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A Story Worth Repeating
The Torah is very frugal with its expressions. One extra word can convey a world of meaning, one additional letter an entirely new law. So it is rather striking that the Torah devotes almost two entire weekly portions to a message that could have been summed up with the words, “And they built the Tabernacle (Mishkan).” Perhaps we would throw in “As G-d commanded”, just to be safe- but that’s it. Why the long-winded and detailed explanation of how the Jewish People created each previously-explained part of the Mishkan and the priests’ clothing according to G-d’s specifications?
In true Jewish fashion, I will respond with another question. The Torah states that upon completion of all the construction, Moshe blessed the Jewish People. Rashi explains that Moshe’s benediction was that it should be the Will of G-d for the Divine Presence to rest in the Mishkan. This is a very puzzling blessing indeed; wasn’t G-d’s main intent in commanding the project to have a place for His Presence to rest? If they built it, wouldn’t He come? Could the directive to build the Mishkan be a Heavenly practical joke? Why would Moshe feel the need for additional input?
Both Torah statements demonstrate the vast gulf between the planning and successful execution of any project. We all have experienced the world of cost overruns, unexpected delays, and general mayhem that accompanies any significant building plan. There is great skill in designing and planning a structure; there are entirely different skills that go into making it a reality. When the Torah tells us that the Jewish People collected all the materials, went step by step through the design, made sure everything was done exactly with just the right amounts of resources, on time and on budget, it is telling a story of love, of immersion into fulfillment of the Divine Will, of how G-d set high expectations and we rose to the occasion, on time and under budget.
The Torah’s lesson, though, is not just that we accepted G-d’s direction. The Jewish People’s focus and enthusiasm in carrying out the Mishkan construction project defined and was exclusively its success. Although G-d told us to construct the Mishkan to be His House, it was intended to fuel our longing to be close to Him and to have a place in which to relate to Him. G-d’s Tabernacle design was an invitation to us, and how we chose to respond dictated how close He would get to us. Ultimately, what brings G-d down to us is not the existence of a House of Worship, but the presence therein of eager worshippers. This was Moshe’s blessing to the beaming and exhausted Jewish Nation Engineering Corps – that their intent and love be sufficient, so that G-d would indeed dwell among them.
We undertake various projects in our lives, and usually focus exclusively on “getting the job done”. But how we do the job is often as important, and perhaps more important, than whether we accomplish the actual task. This is especially true if we are attempting to create an entity that will endure beyond the efforts we put into its formation. When we build a synagogue, a school, or a business, the kinds of thoughts, amount of dedication, and degree of unity of purpose that goes into development shapes the passions and feelings that the institution will project in its daily operations. Those vibes will be a larger contributor to the fate of the institution than anything else. It’s not just the amount of planning and expertise that creates a successful atmosphere, but the love and caring that radiates from the walls. That is a message that cannot be repeated enough.
Rabbi Raphael Landesman is currently Head of School at Shearim Torah High School for Girls in Phoenix, AZ. He writes Torah content for the Phoenix Community Kollel's weekly "Shabbos Spirit" and periodically for the Arizona Jewish News.