5 March 2010
19 Adar 5770
This is an incredibly exciting weekend for Gann students and the Gann community. This afternoon, our boys’ varsity basketball team plays in the semi-finals of the NEPSAC (New England Prep School Athletic Conference) tournament on our home court, which marks the first time the boys’ team has made this tournament since 2004 and only the second time in Gann’s history that we have hosted a NEPSAC game! And throughout the weekend, just down the hall from our spirit-filled gym our passionate and talented Red Curtain Drama Club is performing its highly anticipated and always inspiring winter musical, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”
As I eagerly anticipate watching our students perform on both the court and the stage, I am drawn to a simple Hebrew phrase in this week’s parsha that is used to describe the workers who are instructed to build the holy vessels of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and to make the sacred garments for the Kohanim (Priests). In the English translation, the workers are described simply as “skillful,” yet this translation, however much it captures the literal meaning of the text, does not fully capture the beauty of the Hebrew phrase: “chacham lev – wise of heart” (Exodus 32:6).
According to the Jewish Publication Society commentary on this phrase (Exodus 28:3), “The heart (in Biblical times) is regarded as the seat of intelligence. Wisdom…is as much concerned with the practical realities of life as with considerations of moral conduct.” Skilled workers are referred to as the wise of heart, because, in the Biblical context, thinking (wisdom) resided in the heart, and practical skills were the result of the divine gift, or “spirit of wisdom.” Based on this historical-critical translation, we need not read too much into these words, chacham lev. They are simply the Bible’s way of describing skilled workers in a world where these skills were seen as divinely endowed.
Taking this phrase out of its historical context and putting it in an educational one, I want to suggest a less literal interpretation, that the text is calling our attention to the relationship between head, hand, and heart. Students who perform at high levels and inspire us with their skills—whether acting or singing, shooting a basketball, writing a paper, or completing a math problem—are able to do so not merely because they have been divinely endowed with certain talents, skills, and abilities. Students actualize their skills and talents when they develop the wisdom—the intellectual understanding and the mental discipline—to learn and grow, to practice and hone these skills. Learning and growth happen when practice or doing (the hand) happens simultaneously with theory, analysis, and reflection (the head).
Yet head and hand are still not enough. Many people with great skills never reach their potential because they lack motivation. When our students are at their best, it is not only because of their skills and intellect but also because of their passion and drive, because they are inspired to “leave it all on the court.” In the words of a song from a different musical, “You’ve got to have heart.” For parents, educators, audience members, and fans, it is a blessing to see our children inspired, intrinsically motivated, and passionate. We watch them do what they love and love what they do. More importantly, we see more than what they are able to do; we get a glimpse of who they are. Their whole being is bound up in the beautiful phrase “chacham lev.”
May our own “chachmei lev” fire it up today and throughout the weekend on the court and on the stage—head, hand, and heart. We are so proud of our students.
Rabbi Marc Baker