D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
You only get out of it what you put into it
One important rule many of us have learned over the course of our lives is that we only get as much out of life as we put into it. Having learned this piece of wisdom however, doesn’t mean we always follow it. A good example is practicing the guitar.
I started taking guitar lessons about a year ago and although I do practice fairly regularly, sometimes I’m just too tired to practice. After a long and exhausting day I typically end up plopping down in my big poofy chair ready to do a little reading or catch up on the day’s news. Looking up, I often notice my guitar from across the room beckoning me to come and practice. I’m certainly motivated to practice. I have a degree in music and I play several other instruments. Even so, being highly motivated doesn’t always mean I am in the mood to practice. For me, the trick is to motivate myself even when I’m not in the mood. If I put in the time to practice no matter how I am feeling, my guitar playing will certainly improve.
In this week’s Torah portion Terumah, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to create a dwelling place – a Mishkan, or Tabernacle, for God. The Torah gives very specific instructions on how this Tabernacle should be built. For example:
וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ מְנֹרַ֖ת זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר מִקְשָׁ֞ה תֵּֽיעָשֶׂ֤ה הַמְּנוֹרָה֙ יְרֵכָ֣הּ וְקָנָ֔הּ גְּבִיעֶ֛יהָ כַּפְתֹּרֶ֥יהָ וּפְרָחֶ֖יהָ מִמֶּ֥נָּה יִֽהְיֽוּ: וְשִׁשָּׁ֣ה קָנִ֔ים יֹֽצְאִ֖ים מִצִּדֶּ֑יהָ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה ׀ קְנֵ֣י מְנֹרָ֗ה מִצִּדָּהּ֙ הָֽאֶחָ֔ד וּשְׁלֹשָׁה֙ קְנֵ֣י מְנֹרָ֔ה מִצִּדָּ֖הּ הַשֵּׁנִֽי: שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה גְ֠בִעִ֠ים מְשֻׁקָּדִ֞ים בַּקָּנֶ֣ה הָֽאֶחָד֘ כַּפְתֹּ֣ר וָפֶ֒רַח֒ וּשְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה גְבִעִ֗ים מְשֻׁקָּדִ֛ים בַּקָּנֶ֥ה הָֽאֶחָ֖ד כַּפְתֹּ֣ר וָפָ֑רַח כֵּ֚ן לְשֵׁ֣שֶׁת הַקָּנִ֔ים הַיֹּֽצְאִ֖ים מִן־הַמְּנֹרָֽה: וּבַמְּנֹרָ֖ה אַרְבָּעָ֣ה גְבִעִ֑ים מְשֻׁ֨קָּדִ֔ים כַּפְתֹּרֶ֖יהָ וּפְרָחֶֽיהָ:
And you shall make a lampstand of pure gold; of hammered workmanship shall the lampstand be made; its shaft, and its branches, its bowls, its bulbs, and its flowers, shall be of the same. And six branches shall come from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side, and three branches of the lampstand from the other side; Three bowls made like almonds, with a bulb and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a bulb and a flower; so for the six branches that come from the lampstand. And in the lampstand shall be four bowls made in the shape of almonds, with their bulbs and their flowers. (Ex. 25:31-34)
The details and the effort put forth by the Israelites in the building of the Mishkan were important. After all, this was to be a place where God would dwell among the them. As Rabbi Shefa Gold writes: the purpose of the Mishkan was to send the Israelites to the space within where they could receive the Mystery of Presence. To build a dwelling place for God, the motivation had to come from more than just a sense of duty. The Israelites needed to be willing and generous of heart.
Whether we are learning to play guitar or building a place in which God will dwell, nothing meaningful in life comes effortlessly and nothing great can be achieved quickly. In the end, you only get out of it what you put into it.