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?
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
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.