Parshios Vayakhel & Pekudei
My children play a card game called Perpetual Commotion. Each player is
given a uniquely colored stack of numbered cards. The game is played by
placing as many cards as possible from that stack (based on a complicated
set of rules well beyond the scope of this article) into various piles in
the center, and whoever is able to place the most cards from their stack
into the center is the winner.
The custom at the end of the game, in my house at least, is for all the
players to excitedly sift through the large pile in the middle to pick out
their color to see who won. Recently, however, at the end of a game, one of
my kids just sat in his place, watching all the activity without even moving
a muscle. “Aren’t you going to get your cards?” one of his siblings asked
while busily collecting all the red cards in the middle. With a sly little
smile, he smugly responded, “No. I’m just going to wait for everyone else to
take their cards and then my color will be the only one left.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea!” I said to him.
And then, after an appropriate pause for effect, I wondered out loud to no
one in particular while I gathered up the green cards: “Hum. I wonder what
would happen if all of us thought that way too? What if every one of us had
that same attitude of waiting for everyone else to do their job first, so
that our job would be easier?”
The obvious answer: Nothing would ever get done.
The Torah records in this week’s Parsha how the Jewish people began to
donate the necessary materials for the construction of the Mishkan, the
Tabernacle. Meanwhile, as the people were lining up with various goods and
materials, the leaders of the Tribes, the nisi’im, had a great idea. “Let’s
let everyone else go first. The people will donate whatever they can, and
then we’ll fill in and complete whatever is left.”
It was actually a very generous offer. Imagine the absolute glee of an
executive director with someone like this on his side at the beginning of a
capital campaign: “Hey, listen, this is a big campaign. But I don’t want you
to worry about it. Do what you can do, and whatever is left at the end –
I’ll cover it!”
Yet Hashem was not pleased with the leaders. The reason, Rashi explains, is
that at the core of their offer, generous as it might have been, was an
element of laziness. The leaders were willing to sit on the sidelines and
watch while the Jewish people excitedly contributed to the construction of
Hashem’s house. They purposely allowed others to take care of a project that
they should have been involved in themselves.
The leaders took note and remedied the situation. Months later, when the
Tabernacle was complete, they were the first to say, “We want to bring the
inaugural offerings. We want to be the first Jews to be involved in the
initial service of the Tabernacle.”
No parent aspires to raise a lazy child. We all want to have children who
are the first to say, “I’ll help clear off the table from dinner.” Or, “I’ll
help bring in the groceries from the car.” The problem is that we all have
a natural tendency to be lazy, to just sit on the sidelines (or the couch),
and watch others do the work so that we don’t have to. How do we inspire
our kids to rise above that, to move, to take initiative and action?
It’s called modeling. Our kids need to see that behavior. The greatest
device we have to show our children how to overcome that tendency is to be
the first ourselves to jump in and help when help is needed.
Mommy sits down at the dinner table. “Oh, I forgot to put the drinks out.”
It’s tempting for Daddy to use this as a valuable teaching moment in the
fine art of helpfulness, and to point to one of the kids and demand,
“Quickly, go help your mother before she has to get up again!”
Unfortunately, instead of helpfulness, he’s actually taught his children the
fine art of sitting on his throne, barking orders to those under his
jurisdiction. If Dad’s not around, it’s unlikely the children will jump up
to help the next time this happens.
Instead, Daddy can be the first one to jump up and announce, “I’ll get the
When children grow up in a home where Mommy and Daddy are quick to offer
their help to each other, they learn the value of helpfulness. They see it.
They live with it. And then they’ll do it, too. And then when we do need to
delegate activities and chores around the house to them (as we should do),
they will appreciate the need to put aside their own needs and quickly jump
in to do that which is necessary.
After all, our goal is more than just to raise kids who don’t sit on the
side waiting for the cards to be taken so that their job is easier. We want
to raise the type of children who quickly jump in to be the first ones to
pick up their cards so that someone else’s job is a little easier!
Have a great Shabbos.