* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://yehoshuasiskin.blogspot.com)
A thought for the new week: How many sandwiches did you make this morning? How many dishes did you wash yesterday? Our commentators explain that such unspectacular everyday acts can perpetuate the spirit of the holy work done on the construction of the Mishkan.
Two Torah portions describe in detail how the Mishkan was planned and built. Dozens of small, mundane, physical acts were performed. Some are mentioned several times and some must have been exhausting, but the hard work and persistence created, in the end, something precious and holy.
What is our Mishkan today? According to the Ramban, Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, the first Mishkan -- the first place where the shechinah or divine presence dwelt, even before the desert Mishkan was built -- was the home: It was the tent of Avraham and Sarah. The desert Mishkan was an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere, the same refinement, the same sense of brotherhood and closeness that existed in that tent.
Our commentators explain that this model pertains to the four walls around us, to our own homes: places that demand a variety of ordinary acts which, in requiring constant attention and devotion, transform our homes into sanctuaries of content and meaning..
If only we can feel such sanctity the next time we put the living room in order...
Lighting until the flame rises on its own - and knowing when to step back
Pay attention to the words of Rashi at the beginning of this week's Torah portion. He explains Aharon's lighting of the menorah in the Mishkan as follows: "He shall light it until the flame rises on its own."
Many commentators ask us to pause here: This is not just about the technical lighting of the menorah. Aharon HaKohen is the people's spiritual mentor and he is, in fact, teaching us how to light a fire and generate enthusiasm in those under our wing: whether we are managers, military officers, teachers, or parents.
Initially, we have the task of simply lighting a fire. To educate, to explain, to pay close attention and to inspire. But it is impossible to always be there with constant instructions about what to do. A stage is reached where we must loosen our grip and let them fend for themselves. It's a matter of finding the right time to take a step back and allowing them to generate their own light and brighten the worlds around them.
There are no fixed rules here. Sometimes parents must be constantly reassuring and exceedingly patient with a child, while other times they may smother a child with too much attention and need to be more distant. The words of Rashi call upon us to be aware of when to inspire and when to let go, when to supervise and be involved and when to foster independence, "until the flame rises on its own."
Wishing everyone success in this endeavor.
Symbols of hope
In life, everyone needs hope, and certain objects and symbols can help us continue to hope. In this week's Torah portion of Terumah, we are told about the building of the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) from acacia trees. Our sages tell us that Ya'akov Avinu brought these trees with him when he went down to Egypt and planted them there. He did this so that, in the future, the children of Israel would have boards with which to build the Mishkan. Ya'akov sought to console the children of Israel in this way. Throughout the long years of slavery, each time they saw the trees they would be reminded of their forefather Ya'akov and God's promise that they would someday leave Egypt. In other words, in addition to glorious thoughts about their future, people need to see something tangible they can look at everyday to sustain them and give them hope.
This is not a story only about the past, but a story for our own time as well. The second of Adar, several days ago, is the anniversary of the release of Natan Sharansky from imprisonment in Soviet Russia. 36 years ago, the most famous prisoner of Zion, who survived for years under extremely difficult circumstances, including solitary confinement, finally came home to Israel. Sharansky became an inspiration for all those struggling to be free. When asked what gave him the strength to endure, he once replied: "A small book of Psalms that was always with me. I read it day and night." Even in his positions as chairman of the Jewish Agency and as a government minister, he continued to keep his little book of Psalms in his pocket. When I asked him in an interview if he carried his book of Psalms everywhere, he answered: "No, I don't carry it; it carries me."
The secret to happiness
A profound educational principle is concealed in this week's Torah portion. Until now, we were always on the receiving end of God's benevolence. We saw the miracles and wonders of the ten plagues, we experienced the Exodus, crossed on dry land when the Red Sea split, and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai when we received the Ten Commandments. God had continually showered us with abundance. In response, we were not always satisfied, we complained, and even sinned.
But now the rules have changed. In parashat Terumah we are given numerous detailed commandments, a multitude of instructions for building the mishkan (portable sanctuary) that would accompany us on our desert journey. For the first time we are not on the receiving end, but are asked to give -- to initiate, build, act on our own. We are no longer passive spectators, but active participants. And so we discover the secret that God's greatest gift to us is not a gift in the literal sense, but rather a demand to take responsibility, to replace a sense of entitlement with one of obligation.
The results of this new way of thinking are astonishing. Our complaints disappear in favor of an outburst of positive action. Because when we give, we become more committed, connected, and happy. This is true in our relationship with God and with other people as well.
I shared this idea this week in the "Nifgashot" workshop for girls and asked for examples from their lives. One participant mentioned that when she puts her room in order by herself, she feels better and more responsible for it than when someone else does it for her. Another girl said when she prepares dessert for Shabbat, she feels more attached to the entire meal, and waits expectantly to serve her part of it. Another girl related that when she learns the meaning of the words in a prayer, she prays with greater seriousness, intention, and focus. And someone else said that when she makes notes in a notebook and reviews them assiduously prior to an exam, she absorbs the material better since she feels that it belongs to her. I encourage all of you to find such examples from your own lives.