parasha

Ki Tisa 5779

 

Who Is Given Wisdom? Ki Tisa

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, ends with G-d talking to Moses, a revelation that took place on Mount Sinai and lasted for forty days. This is when Moses received the detailed instructions for building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the temporary temple that accompanied the Jewish nation during its wanderings until the Temple was built in Jerusalem, as well as the ritual objects it contained. The detailed instructions even reached the level of the names of the artists in charge of carrying them out: Bezalel and Oholiab, and other “wise hearted” people.


…and all the wise hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom, and they shall make everything I have commanded you.
(Exodus 31, 6)

The wisdom in a person’s heart is a gift from G-d, and therefore he must use this wisdom for positive ends, and in this case – the building of the Mishkan.


The greatest of sages in the Land of Israel in the 3rd century was Rabbi Yochanan; an amazing person who was a Rosh Yeshiva, a teacher, and a leader who was a role model for loving wisdom. In examining these verses, Rabbi Yochanan concluded the following: The Blessed be He does not give wisdom but to one who has wisdom within him. This is what is seemingly said in the verse we just quoted: “…all the wise hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom”. It seems wisdom was given to those who already were wise hearted (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, page 55).


But, of course Rabbi Yochanan’s words cannot be understood this way. The wise person received wisdom before he was wise! Everyone starts out with certain wisdom that was given to him before he showed himself to be a wise person!


The midrash offers an explanation, given by a different wise Jew, from the 2nd century, Rabbi Yossi ben Halafta:


If the Holy One, blessed be He, gave wisdom to fools, they would still sit in privies, in filthy alleys, and in bathhouses, and would not put the wisdom to use. Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, gives wisdom to the wise, who sit in the chambers of the elders, in synagogues, and in house of study, and they utilize that wisdom.
(Midrash Tanhuma on Vayakhel)


It seems, therefore, that basic wisdom is not more than love of wisdom. A person who appreciates wisdom, knows how to value it and invest in it – is privileged to receive wisdom; but a person who does not value wisdom will not receive wisdom. Love of wisdom is a condition of being given wisdom.
The biography of Rabbi Yochanan, who spoke of love of wisdom, points to his familiarity with this love. The Talmud tells of the last period in Rabbi Yochanan’s life: Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish was married to Rabbi Yochanan’s sister and was also his prize student. When Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish passed away, Rabbi Yochanan could not bear the pain. When they brought him another excellent student to fill the place of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Rabbi Yochanan rejected him, saying: Bar Lakisha – when I would believe a thing would challenge me with 24 objections and I would answer him with 24 answers, which led to a fuller understanding of the law. And you say – ‘there is a beraita that supports you?!’ Do I not already know good my belief is?!”


Striving for truth and loving wisdom were at the core Rabbi Yochanan’s existence and he could not be consoled after the passing of the student who helped him delve deeper into the Torah’s wisdom. The tragic end to this story appears in the Talmud and leaves no room for doubt: He went out and tore his clothes and he cried and said, ‘Where are you Bar Lakisha? Where are you Bar Lakisha?’ And he shouted until his mind left him. When the rabbis saw this, they prayed that his suffering would end. Their prayers were heard and Rabbi Yochanan passed away. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Metziya, daf 84)


The love of wisdom that guided Rabbi Yochanan led the sages of his generation to eulogize him with the following words: “If a person would give all his worldly possessions with the love that Rabbi Yochanan loved the Torah – he would be ridiculed” (Leviticus Rabbah, 30).

All Torah weekly sections

אתרי הכותל

במתחם הכותל המערבי מספר אתרי תיירות ייחודים, אשר מעניקים מבט מיוחד על תולדותיה של ירושלים ועל ההיסטוריה של העם היהודי לדורותיו.
הצטרפו לרבבות שכבר ביקרו באתרי הכותל ותיהנו מחוויה מעצימה שלא תישכח במהרה.

All western wall sites