Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Light The Song With Sense And Color, Hold Away Despair (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Terrapin Station")

Recently, our son shared a news report regarding the allied effort in Afghanistan, peace talks with the Taliban, and an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.  While no one in our family is an Afghan, fought in Afghanistan or has any remote connection to Afghanistan, our son followed the story very closely. Why was he so concerned with the news in Afghanistan? Our grade nine son participates in Model U.N. He is on the delegation representing, of all places, Afghanistan. In the course of his preparation, he has become the family expert on Afghanistan.  Trust me when I say that while I could find Afghanistan on a map, I never cared one wit for Afghanistan, nor did I ever give much thought to the human cost except in terms of soldiers who tried to offer safety and stability amid such turmoil and chaos.  My jaw dropped as I sat and listened to our son offer this assessment. He was not only speaking about Afghanistan, but he advocated for the innocent and was visibly concerned for those whose lives were at risk living under the Taliban, and the innocent lives at risk if allied forces leave. He spoke thoughtfully, passionately and logically. He was upset as he made his assessment and incredibly empathetic as he advocated for the people of Afghanistan.  Needless to say, I have no authority with the Model U.N. for the real U.N.  However, I saw our son in a whole new light, and I wasn’t sure how to respond.
This week’s Parshah is Terumah. Terumah means “a portion”. In the context of this week’s Parsha, the portion in question is the portion of wealth that B’nai Yisroel would dedicate to the construction of the Aron, the ark that would hold the Luchot Habrit (the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written), the lamp, the table, and the material for the Ohel Moed (the tent of the meeting). All of which comprised the Mishkan or the Tabernacle. If you are in construction, interior design, or architecture, the details in Parsha Terumah are fascinating; and if you’re not then all those details might seem a bit dry. Whether a fan or not, whether an architect or not, there are certain objects, the construction of which is nothing less than miraculous and perhaps more allegorical than literal in meaning. However what is not allegorical but rather spiritually re-assuring given the myriad of laws that we have read from Yitro and Mishpatim is the goodness and kindness in the human soul.
There are two moments in the Parsha that stand in stark contrast to assumptions about human nature from Parsha Mishpatim. In the previous Parsha, when we read about the prohibition of accepting bribes, perverting justice, selling servants to third parties rather than returning to them to their original owner;  we understand that there is an assumption that human nature is not so wonderful. In fact, one could argue that we are supposed to rise above human nature, rise above our animal-like inclination, Yetzer HaRah (the evil inclination), and be better. So when we read that God wants to live among Bnai Yisroel: V’Asu Li Mikdash  V’Shachanti B’Tocham; a Godly aspect would only do so if the dwelling, if the people’s behavior merited God’s presence.  Certainly, the physical qualities of the structure would be impressive but more important is the fact that Shechinah would dwell among Bnai Yisroel as long as they did not succumb to human nature. Not succumbing to human nature became evident immediately. Before the construction, before the blueprints, Bnai Yisroel already operated above human nature. They contributed materials Kol Ish Asher Yidvenu Libo‘every man whose heart motivates him’ (Ex.25:1). Contributions were based upon the most divine aspect of their souls. Every aspect of the process focused upon that part of the human soul that was beyond human nature. That divine aspect merited God’s presence in the camp. That divine aspect galvanized a community and figured out how to serve God in a way that appealed to the best of humanity.
I finally figured out the words that might bring comfort to our son as he could only see darkness, evil, and awful way in which people in that part of the world have been treating each other for decades if not centuries. I tried to remind him that although that part of the world is pretty dim and risks becoming quite dark if allied forces leave; there is some light in the world. Just like the Aron is encased in gold both on the inside and outside and just like people contributed selflessly rather than selfishly; I was reminded that the world has a lot of beauty. I told our son that despite what he heard on the news and despite my agreeing with his thoughtful assessment as an Afghan U.N. delegate; he needed to be able to accomplish one very important task. He needs to be able to communicate some of the beauty of the country and/or the people he represents. Maybe he needs to look a bit closer in order to find the beauty rather than ugliness, but it is there. If he is able to communicate that; the other delegates in the Model U.N. will surely be supportive of anything he requests.  I reminded him that he should always work hard and search for the beauty in spite of the all the ugly he will encounter. Sharing that process can be incredibly inspiring and ultimately quite empowering.

Rav Yitz

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