I think Jack Benny was quoting Mark Twain when he said, “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn't matter.”

In Jewish thought, however, we seem to focus more on ‘mind over heart’ than ‘mind over matter.’

In 1812, Napoleon and his French army invaded Russia. Despite his promises of liberty and equality for the Jews, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was opposed to Napoleon, in contrast to many other Russian Jewish leaders at the time. He understood that Napoleon’s way would lead to much assimilation, and, despite highly prevalent Czarist antisemitism, he supported the Russian campaign against France.

He even sent one of his senior chassidim, Rabbi Moshe Meisels, to work as an interpreter at French military headquarters so he could pass on vital military secrets to the Russians. One day, Napoleon himself burst into the military command and spotted Meisels. Immediately, he accused him of being a spy and put his hand on his chest to see if his heart was beating furiously, which would reveal his fear and expose the truth. But Moshe Meisels remained completely calm and replied to Napoleon that he was simply serving as a translator since he was fluent in both Russian and French. The danger passed.

Rabbi Moshe would later say that the fundamental Chassidic principle—the mind rules the heart—literally saved his life.1

In his foundational treatise, the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman insists that all humans have the innate natural capacity to control their feelings and desires if they make a genuine attempt.2 Indeed, this seems to be a fundamental principle of our faith, as we must believe that, ultimately, we will all face accountability for our decisions.

But how can we be held accountable if we are overcome by the desire for wrongdoing? As hard as it may be in the moment, we always ultimately have the freedom to choose how we will respond. The mind has the strength to control the heart and its desires.

This can help us understand a phrase repeated throughout this week’s Torah reading. Concerning the instructions to build the Tabernacle, the very first House of G‑d, we come across the phrase chacham lev – wise hearted. “Every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything which G‑d has commanded.” 3 We are also told that the wise-hearted women spun the goats’ hair needed for the Sanctuary in their own uniquely talented way.4 The phrase wise-hearted recurs again and again throughout the parshah.

But wise-hearted sounds contradictory. Wisdom is a faculty of the rational mind, our intellect. The heart, on the other hand, is the seat of our emotions, which are often anything but rational. In life, mind and heart are often at loggerheads. G‑d gave intellect to be able to discern good from bad, right from wrong. The heart, though, maked us creatures of habit, unable or unwilling to exercise rational judgment when making decisions.

Aren’t we all too familiar with our own constant inner struggles between mind and heart? The heart pushes us to schmooze with our neighbor in shul. The mind interrupts and tells us the rabbi is speaking. The heart says, “That’s a nice smartphone.” The head says, “It’s not yours.” The heart says, “She’s gorgeous.” The mind tells us, “She’s married.”

Isn’t that why every Yom Kippur we klopAl Chet” by beating our chests over our hearts when recounting and confessing our sins of the past year? We pound our hearts because it was most likely the heart that got us into trouble in the first place. Had we followed our rational minds instead, we would have been far less likely to make those mistakes and commit those very sins.

So how are we to understand the paradoxical phrase, wise-hearted?

In the context of our Biblical storyline, we are discussing the gracious and generous contributions of the people who helped build the Sanctuary. Whether by their material contributions or by their sheer hard work, they demonstrated their commitment to doing good by giving of themselves. They were truly wise-hearted people.

We all know the famous “wise son” from the Pesach Seder night. He’s the clever boy, the sharp one, the ever-favorite son. The world admires smart people. They are respected and revered in academia; they command hefty salaries in the corporate world.

I remember reading how in the dark days of pre-glasnost Communist Russia, when there was no such thing as free enterprise, there was a completely different system of one-upmanship. How did ambitious people flaunt their achievements? How did they outdo their peers? Not with money, property portfolios, or stocks and bonds, but with university degrees and doctorates. He who has the most degrees, wins.

But doctorates, degrees, dissertations, and scholarly papers don’t guarantee that one is honest, decent, upright, or caring. For that we need, not a good brain, but a good heart! We need people who are not only clever, but kind. The wise ones must have heart too.

The “wise son” may be very smart, but he can also be shrewd, spiteful, manipulative, and downright dangerous. Do you really think Kim Jong Un is an idiot? He may look like a ridiculous cartoon character, but he’s no fool. He is toying with presidents and prime ministers and controls an arsenal of military hardware threatening all the free world. Iran’s Ayatollahs may look like pathetic relics of an ancient empire, but they may well be laughing all the way to nuclear power, G‑d forbid. We need truly wise men and women, not mischievous ‘wise guys.’

The term wise-hearted is also used to describe Betzalel, the talented architect and designer of the Sanctuary.5 Unlike other brilliant individuals from whom the world sees no benefit, Betzalel shared his wisdom. He taught his juniors the intricacies of the sacred projects and shared his knowledge liberally and generously.

So, I would submit that wise-hearted is an exceptionally good turn of phrase after all. A mind without a heart may be cold, sterile, and even evil. And a heart needs a mind to guide and direct it correctly. The wise-hearted have both intelligence and empathy, a truly admirable combination.