Make Room For New Souls

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Alissa was washing clothes and sheets and I was going about my business for work, oblivious to the ‘nesting’ that was going on around me. She looked at me with a grin on her face and said, “You are in denial that this baby is coming.” I realized what my pregnant wife was doing; something I should have been doing for quite some time, making room for a new soul.

Now if I wasn’t making room, what about my children?!? It was at that moment that I remembered two videos that my wife took of our oldest son, Avi. The first was him talking to my wife’s stomach when she was pregnant with our second born, saying, “Baby, come out!” And the second video, taken a week later, “I want baby to go back in!” And then I thought about our second born son, Harrison, who is about to become a middle child. Rabbi Jack Riemer sent me a poem that a young family member wrote to his mother after she gave birth to another child:

My Mom says I’m her sugarplum,

My Mom says I’m her lamb.

My Mom says I’m completely perfect,

Just the way I am.

My Mom says I’m a super-special, wonderful, terrific little guy.

My Mom just had another baby,

Why?

I stand at a liminal moment in my family’s life, the arrival of a new soul to our family, to our community, to our people, and to the world. At our Shabbat table the week before the birth, we began the process of ‘making room’. We sat, holding hands together, and we acknowledged that, God willing, this is will be our last Shabbat as a family of four.

In a way, this potential new gain to our family can be seen as a loss – this family of four will never be the same. But is this how we should look at the new relationships we acquire in life, or should we look at it in different ways?

In the last two parashiot of Exodus, we see the completion of the first building project of the Jewish people, the completion of the Mishkan, but also, the finishing touches on the creation of a holy community.

The parashah begins with these words,

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם

“And Moses assembled ALL THE COMMUNITY of Israelites and said to them…”

This is different than the census that was taken in Parashat Ki Tissa which only counted men 20 years and older. Here we see a much more total picture – everyone. We learn that gathering in community must have the right Kavanah/intention in order to be holy.

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם

“And Moses assembled ALL THE COMMUNITY of Israelites and said to them…”

And what does Moses say to them after they are gathered together: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord;

They gather together to worship God through Shabbat, holy time. Moses is telling them, you need to make room in your life for God – to realize that God is the creator of all. And in order to do this, they must make themselves a little smaller. The world was not complete on the 6th day when humanity was created, the world was only completed when Shabbat, holy time, was created.

Immediately after this mention of Shabbat, we read again the instructions for the building of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. It teaches us something: The Mishkan, the holy space in the camp, and Shabbat, holy time, are actually connected.

Perhaps it’s a message to us – gather together in holy space, to mark holy time so you can let God in and create community. But even more than that, we need to make room for others to increase in holiness.

It reminds me of a State Farm commercial. A young guy is sitting by a pool at a party surrounded by beautiful women and tells his friends, “I’m never getting married!” The next scene, he’s in a jewelry store – you picked a beautiful ring. The next scene, his now wife and him are on an airplane with a crying baby in back of him. “We are never having kids.” Next scene – she’s in labor. Next scene – they are sitting in their city apartment – “she says, I love it here” and he says, “We are never moving to the suburbs” – next scene, they are in the suburbs, and he’s cleaning the wall from his child’s crayon drawings and tells his wife, “We are never having another child” and her answer to him, “I’m pregnant.”

We see this happen in real life all the time, even in our synagogues.

I remember speaking with a congregant during my first month at my congregation (this is now my seventh year at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh), before I had any children. I was leading a training on how to perform one to one conversations, 30-minute meetings for the purpose of building relationships. He said something really interesting, “Rabbi, I don’t know about this…I don’t need any new friends in my life.” In other words, I cannot make room for another person, I’m full. I told him, “I don’t know you that well, but I think that would be a serious mistake. You need to make room for others.”

The Torah also deals with this idea of making room for others. At the conclusion of Parashat, Pekudei, we see the completion of the Mishkan and a very special moment between Moses and God. After the Mishkan is completed, the Torah states:

“When Moses had finished the work, 34 the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.”

Could it be that God and Moses could not share space? The Rabbis see a contradiction here because, at other times, Moses actually went into the cloud. Rabbi Brad Artson writes that this first view, of Moses having to leave the Mishkan, is a metaphor for our self-absorbed personalities – sometimes, there can be no room for others. A person who is so focused on the self cannot have meaningful and sustained relationships with others. If they don’t open themselves up, they cannot let others in.

The Talmud adds on to the end of this story of Moses leaving the Mishkan. They tell us that “The Holy Blessed One took hold of Moses and brought him into the cloud.”

Instead of letting Moses in, he physically brings him in. And so we must do the same – we must physically bring people in.

And so, on this Shabbat, I ask you to do something: let people more people into your lives by bringing them in. Reach out to people, go out for coffee with someone you don’t know, speak to someone you don’t know – open your holiday tables to ‘strangers’ and look at your life as if it is still not complete, that something is missing – and your task is to fill it with God and other human beings.

At the end of the commercial, the man sits with his wife and two kids sleeping, on his couch in the suburbs, and he sees what God has given him, he says, “I’m never letting go.”

We recently showed the video to our son yelling at his mother’s belly, demanding that his newborn little brother return from where he came from, and we asked him, do you still want him to go back? He had a puzzling look on his face – he cannot imagine his life without his little brother. Without his brother, his life would be incomplete.

What he feels is what we all feel when we make room for God and others – that feeling of contentment, happiness, wholeness and peace.

May you have that feeling soon – after a crazy and busy life, surrounded by a beautiful family and community – and may you say with confidence – I’m never letting go.

About the Author
David Baum serves as rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh, a small (but mighty) Conservative Kehillah (community) in Boca Raton, Florida, sits on the Rabbinical Assembly Social Justice Commission, former president of the Southeast Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis.
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