Chochmat Lev and Emotional Intelligence

In 1983, Howard Gardner put forward the idea of Multiple Intelligences, in contrast to the prevailing view of intelligence as a single, measurable quantity — something that could be ranked on tests like the IQ test. Gardner linked research from across the field into the idea that there are 7 or 8 ways in which humans can be intelligent. In 1995, Daniel Goleman built further on this idea, focusing his work on the central role of Emotional Intelligence in our lives. Both of these important works have had an enormous impact on how we think about teaching and learning.

Multiple Intelligences challenged the idea that people were either smart or they weren’t, and opened many doors for educators to expand their repertoires in the classroom, broadening the conversation about how people learn.

Emotional Intelligence is built on 4 factors:

In modern educational settings, we often refer to social-emotional development when talking about the same core skills Goleman identified in Emotional Intelligence. More recent research, built on his foundation, indicates that these skills are as important, if not more important than intelligence in predicting who will lead a successful, meaningful life.

In this weeks’ Torah portion, VaYakhel, the people of Israel build the Tabernacle – the physical dwelling place of divine presence. Not just anyone got the contract for this building project – those that were selected to construct this holy structure were described as having a fascinating property: חכמת לב, chochmat lev, literally translating to something like wisdom of the heart:

Exodus 36:1:

וְעָשָׂה֩ בְצַלְאֵ֨ל וְאָהֳלִיאָ֜ב וְכֹ֣ל ׀ אִ֣ישׁ חֲכַם־לֵ֗ב אֲשֶׁר֩ נָתַ֨ן יְהוָ֜ה חָכְמָ֤ה וּתְבוּנָה֙ בָּהֵ֔מָּה לָדַ֣עַת לַעֲשֹׂ֔ת אֶֽת־כָּל־מְלֶ֖אכֶת עֲבֹדַ֣ת הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֖ה יְהוָֽה׃

And Bezalel and Oholiab shall work, and every wise-hearted person, in whom the LORD hath put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all the work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD hath commanded.’

One can only assume that those selected for this project were outstanding artisans. But that wasn’t what landed them this crucial job – this work was done by those with emotional intelligence. Why? Perhaps because this wasn’t just any dwelling place. Perhaps because the physical manifestation of the divine should only be built by someone who knows how to communicate well with others, forge deep relationships, or understand their own inner selves. This emphasis on core values, rather than just technical skill, is reflected throughout our foundational texts.

In a midrash linked to this story, the rabbis suggest that the builders of the Tabernacle wanted it to not only be beautiful, but to be strong, in order to withstand the elements and harsh nature of the environment they were traveling through. Nothing is stronger than the passion found in the heart, they said, so those that built this structure had to be both wise and passionate. Wisdom without heart or heart without wisdom wouldn’t do the trick.

It is for this reason and many others that we focus on developing this same attribute in our students here at Gesher. You can learn to read anywhere (though I happen to think we do a particularly excellent job of teaching reading here). What you can’t get everywhere is a school that models and nurtures emotional intelligence through the study of the most ancient wisdom literature on the planet. We are blessed to be able to put our children in such an environment, and I hope that as their chochmat lev (heart-wisdom) develops into adulthood, they will also be worthy of bringing beauty and meaning into the world, just as their ancestors did in the desert.

Shabbat Shalom,