We live in the age of the individual. Everyone wants to assert their independence, to do things their own way. A good boss knows that sometimes you need to foster an environment of empowerment in which your employees can largely control the processes they use to produce the desired result. A good boss also knows that sometimes you need to give your employees really specific instructions. Usually, this requires some effort on the boss' part to persuade their employees that it's okay to sometimes subordinate their individuality for the sake of a greater good.
The greatest gift that Gd gave to us is free will. The greatest problem Gd gave us is our free will. Left to our own devices to build a mishkan, who knows what we would have wound up with. First of all, I can just hear the bickering and disagreements already. "Why make the ark only two and a half cubits by one and one-half cubits? This is Gd, the most High. Surely El deserves something bigger!" "No, no, we mustn't waste. The ark only needs to be big enough to hold the tablets. We'll need that extra gold and acacia wood for other things." "Hey, I got an idea-why don't we mix the gold with a little bit of lead, and it will go further." "Have the cherubs face each other." "No, have them face away from each other. If Gd is going to speak to us from between them, better they shouldn't be looking at Gd and distracting him" "Cherubim, schmerubim. Just put handles on the cover!" "Hey, who has some extra dolphin skins lying around? Nobody? Oy." "I gotta some extra camel skins, how about we use those instead?" "OK, now about those lampstands. How many lamps should we put on them? Two? Six? Seven? More? Less? OK, let's take a vote. How many want two...."
And so on and so forth. A tabernacle designed by committee. And a committee of bickering Jews, no less. Reminds me of that old joke about the camel being designed by a committee.
Yes, Gd could have just said "Build me a tabernacle." I would say that "Gd only knows" how it might have turned out, but the fact is, Gd wouldn't have known. It could have been a nice, simple affair, or some monstrosity.
So it makes sense that Gd gave very specific instructions for the building of the mishkan. But why was it necessary to include the instructions in the Torah? Of what relevance are they top future generations?
Well, for one thing, we learn the lesson I talked about before. That sometimes a good boss needs to be specific. We also learn something else very important. A good boss knows how to encourage employees to put their all into a project with specific instructions...by making them feel part of it. That is what this parasha is all about. T'rumah. Gifts. Each Israelite was to give what each of their hearts led them to give - materials required for the construction of the mishkan. Their gold, silver, copper, yarn, linen, goat hair, ram and dolphin skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, precious stones. They contribute something of theirs to the project, and thus have some ownership.
A side diversion: where did these ex-slaves get all these valuable goods? Why, it was the booty of the Egyptians that Gd commanded them to take with them as they left Egypt, and with which the Egyptians, surprisingly, willingly parted with-apparently. So, in a way, they weren't really giving of something that was theirs to the mishkan, and in a way they were. They were giving what was now theirs, what had become theirs, it's true. But more than that...they were giving their 400 years of toil...for the booty of the Egyptians could be seen as recompense for all that the Israelites suffered in bondage. How fitting then that this tribute, this repayment from the Egyptians, should then be turned around as a gift to the One who brought the Israelites out of bondage. Gd could just as well have insisted that the Egyptians give these good directly to Gd, but the spoils of Egypt were perhaps part of Gd's overall plan. Had Egypt had no spoils to give, or had they been reluctant to give much of it to the departing Israelites, I'd like to think that Gd would have settled for a Tabernacle made of what few goods the Israelites were able to offer up. After all, they had offered themselves up for 400 years, remaining faithful to Gd through their enslavement. That is a truly great payment. But, in wisdom, Gd knew the people would feel so much more proud if they could offer gold, silver, jewels, et al to their Gd.
Gd really is a good boss, Hmmm, there's an idea for yet another Management book! Look for my next bestseller - "Managing Gd's Way.")
Now, here we are, in this day and age. There is no need, at present, for the goods to build a tabernacle to be offered as gifts by us (although, Gd willing, there may someday be such a need yet again.) So how are we to feel part of the process of creating Gd's tabernacle in this world? What gifts can we bring and can we offer? I imagine most of us have many - for Gd has been generous to us in this way. This Shabbat, let's all consider what gifts we can offer, and how we might build our own tabernacle where Gd can dwell among us.
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
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