'Who Goes Hither...Friend or Foe'
This week's Torah portion details the numerous varied gifts that were
lovingly dedicated to the Mishkan by the Jewish people and describes how,
following the Divine instruction plan, the people crafted a magnificent
Mishkan from the raw materials. The sages tell us that the Mishkan reflected
a miniature of the entire cosmos, woven and bonded together by the supreme
dedication of the entire Jewish people, whose service of the Creator
sustains the world.
The ultimate purpose of this complex construction was to connect heaven and
earth, a goal that was realized when by all the individual pieces finally
came together and 'the Mishkan was one' (Exodus; Chap 36 V.13). The Mishkan
reflected the perfect unity of His Divine heavenly presence in our material
world. The fusion of the entire nation's collective energies towards this
Divine task ensured the realization of this exalted goal.
This past week, I paid a shiva call to my brother-in-law, Rabbi Yonasan
Tendler, shlit'a, who was sitting shiva for his beloved father, Rabbi Yosef
Tendler, o.b.m., the revered mashgiach and director of Mesivta Ner Israel of
Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler o.b.m. led the Mesivta for over fifty years,
guiding, mentoring, molding and inspiring many thousands of his young
charges. Although I, along with thousands of others, appreciated his
personal greatness and towering personality during his lifetime, it was only
upon leaving the shiva house that his true stature and the full scope of his
accomplishments crystallized for me.
I was wondering what lies behind this frequently experienced phenomenon of a
delayed grasp of the true dimensions of someone's greatness. While our
contemporaries, leaders, and community greats are alive, we often can't
fully absorb their singular contributions and personal stature to the
fullest extent. Only upon their passing do we begin to realize what we have
lost. Why can't we fully appreciate what we have while we have it?
On a simple plane, this human lapse is probably a reflection of the tendency
to take our blessings and gifts for granted. Only once something special is
taken from us do we suddenly perceive its true value. We actually feel more
attached to it in its absence than we did while it was a part of our day to
It's also possible that something deeper and more subtle is at play. The
egotistical strains of our human nature are sometimes so deeply embedded
that we may not be fully conscious of them. One of the deepest human
instincts that color our feelings is that of self-preservation. This
instinct relates not only to the need to secure our material sustenance and
vital needs but to preserve our status, self-respect and personal dignity.
In our initial encounter with another person, our minds are subconsciously
processing and assessing hundreds of calculations to determine if the other
is a "friend or foe," and what level of protection we need to employ to
safeguard our status and resources. All our subliminal emotional glands
reinforce those instinctive appraisals, and we approach the other based on
those intuitive "findings."
An essential byproduct of this "self-preservation-first" instinct is that we
cannot accord the people in our environment a full-bodied appreciation of
their greatness, for it may somewhat compromise or diminish our own sense of
self-worth. For many of us, our fragile natures are built around these
self-protective tendencies which compel us to downplay others' qualities and
accomplishments in an effort to shore up our own self-regard.
The lesson gleaned from the construction of the Mishkan is that the Divine
presence only resides among and within us when we find true common ground
with our fellow Jews and wholehearted appreciation for their respective
virtues and talents.
When we recognize that although we each pride ourselves on a sense of
uniqueness, our true success can only be achieved when we pool our
collective resources and suspend the fears and pettiness that make us feel
threatened by our fellow Jew's strengths and accomplishments.
Only then will we succeed in bringing the Divine presence to rest upon the
Jewish people as it did in the days of the Mishkan, when Heaven and earth
were united and Hashem's shechinah infused the world.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.