Friday, March 20, 2009

We don't need you, and that's a good thing

One of my all-time favorite teachings comes from this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayakheil-Pekudei. Moses is taking in collections to build the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary in the desert), and the gifts flow in at such a rate that he soon has more than he needs (Rabbi now pauses for reverential tear). The Torah tells us: "their efforts has been more than enough for all the tasks to be done."

But, the commentator Sihot Tzaddakim notices that the Hebrew doesn't say exactly that. It actually reads: "their efforts had been enough for all the tasks to be done, and more." Not "more than enough," but "enough, and more." If we read the Torah literally, then it's telling us that the collection had been enough, and it had been more than enough. But, those aren't the same thing. So, which one was it?

Well, both. Because, in this case, they're exactly the same thing. Because, Sihot Tzaddakim continues, God wasn't going to be satisfied until there was more than enough. If there was just enough, then it woudln't be good enough, so it wouldn't, in fact, be enough. The reason? If there was just enough, then each person could look at the completed tabernacle and say, "I made that possible. If it hadn't been for my contribution, then this tabernacle could never have been built." But, when we got more than enough, then each person would realize that their contribution was not, strictly speaking, necessary. They were, in the end, expendible. And, in the case of building something holy, that's exactly what we need to be. Not unimportant, but not irreplacable, either.

The sages tell us that arrogance is the opposite of holiness - God can't dwell where arrogance lives. It's almost a physical thing - there's room in here for my ego or for God, but not for both. If I want to create a holy space, I need to first remove arrogance and self-importance. I have to know that, even though I may be valued, I'm not essential. That I may be important, but I'm not that important.

A synagogue (or a church, or a business, or a family) isn't going to be healthy if it relies too much on any one person. And, it's certainly not going to be healthy if too many people think that it relies on them - that they are the reason the synagogue (or church, or business, or family) continues to survive. Holiness can start to enter our lives when we realize that we aren't that important. That the world might be less than it is without us, but it would go on, all the same.

We bring our gifts. We make our tabernacle. But we realize that each of us is one piece of a much larger puzzle. And, in realizing how small we are, we sometimes manage to connect with Something much greater than ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

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