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    A “chochem” for a son-in-law – T’tzavveh

    The Volozhin Yeshiva

    The Volozhin Yeshiva

    Rabbi Eizik Charif once went to Volozhin Yeshivah to find a husband for his daughter. It was taken for granted in those circles that people were blessed to have a scholar for a son-in-law. The Hebrew phrase is talmid chacham, a “wise pupil”. The obvious criterion has to do with what the person has learned and how diligent he is as a student.

    The sidra we read this Shabbat adds, however, another word: lev, a heart. It speaks of the chacham lev, the person with a wise heart (Ex. 28:3). Naturally we wonder: doesn’t wisdom come from the mind, not the heart?

    Rabbi Chayyim Schmulewitz insists, though, that wisdom is not measured by academic achievement but by character. Learning comes from the brain, but wisdom is a matter of attitude. It requires desire and enthusiasm, or in other words the heart.

    Next Shabbat we will be reading about Joshua going with Moses to Sinai and waiting forty days because he is keen to acquire the leader’s outlook and enthusiasm, not merely (to use modern terminology) to pass examinations and gain degrees.

    It is said that before Rabbi Eizik Charif entered Volozhin on the fateful day he decided he would only note down the name of a student who could answer a particular question he had formulated. Seeing no-one seemed capable of satisfying his criterion, Rabbi Eizik was about to leave for home, but then a student chased after him.

    “Do you know the answer to my question?” asked Rabbi Eizik Charif. “No,” said the young man, “but I’d like to know it!”

    Presumably the young man won the contest; and presumably Rabbi Eizik Charif learnt something too. No wonder the Midrash (commenting on Ex. 28:3) asks, “Why does God give wisdom to the wise?” The Midrash answers its own question, “It’s because the foolish will waste it!” That’s being a chacham lev.

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