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    Wise in the mind or the heart? – Vayakhel

    The Torah portion praises the chacham lev, “the person who is wise-hearted”. The exact words are, “All who are wise-hearted among you shall come and do all that the Lord has commanded” (Ex. 35:10).

    The phrase, “wise-hearted”, is rather puzzling. Wisdom is usually considered an attribute of the mind, not the heart. When we describe the rabbinic sages as chachamim, “wise ones”, we mean it in the sense of clever scholars.

    Looking at wisdom in this way, we wonder how Maimonides can speak of chachamim and chassidim almost in the same breath at the beginning of his Hil’chot De’ot (“The Laws of Character Traits”). We would have thought that the first category denotes cleverness and the second saintliness. We would have said that the chacham uses his mind and the chassid his heart.

    In Maimonides’ terms, the chacham works out by means of thought that he should keep the commandments, while the chassid is moved to do even more than the law requires.

    Comparing the activity of the mind and the heart appears to confuse the categories. Yet this is not what we find in the Scriptures. The Book of Proverbs says (10:8), chacham lev yikkach mitzvot, “the wise-hearted accepts commandments”. This and other passages which link wisdom and the heart reinforce the conclusion that “heart” = “mind”.

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