What is a wise heart, and why is it a good thing to have?
This week’s Torah reading, Vayakhel – Pekudei, includes a lot of instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its accessories. The craftsmen are also prominently featured. In Exodus 36:1, the Torah says “And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise-hearted man in whose heart the Lord had given wisdom, everyone whose heart moved him, to approach the task to do it.”
Aaron of Karlin, a 19th century Russian rabbi, commented on this verse: ”Wisdom of the mind alone, without wisdom of the heart, is worthless.”
When I first read Rabbi Aaron’s comment, I immediately agreed. But when I thought about it a little more, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. So I turned to my favorite source for help on philosophical questions — Facebook — and a friend wrote “I totally agree with Aaron of Karlin. My heart knows what he said is true, but my mind is too tired to explain why.”
Our hearts intuit why a wise heart is important, but it takes some effort to get our minds to explain “why.”
To start with, what IS wisdom of the heart? I don’t think it’s simply being compassionate. I think compassion is a necessary trait to develop “wisdom of the heart” — just as intelligence is a necessary trait to develop “wisdom of the mind” — but it’s not the whole story.
I think “wisdom of the heart” is understanding people. Understanding the human dimension. Understanding the incredibly complicated interaction between thoughts, feelings, and people who have all sorts of different needs and desires. If wisdom of the mind is intelligence tempered by and informed by experience — which provides foresight, the ability to predict possible outcomes — wisdom of the heart is the same thing in the emotional realm. Wisdom of the heart is compassion tempered by and informed by experience — which provides foresight in matters of the heart.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that we can make small decisions with our minds — analytically, intellectually weighing the cost/benefit ratio. But big decisions, Heschel said, we make with our heart.
And here is where “wisdom of the heart” is important. It is entirely possible to make dumb decisions with your heart. Having wisdom of the heart is what allows a person to make the right decisions, coming from the heart, not just the mind. Wisdom of the heart is, indeed, a precious commodity, and if you have a friend with a wise heart you should treasure him or her — and listen to his or her advice!