Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Thought on the Parsha

In the final verses of the book of Shemot we are told that "the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) was erected," and that "Moshe erected the Mishkan."  The Midrash contrasts these two verses and describes what happened behind the scenes and who was really behind the construction of the Mishkan:

Because when they had finished the Mishkan, none knew how to set it up. So what did they do? Each one took his finished piece of work and ... as soon as Moses beheld them, the Divine spirit settled upon him and he set the Tabernacle up.

You must not say that it was Moses who set it up, for miracles were performed with it and it rose of its own accord, for it says,  "The Mishkan was erected" (Ex. 40:17). [Just like when Solomon built the Temple,] everyone was helping him, including both man and spirits, because it says: "For the house, in its being built..."  (I Kings VI, 7) - [that is,] it was built of its own accord.  Therefore it must have been built miraculously. Similarly, when the Mishkan was erected, it also rose up miraculously.
(Shemot Rabbah 52:4).

While this midrash seemingly answers the question "Who built the Mishkan?,"  it actually gives many different - perhaps even contradictory - answers to this question.   Moshe, with his talents, erected the Mishkan.  Moshe erected it because the Divine spirit was working through him.  Everyone, even spirits, built the Mishkan.  The Mishkan arose by itself, miraculously.  Well, which is it?  How exactly did the Mishkan get built? Was it Moshe? Was it God working through Moshe?  Was it the people?  Was it a miracle? 

The answer, of course, is that all of these are true.   The midrash is capturing the multi-faceted, seemingly contradictory nature of what happens in a successful collaborative effort.  When people are working together in an organized, integrated fashion, when the effort is coordinated by a leader who does not overly insert him or herself,  by a person who brings out the best in others and makes each person feel valued, when everyone participates and everyone contributes his or her distinctive talents, when all forces are working together, and everyone is driven by a shared vision, then, indeed, what is created is created as if by itself, as if by a miracle.   It is created through everyone's effort, and through the hand of God.

Such has been our experience with the building of our house of God, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.  It has been a labor of love, inspired by a dream, driven by a vision.  It has succeeded because of the collaboration of so many uniquely talented individuals, each person giving fully of his or herself.  From teachers of Torah and halakha, to experts in pastoral counseling, pedagogy, and leadership.  From our students who contribute their passion and their personal visions to those who run the business and support end of the yeshiva so expertly that it seems to run without effort, as if by itself.  From those in the larger community who have contributed through their financial support to those who contribute through their expertise, their advice and their advocacy . From all of these amazing individuals, from all of us working together, we have created a true house of God. 

It is a house of God that, with God's help, brings God's presence a little more into this world, a house that provides such needed religious leadership, and from which, with God's help, emanates Torah and inspiration to the Jewish community and to the world.

With the yeshiva's upcoming dinner this Sunday, I would like to use this opportunity to express how grateful I am - every day - for the hard work, dedication, and contribution that each individual has made and continues to make in the building and growing of this house of God, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.  I also want to recognize the students of the yeshiva, my talmidim, who have given and continue to give the yeshiva their all, so that the yeshiva can be the best possible rabbinical school, and so that they can be the best possible rabbis for their future communities. 

On a personal note, I am humbled to be receiving this Sunday the Rabbinic Leadership Award.  I strive to follow the model of Moshe in the building of the Mishkan, and to follow the example of our founder, my mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss - to work to integrate everyone's talents, but to make myself as invisible as possible, to empower the talented individuals that I am blessed to work with, and to step out of the way and to let them do their magic.  Truly, together, with God's help, we have built this amazing yeshiva, and we will continue to be blessed by dedicating ourselves to it, and by the light that emerges from it and its rabbis, for many, many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom!

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