Friday, March 12, 2010

Divinely Inspired

This can also be viewed at the Jewish Star


With all the talk about the Divine Inspiration given to Betzalel and Oholiab, we almost forget that many more individuals were given similar inspiration by G-d to help their own efforts in the “holy work that God had commanded.” (36:1)

This sentiment is repeated in 36:2 when we are told those who came close to the work, came because “his heart had inspired him to do so.”

“From that which was before Moshe, they took all of the donations the Israelites had brought for the holy work, and they continued to bring more pledges every morning… They told Moshe that the people were bringing too much; much more than was needed for the work G-d had commanded. Moshe commanded and a voice carried through the camp saying ‘Man and woman should work no longer for the holy donations’ – and people stopped bringing. The work was enough for all the work that needed to be done, with extras.”

The image of all these inspired people doing their holy work is one which requires much attention. In their case, G-d gave them the skills to craft the Mishkan. Knowing and understanding their task, they fulfilled their duties to the utmost.

Many of us in the Orthodox Jewish community are similarly inspired. With few exceptions (converts, baalei teshuvah, and some of those who grew up before the 1950’s, come to mind), we have the benefit of a yeshiva education that has given us the fundamental base to know how to live our lives as Jews. The exceptions are differently “divinely inspired,” and they get all the credit in the world for the choices they’ve made.

Like in every choice and life decision, particularly in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have options. Some are easy, some are more difficult. For some people it is just as easy to take the leap of faith that makes the observant way of life the only option, as it is for others to reject any association with a system that makes “demands” and has “commandments” which take away from personal freedom and responsibility that goes beyond oneself (even though one could always volunteer and be a “good Samaritan” and humanitarian).

In the metaphor of the construction of the Mishkan, there was a set goal. Those who were inspired knew what they needed in order to build what they were looking to build, and they knew when to tell people to stop donating. In some cases, enough really is enough.

But in some cases, enough is not enough. I have met many people who have rejected our lifestyle. When engaged in a conversation they’ll often say “I went to yeshiva twelve years. I know everything. It’s not for me.”

I know they don’t mean or believe that they “know everything.” But they do feel, because they grew up with it, that they know all they need to know to decide a Torah-observant life is not for them.

Sometimes it’s not for them. But they don’t “know everything.” In some cases, the concept of “v’shinantam l’vanekha” (you shall review over and over and over to your children) never really caught on, and in some cases, their search stopped early. One question, one contradiction, one bad experience, and all was over.

In a time when Orthodox Jewish individuals figure prominently and negatively in the press – for all kinds of shenanigans, mind you – it is easy to understand how those on the fringes will opt out. “If this is what Orthodox Judaism stands for, I want no part of it.”

Under those conditions, most of us probably want no part of it either. Except this is not what Orthodox Judaism stands for. And to go out on a limb, those who bring about chillul hashem for any kind of crime are not to be considered Orthodox Jews (though teshuvah is always an option).

For every one bad apple, there are thousands upon thousands of good, wonderful, shining examples of people who are not only Chakhmei Lev (wise hearted), but are truly divinely inspired and who model wonderful behavior every day.
Perhaps there is a point when donations to the Mishkan can stop. But the donations of good deeds, understanding, and shout-outs for what we believe and stand for are never enough. They can never stop.

The Netziv almost likens the training of the Mishkan artisans to a trade school. They went in knowing they wanted to contribute their talent to the cause, but did not know what their specific talent or calling was. With time, they learned and made their mark in the Mishkan.

So it is with our Jewish experience. Everyone needs to find his or her unique voice and form of expression. At the end of the day, however, the goals must be shared by all who experience the divine inspiration that has been guiding our way of life for thousands of years.

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