahrzeit of Ira’s father,
Harry (Chune) Meisels, z”l
We mourn the sudden passing of our dear friend and supporter
Mr. Joshua Mermelstein z"l
and extend our deepest sympathies to his mother,
his wife Beth, and his children Avi, Jesse and Jonah.
May the family know no more sorrow.


“Moshe assembled all of the congregation of Benei Yisrael and said to them: These are the things which God has commanded to perform them.  Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh day there shall be for you a holy day, a Shabbat of rest to God….” (Shemot 35:1-2)


Both in parashat Ki Tisa and in parashat Vayakhel, the laws of Shabbat are juxtaposed to the labor involved in the Mishkan.  This juxtaposition gives rise to a number of halakhic discussions and practical halakhic conclusions – such as the 39 types of labor forbidden on Shabbat, which are the labors involved in the Mishkan and their derivatives, as well as the very definition of the labor forbidden on Shabbat as “melekhet machshevet” (artisan labor – i.e., labor that is positive, creative, intentional).  However, beyond the halakhic level, it would seem that there is another connection between Shabbat and the Mishkan, a connection with profound significance.


The relationship between the Mishkan and the dimension of space has as its parallel the relationship between Shabbat and the dimension of time.  Just as the Mishkan is a “Sanctuary in space,” so Shabbat is a “Sanctuary in time.”  And just as Shabbat is the completion and ultimate end-purpose of Creation, so the Mishkan is the end-purpose of Creation, as reflected in Ramban’s words in his introduction to Sefer Shemot: “Then the Divine transcendence would come back again to rest over them, and then they would return to their redeemed state.” 


So much for the two dimensions of time and space.  However, the world comprises more than just these two dimensions, and to these is added a third dimension – man.  The dimension of man, too, has its sanctuary, and it is the heart: “In my heart I shall build a Sanctuary.”  A person who wishes to attain sanctity and to grow in sanctity, must work first and foremost on his heart.  “Purify our hearts to serve You in truth,” we ask; “Create me a pure heart, O God.”


In our parasha we find an expression that repeats itself several times: “wise of heart” (chakham lev).  This is not a term that is readily understood: it is not usually the heart that we speak of as the seat of wisdom, but rather the head, the brain.  The heart is regarded, instead, as the seat of our emotions.  However, the verses speak of “wisdom of the heart” - because the heart is the sanctuary within the dimension of man. 


The Gemara (Berakhot 61b), describing the qualities of various organs, states: “The heart understands” (lev mevin).  Understanding is deeper than wisdom.  A person who is wise comprehends what he is taught; a person with understanding is able to “understand one thing from within another”; he is able to read between the lines and to gain insight that goes beyond the information given.  This is a most profound concept: Although wisdom may be attained through the intellect, a person who aspires to reach a higher level of sanctity and connection with God will not be able to create this connection through the intellect alone; he will need the understanding of the heart.  To be a person whose heart is in the right place, a heart that is pure and also a heart that is warm – this is “understanding of the heart.” 


Man’s sanctuary is indeed in his heart.  Without detracting from the importance and status of knowledge and intellect, we must not forget: “God seeks the intention of the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b).