Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Little Things

This week we begin a series of parshiyot, Torah portions, focused on the Mishkan, the sanctuary built by the Israelites in the wilderness to house the spirit of the Divine. The Torah details the components of the Mishkan, the materials of which they were to be made, and their exact design. The two alters for sacrifices, the ark to contain the Tablets of the Law etc. are all enumerated and detailed.

The various furnishings of the Sanctuary are all used in keeping with the Mishkan's purpose, to offer devotion to Hashem. That is all except one! The one component of the Mishkan which seems out of place is the 'shulchan', the table of gold, used to place upon it the shew bread, the lechem hapanim'. Why, we might wonder, is their a need for a table in the sanctuary? A table seems to reflect earthy needs. This is the house of G-d, devoted to the spiritual.

Many of our great Torah commentaries have responded to explain the place of this surprising feature in the Mishkan. In keeping with the focus of this blog, The Torah and the Self, which is to personalize the Torah content so as to extract a message germane to us where we are today I would like to share the following possibility.

The Kohanim, the priests, were charged with the loftiest of missions.They we mandated to be the conduits between Israel and G-d and offer the rites in the Temple. Little doubt they saw their work as essential and gave it priority over other aspects of their lives.
They were Israel's ambassadors to Hashem. What greater task could there be?

It was the Kohanim who actually were in the company of the Golden Table, not the ordinary Israelite. The shulchan was in the inner part of the Mishkan, a place non-priests could not go. For me, the message of the Table was meant as a vital reminder for the Kohanim.
In its presence, the shulchan said "Though you Kohanim, have the holiest of jobs, do not let yourself forget who you serve! See this table and remember, you are here to bring the needs of the ordinary Jew and his ordinary worries, over parnasa, income (represented by the table) etc. before G-d. Never let the holiness of your mission cause you to lord over those who sent you. You must empathize with the common Jew though his life is so mediocre in comparison to yours and give priority to his needs, earthy as they may be."

Each morning of late I am picked up by a special bus taking men to the Mir Yeshiva to learn. The bus originates in a different 'shchuna', neighborhood, than mine, one much more hareidi.
By the time it gets to me it is near full. When I climb on-board their are maybe two or three seats still available. Yet invariably their is a hat or a sefer on the seat, usually belonging to the person in the adjacent seat. Also in most cases unless I stand by the unoccupied seat and ask for place to be made for me no effort is made to clear room. I ask myself why? Could be the person in the adjacent seat doesn't paid me no mind, was too busy learning to notice me. Could be he didn't feel an urgency since I am not really a like him. I don't have on a black hat, I am older, and I live in a mixed neighborhood. But in any case the person who fails to extend himself without being asked misses on a hesed of 'hachnasat orchim', hospitality, a great mitzvah. And he feels he did no wrong.

How does that happen? How does a devout man, one who learns Torah all day, forget the Jew in front of him in need of a seat on the bus? The question should not be such a surprise. We make similar errors all the time. In our resolve to do the 'big' thing we deem important, we ride over the 'little' things that lay in front of us.
We become so busy with our goals, worthy as they may be, that we push and shove and trod over everything in our path.

The Kohain in doing his holy work was daily confronted with the 'shulchan', the Golden Table to remind him that his work, important as it is, only has meaning in the context of his relationship to the People and their needs. If he loses sight of that his holiness becomes a selfish endeavour, and he misses the whole point of his service.

Would that we never lose sight of the purpose behind all the important work we do, and that we be forever mindful that the things that seem to get in the way may be the things we need to give our attention and respect.

Shabbat Shalom

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