The Personal Touch

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02 Mar 2011

IN SEEKING to summarize Sefer Shemot, the creation of the nation of Israel’s emerges as the central theme. Crisis, triumphs, sin and penitence all manifest themselves throughout Am Yisrael’s creation and development.

It seems so anticlimactic then, for this monumental book of Jewish development to end with repetitious lists of building materials, contributions, measurements and more details associated with the Mishkan’s construction. Details that were so painstakingly outlined in Teruma, Tetzaveh and part of Ki-Tisa engage our attention yet again in this Parasha. What’s the point? Moreover, why reemphasize eighteen times that Bnai Yisrael faithfully followed the instructions “just as G-d commanded Moshe”? Even if there may be good reason to repeat the many details and instructions associated with building the Mishkan, why repeat incessantly that they complied with G-d’s command?

Ramban and Or Ha-Chayim both explain that the repetition of the Mishakan’s construction is similar “to that advanced by our Sages with regard to the recapitulation of the conversation of Avraham’s servant Eliezer. Since the story was so precious to Him, it was recorded twice over. Similarly, the story of the Mishkan was recorded twice because it was beloved by Him.”

We can well understand the repetition of Eliezer’s conversation. The “table-talk of the Avot’s servants is more precious to HaShem than the Torah of their descendants.” G-d is thrilled even with the “repeats” of those who find themselves in the company of the Avot; He never tires of listening to what they have to say, even more so when there are additions and variations between the original story and Eliezer’s repetition. But what enjoyment would He derive from a re-run of the Mishkan’s construction?

Great enjoyment! One of G-d’s utmost pleasures is anticipating man’s ability, inner strength and courage to repent. G-d is cognizant of man’s frail state which leads to his repeated sin and error. That, after all, is what prompted G-d to gift man with His greatest concession and kindness – teshuvah, a spirit of forgiveness. The repetition of the instructions to build the Mishkan, then, is not a simple re-run. It emanates from G-d’s love for His children, who were crushed and defeated after displaying their own short-sightedness and inadequacies in making an Egel Ha’zaav. Now that they have regained perspective with rejuvenated spirits and are able to again hear the call to build a Mishkan, “it was beloved by Him.” G-d’s pleasure in seeing a community enthusiastically repent brought forth a renewed call, not a mere repetition, to build a Mishkan. “It was beloved by Him” to issue instructions to a spiritually resurrected people, and know they will respond “just as He commanded.” HaShem, HaShem. “I am the Lord before man sins, and I am the Lord after man sins.” G-d’s repeated call to build the Mishkan, including the repeated details and specifications, is the call of HaShem “after man sins.” It is a new call. It is the call to the ba’al teshuva whose spiritual auditory skills are sharper than the tzadik gamur who never experienced G-d as a sinner. How could he possibly hear the new call?

Nevertheless, why reissue the new call with all of the details, and why reiterate eighteen times that all was done “just as G-d commanded”?

Details serve as the foundation of a meaningful life. Human greatness is achieved not by one time spectacular events or accomplishments, but rather by consistent, steady performance of simple, good deeds, with all their details. Human greatness is manifest not by sporadic, one time, heroic acts of devotion and self sacrifice, but rather by reliable and consistent life-long, day by day dedication to good, noble, at times even boring, common place details of life. Who deserves commendation and compliment? The student who attains a one-time perfect paper or the conscientious student who day in, day out performs to the best of his abilities? The one time magnanimous donation by the publicity hungry philanthropist or the modest contributions given daily for important charitable causes? The soldier who with a one time daring exploit gained national fame, or the husband or wife whose daily life is filled with countless, seemingly mundane good deeds, each in itself a small pearl, but together a magnificent, precious necklace of so many such pearls? Is society to be hailed as thoughtful and considerate because people respond humanely during a rare blackout, or should we count the humane responses everywhere, anywhere, everyday?

Moshe Rabeinu saw greatness in the human achievement of small things; in the precise execution of minute details, in the self discipline of faithful, caring, loving attention to seemingly insignificant instructions which “were heard already.”

We recite Brachos in recognition of the minute and repetitious. When eating one little apple, orange or grape, we take note of G-d’s ability to bring forth fruit from the tree. The consumption of one carrot or one gulp of water elicits recognition of the Source of all details. G-d could very well have created billions of men and women simultaneously. Instead He created one Adam and one Chava. Their value is equal to the worth of the entire world. Human concern means not saving the entire world, not even an entire country, city, or neighborhood, but rather, “He who saves one soul is considered to have saved an entire world.” Judaism’s primary focus is on the one life; on the details assuring one human being’s well being, safety and security.

As to the repetition eighteen times that the Israelites followed G-d’s instructions “just as God commanded,” the Jerusalem Talmud comments that it is to be compared to the eighteen blessings of Shmone Esreh. What’s the comparison? More than in any other prayer, in Shmoneh Esreh we understand that life in not a conglomerate of generalities or a series of one time needs and pleasures. In Shmoneh Esreh we focus on every individual’s never ending reliance on the One G-d Who is capable of providing and responding to every single one of our countless, specific needs and requests. He can forgive my inequities, He can heal my ailment, and He can sustain my needs. Prayer is a highly personal religious experience. Just as the details of requests vary from one individual to the next, so do the G-dly responses. G-d, then, anticipates that we imitate His ways. Just as He needs to pay precise and constant attention to the minutest human needs, so He expects that we heed the minutest details of His call and the call of His creation, always.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, serves as OU Kosher’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing. The second edition of his Sometimes You Are What You Wear, Xlibris Corp. was republished in 2010.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.