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Terumah: The Self-Made Child

Terumah: The Self-Made Child

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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 TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Ilustração de Sefira Ross, designer e ilustradora cujas criações originais estão publicadas nas páginas do site. Mora em Seattle, Washington, onde divide seu tempo com sua família e em seus projetos gráficos.
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Shifra Anchorage March 5, 2017

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! Reply

Alice Torrance 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. Reply

Morgan. Canada February 27, 2017

We are all this child. Whether we want to be or not. Reply

Anonymous CT 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. Reply

Chany Vaknin February 11, 2015

Great point! Thank you! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 29, 2014

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. Reply

Anonymous January 29, 2014

Some children need extra help until they mature and then they take off by themselves. Reply

Sylvia Memphis, TN January 30, 2011

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. Reply

Ben NY, NY, USA December 18, 2010

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. Reply

Gordon February 7, 2008

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! Reply

Elizabeth February 6, 2008

By art you mean the cartoon, yes? And by tsnius you mean modesty, right? And you are objecting because we can see the mother's forearms.
I was under the impression that, for Chabad, it was OK to cover the arms up to the elbow. I realize that some groups feel a need to cover her to wrists & ankles.
What does the Chabad rabbi say to this? Do we make the cartoons cover her up entirely so that men at all levels of tsnius can look comfortably at the website? Or do we stick to our guns and say, This is Chabad. Accept us as we are.

Does the acceptance of women's forearms suggest also an acceptance of women's humanity, instead of an automatic knee-jerk view of a woman as an object of lust? If so, it is moral to continue to include forearms as a matter-of-fact, non-sexy item in the cartoon.
But if every inch of a wman must ever be viewed as one vast sex object, then capitulate to the lustful purveyors of "total tsnius"!
Or, make MEN wear sleeves to wrists in summer too. Reply

varda L.A, ca via chabadofoxnard.com March 2, 2007

I agree to this way of thought. May I protest against the coloring-books that destroy the childrens' imagination. They are good baby-sitters for teachers and parents. Reply

Allan I. Kroll , CA via ganisraelpreschool.org February 23, 2007

All of the new music, technology and companies being created, invented and formed by young people today are not the product of children who were spoon fed their lessons and homework. The spoon-fed children end up as our sales clerks, grocery baggers and baristas because those occupations do not require people to think - only to follow instructions. If you want your children to know only how to follow instructions (rather than how to write them) then continue to do their homework for them. Parents can't stand the thought of their children getting a mediocre or bad grade. But believe me, that is the best motivator for a child. My first paper in junior high school received an E+. That was like a slap in the face that awakened me and motivated me to learn how to express myself and become a (once successful) lawyer where writing and self-expression are the essence of the profession. I was lucky. My parents didn't know English or any other subject well enough to assist me. Reply

Gordon Brooklyn February 22, 2007

This piece of art does not follow the tznius guidelines we are to follow. It should not be posted on Chabad.org.

Otherwise, your website is amazing and keep up the excellent work. Reply

Daniel Miami, FL February 20, 2007

It is an absoulutely inspirational, and wise piece of writting. Thank you for sharing it. Reply

Norton Dallas, TX February 20, 2007

Chana, very clever. But, nonetheless good.
I just want to be sure that you are not advocating the sort of Love-and-Logic pedagogy that says (if I may be allowed a sharp description) that says the-child-must-suffer-in-order-to-grow-up-by-means-of-dealing-with-things-on-his/her-own. The Mishkan was constructed under the careful and close guidance and instruction of Hashem, in addition to the extensive human participation. Reply

Gisele Brooklyn , NY February 16, 2007

This is so true, we must start to bulid simple Mishkans in life, stop doing the work for our kids, let them try and maybe if they fail, they will learn from their mistakes. And if it turns out great the accomplishment will be theirs only! We went to school already, let our kids go to school, we can't live their lives for them. Reply