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Terumah: The Self-Made Child

Terumah: The Self-Made Child


My friend shared with me her problem: “My daughter complains that ‘other mothers’ do their children’s projects for them. I will help her with the research, explain to her whatever she doesn’t understand, share ideas and guide her, but I like the actual work to be her own. How else will she learn to express her creativity?

“She complains, though, that her projects are not as glamorous, her essays don’t have the ‘fancy’ words, and her homework doesn’t look as polished as her friends’.

“Am I being a rotten parent, or are these other parents missing the point?”

This week’s parshah, Terumah, as well as a sizable portion of the book of Exodus, is devoted to the construction of the Sanctuary (Mishkan).

The Torah, which is usually so sparing with words, is uncharacteristically elaborate, devoting 13 chapters to describing the Sanctuary. All the materials, components and furnishings are listed and described, sometimes numerous times. In contrast, the Torah devotes only one chapter to the creation of the universe! Only three chapters describe the awe-inspiring revelation of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The Sanctuary was a temporary dwelling serving as the religious focal point in the desert. Once the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, it was replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Why does the Torah describe the Sanctuary at such great length, while almost glossing over these other fundamental events?

Because G‑d is teaching us the value of our own input.

At Sinai (and certainly, at the creation of the world), we were passive participants. G‑d descended in His glory and majesty, accompanied by breathtaking sounds and sights of thunder and lightning, while the Jewish people observed. Due to the non-participatory nature, the impression wasn’t permanent. After the Divine Presence departed from the mountain, it reverted to its former non-holy status. Similarly, the spiritually inspired nation stooped to serve a golden calf soon after witnessing such open miracles.

The Sanctuary, on the other hand, was built with the people’s own materials, with their own hands and sweat. Everyone took part in the undertaking—men and women, rich and poor—each contributing his or her talents, resources and expertise. As a result of this human participation, the material objects themselves became permeated with enduring holiness.

But devoting so many chapters to it, the Torah teaches us that when a person contributes his own resources and creativity, it is real and lasting. Though the end product might not be as earth-shattering or as “polished” as G‑d’s revelation, in many ways, it is more valuable, precisely because it is our own. We also grow through the process by fine-tuning our skills and stretching our talents in ways that being a passive recipient does not.

The message for parents, too, is clear. Help, guide, instruct and brainstorm with your children. But the greatest learning experience is when you help your children actualize their own abilities, to create their own edifices.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Discussion (17)
March 5, 2017
Cheating is just plain wrong!
Excellent article about the parsha and the value of helping children learn. But you missed a huge and even more important point. Doing a project for a child and representing it as their own is simply lying and cheating. It's called plagiarism and it can get you thrown out of college. It's a serious discipline violation in public schools that gets you a zero on the assignment and maybe suspension. Doing this with little kids' projects doesn't make it less agregious, perhaps it's even worse. You are showing these impressionable little people that mommy thinks cheating and lying about it is fine. And the teachers smile and look the other way? Terrible!
March 1, 2017
Liked the comparison...did learn something valuable from this article..what a great way of understanding those chapters in the 'Exodus'.
Thank you for this interesting article.
February 27, 2017
We are all this child. Whether we want to be or not.
February 7, 2016
When it comes to writing, iI think it's important for teachers (and parents if necessary) to model how it is done. Thinking aloud by doing a similar project in front of them teaches how. Don't just describe what needs doing, but model it. That is the teaching. Afterwards, set them loose to do on their own. Reading superior writing samples, and examing what makes them so good is what should be going on in the classroom, and afterwards, actual writing.
Writing is hard.
February 11, 2015
Great point! Thank you!
Chany Vaknin
January 29, 2014
this is what I believe is happening
When the Temple was destroyed, our people had to go to other places to find G_d and it was in that wandering, and that wondering, that a concept slowly took shape, which is, Divinity resides within, and that we're all vessels of the Divine. Our job is to work hard to make a world we can live in that sustains us all, through acts of tikkun. It's an old story, "we're looking for love to change the world". It's about us all, a co-created endeavor, but G_d is at the helm and herein lies a deep ongoing paradox. Because if we're moved from within, what is individual identity. How do we separate ourselves from what is, Divine?

We need each of us to build a foundation and it's remarkably more satisfying to learn by ourselves, using the tools we gain from our teachers, our parents. To have anyone do it for us, well, that's not a feeling of personal achievement or growth. A little help for sure, goes a long way. Support, a column to lean on. Yes.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
January 29, 2014
Stop judging parents
Some children need extra help until they mature and then they take off by themselves.
January 30, 2011
comment on the "self made child"
As a teacher of 28 years, I see many "parent made projects." I LOVE the projects that my 2nd grade students have created on their own. As a teacher I guide them in learning how to research and complete a project. I encourage the parents to guide them at home, answer their questions, and make sure they have the supplies they need to complete the project. This is part of "real life " learning, having the responsiblity to start something and follow it through till the end. I applaud parents that will let their child do a project, book report, or research paper on their own.
Memphis, TN
December 18, 2010
The self-made child
This reminds me of the story of Yosef and his half-brothers. Yakov favored Yosef, and it was obvious to everyone. Yosef's older siblings were thinking "how can we possibly compete with this boy when our father favors him over us?"

Your daughter is in similar unfair competition. She's up against cheaters whose parents do their work for them. Perhaps a sit-down with the teacher is in order?

As for "tidying the room," tell your daugter that she has a choice; make her own bed, tidy her own room, or no money/tv.
February 7, 2008
to Elizabeth
no, not that the forearms are exposed. that it looks that the elbows are exposed, and the clear outline of her upper body if you get my drift. it's just totally unnecessary to portray her upper body with such outlines, and yes, her elbows should be covered!