Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

Looking Inside, Looking Outside

“I was on the outside / When you said, you said you needed me,” sang U2’s Bono and the Edge in 1980’s “I Will Follow,”  “And I was looking at myself / I was blind, I could not see…”  Kids look “inside:” their perspective is narrow and immediate.  Adults, thanks to their education and experience, hopefully have the ability to look beyond, seeing the larger picture.  A friend of mine, the child of Holocaust Survivors, once told me that she knew she had reached a certain stage in her life when she saw Schindler’s List and identified not with the children in the movie, but rather with the parents.  Her perspective got bigger.  

We first learn of the mishkan, the portable recreation of Har Sinai, in parashat Terumah, when Moshe instructed the people on the construction of the kelim, the utensils, such as the aron and the menorah. Only afterwards did Moshe tell them about the structure itself. But Betzalel, the chief artisan on the project, flipped the order and began (in last week’s Torah reading of Vayakhel) to construct first the building and only then fashion the kelim that would go inside.   

In this week’s parasha of Pekudei, Rashi cites the Talmud in Berachot which explains that Betzalel had actually divined God’s original plan: minhag ha-olam la’asot techila bayit ve-achar kach mesim kelim be-tocho, “the way of the world is to first build a house and only then to furnish it.”  Indeed, Moshe complimented Betzalel for seeing what he, Moshe, had not been able to understand.  My friend Danny Groner suggests that the difference between Moshe and Betzalel is one of perspective: Moshe, the spiritual leader, focused on the mishkan’s ritual objects.  Betzalel, however, as what Danny calls a “lay leader,” prioritized the structure itself; its construction would impact a greater number of people.  The utensils are significant, but the tent – which brings everyone together – is far more important.  

But there’s more to the mishkan: it was constructed using the contributions of the entire nation, a process which gave all the people the feeling of ownership of this special, holy place.  Ramban comments that while the Exodus was the physical redemption of the people of Israel, their spiritual redemption only came about when they built the mishkan together. “When you’re part of something,” my friend Danny writes, “it also becomes a part of you.”   

And when it’s a part of us, it lasts.  The Talmud in Sotah reports that the mishkan was buried intact on Har Habayit when the Temple was dedicated.  It still dwells there somewhere, we believe, hidden safely underground.  Seforno adds that the mishkan survived while the mikdash was destroyed because the former was built by all of the people and the latter was only built by subcontractors from several nations: without the personal commitment and labor, the intimate connection to the space was lost.

The challenge for our kids, especially after the fracturing of their lives these past two years, is to learn to see beyond the immediate, beyond the details, and ascend a few thousand feet to have a mishkan view, rather than merely a kelim view, one with a sense of personal connection.  And our challenge, as their parents and teachers, is helping them get there.  In a 2001 article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Work of Leadership,” Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie famously write that business leaders “have to be able to view patterns as if they were on a balcony.”  Doing so is the only way to bring about change; if not, they are stuck on the “field of action” and cannot set goals or inspire others.  This was the big-picture thinking of Betzalel.  Once we have achieved that perspective, Danny Groner says, “The spirituality and sanctity of what happens underneath the tent will follow.”

The terrible events in Ukraine offer us a living example for talking with our kids both about the small, immediate, horrible impacts of war as well as the larger picture of history and politics playing out before the world’s eyes.  As we pray for an end to the violence occurring in Ukraine, we can also pray for the wisdom and strength to offer our children a different, broader perspective.

Shabbat shalom.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their daughters.
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