My Rabbinic Training Academy once met with a man who is considered to be a multi billionaire. He told us that once he gave an interview in Los Angeles. He was asked if he would not mind telling the audience exactly how wealthy he was. ‘Firstly,’ he responded, ‘you are very cheeky. But if you must know, I am actually very, very wealthy because I have given much to others in my life. And giving is the only wealth I have.’
We find something similar in this week’s portion. It begins with the words, ‘these are the accounts of the Tabernacle’. ‘These,’ the Rabbis say, ‘and no others’. In other words, when a person does his accounts in a metaphorical sense, the only things worth counting are those that were done in the service of a higher good. We all know this ultimately, it’s just a question of whether we can remember in our day to day lives. No one would want on their gravestone, ‘he consumed 5,000 chickens in his lifetime’, ‘she played 10,000 hands of Bridge’ or ‘he owned ten Cartier watches’. What we write on people’s gravestones or say in their eulogies is the good they did, the contributions that they made. As Winston Churchill famously said, ‘we make a living by what we take, but we make a life by what we give’.
I’m taking my rabbis to Poland next week and so I’m reminded of a building in Cracow. It was built in the 1920s at 10 Stanislawa Street. It was to be the headquarters for the fledgling Bais Yakov movement. Bais Yakov, at the time, was ground-breaking – and desperately needed. Primary and Secondary schools for Jewish girls, who, until that point, had been entirely excluded from the education system. There was an incredible sense of passion and idealism about revolutionising the Jewish world. Judith Grunfeld, one of the leaders of the movement, was walking by the building site before dawn one morning and one of the wealthiest landowners in Cracow, Reb Nuteh Parness, was there already. When she asked him why, he told her that he did not want the workers stealing the bricks. But, she retorted, he was an incredibly wealthy property developer with building sites all over Cracow. Why was he at this one in particular? He responded that this one was special. ‘All my other buildings will remain behind when I leave this world’, he said, ‘This building is the only one that I will take with me’.
The vast majority of what we do in our lives is forgotten in the dusts of time. It is those special moments, where we actually get to contribute to something meaningful, that remain with us for eternity. Those are the only things that are worth counting.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Pikudey includes an accounting of all the materials that went into the making of the Tabernacle and details of the construction of the clothing of the Priests. Moses tells the people exactly how their money was spent – down to the last penny. He realises that as much respect as the Jewish people might have for him – when it comes to money, people have entirely different levels of expectation.
The Tabernacle is completed, Moses examines all of the components and gives his approval to the quality and exactness of construction. God commands that they erect the Tabernacle. It is erected and the various vessels are placed in their proper positions. And that’s it for the Tabernacle till next year.