As we sit today, most of us hunkered down in our own homes, by definition ‘isolated’ from each other, we may seek some guidance beyond the compelling – and proper – directives from those helping us through this public health crisis. I’d like us to look for an extra moment at this week’s Torah portion, and what it can offer us.
To be a “wise-hearted person” a person “whose heart moves them” – isn’t that what we all aspire to be? And isn’t that what we want for our children, as well?
In this week’s portion, Va-yekhel, a sidra devoted to the gathering of all of Children of Israel – men and women together – where Moses addresses the entire nation, and charges them with the privilege of building the Tabernacle (the Mishkan), according to the instructions previously given, we see repeated use of the terms “for every one with a wise heart,” or “for everyone who hearts move them.”
Every person had some role to play in the building of the Mishkan – some to construct, some to donate, some to support, and yet Moses addressed all and every member of B’nei Yisrael. In other words, everyone had a role, and everyone thus had only to find that calling in their hearts. And while the detailed instructions that followed are about construction materials and techniques, little is directly said of instructions for growing a heart of wisdom, or a heart that moves us.
Perhaps we need to explore the text from a somewhat different angle to get some insight into that question.
Rabbi Benjamin Samuels (a great friend of Schechter) wrote recently about a teaching from the Sages on a related topic. The Sages encourage every Jew to see themselves as a single letter of the Torah. Since there is no Hebrew word of just a single letter (in distinction from English, where the first person singular is just one letter standing alone), every Hebrew word needs other letters to form words.
Then the words need other words in order form a sentence, or a page, or a poem, or a Torah. Similarly, every one of us has an important contribution to make, for without our heart-felt contributions, there would be no poetry, no Torah. Together, though, we compose something way beyond what we can each imagine for ourselves; we can compose something sacred.
Perhaps that is the lesson of a wise heart – to pursue the gift that is special to each of us, knowing that nothing sacred is ever achieved without the hearts and gifts of many, and that our goal is always focused on something higher, something greater.
Let this be a guide for us, and for our children: to keep “searching for that heart of gold,” and finding ways to build that center of sanctity with others on the journey, even when we might feel that we are isolated, alone.
For, indeed, the Torah teaches us, as Jews we are never alone. On days – and possibly weeks – like these, we are always “alone together;” always engaged, always part of something larger.
Rabbi Toba Spitzer (another Schechter friend) shared a poem by Lynn Ungar that might help frame this time for us:
…..Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
God willing, we will all emerge from this difficult period – together and stronger.
Arnold Zar-Kessler, Executive Director Inspiring Educators, Former Head of School, Schechter Alumni Parent and Grandparent