Friday, February 20, 2015

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman

A mother's musings relating to this week's Torah portion:

My daughter is always complaining that “all the other mothers” always do their children’s projects and homework for them”. I will help her with the research, explain to her anything she doesn't understand, share ideas and generally guide her along; but I like the actual work to be her own. How else will she learn to express her own thoughts and creativity?

Am I being a rotten parent in not catering to her, or are these other parents missing the point?

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah (Exodus 25:1–27:19)—as well as a sizable portion of the book of Exodus—is devoted to the construction of the Sanctuary (Mishkan) built by the children of Israel in the desert.

The Torah, which is usually very sparing with words, is uncharacteristically elaborate when it comes to describing the Sanctuary. All the materials used in the construction, the components and furnishings of the Sanctuary, as well as every minute detail of the actual construction—are listed and described, sometimes numerous times.

All in all, thirteen chapters are devoted to describing how the Jewish people were to fashion this edifice. In contrast, the Torah devotes only one chapter to the creation of the universe! Only three chapters are devoted to the description of the awe-inspiring and monumental event of the revelation of G‑d at Mt. Sinai.

Moreover, the Sanctuary was only a “tent,” a temporary dwelling serving as the religious focal point in the desert. Once the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, the Sanctuary was replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Why, then, does the Torah describe the Sanctuary at such great length, while almost glossing over the creation of our world and giving a relatively short account of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? Is there perhaps a lesson for us as parents to guide us in the education of our children?

At Sinai (and certainly at the creation of the world), we were passive participants. G‑d descended in all His glory and majesty, accompanied by breathtaking sounds and sights of grand thunder and lightening, while the Jewish people merely observed and heard.

In fact, because of the non-participatory nature of the Sinai experience, the impression of the holiness wasn’t permanent. After the Divine Presence departed from the mountain, it reverted to its former non-holy status. Similarly, soon after the spiritually inspired nation had experienced the awesome revelation of G‑d, they stooped to serve a golden calf.

Unlike the Sinai experience, the Sanctuary did not miraculously descend upon the Jewish people—they had to build it themselves, with their own materials, with their own hands and sweat. Everyone took part in the undertaking, men and women, rich and poor, each contributing his or her talents, resources and expertise.

This human participation is what caused the material objects with which we built the Sanctuary to become permeated with enduring holiness. This is also why the Torah devotes so many chapters to the building of the Sanctuary.

The overwhelming emphasis on its construction teaches us that there is something very valuable about us using our own personal resources and creativity. It might not be as earth-shattering an event as the revelation of G‑d, and the end product might not be as “polished” or overwhelming, but its effect can, in many ways, be more valuable and enduring—precisely because it is our own contribution.

The challenge and achievement of actualizing our own abilities and creating something with our own talents results in something that is far more cherished than something that is presented to us on a golden platter. It helps us to grow as individuals, fine-tunes our skills and stretches our capabilities in ways that being passive recipients cannot. .

Perhaps there is a message here for us as parents. Help, guide, instruct and brainstorm with your children. But remember that the greatest learning experience comes when you help your children actualize their own abilities, to create their own edifices, even if our help would have perfected it a bit more.

(Excerpts from   - By Mrs. Chana Weisberg)