Monday, February 17, 2014

The Small Task at Hand

Parshat Vayakhel
Shmot 35:1 - 38:20
22 Adar 1 5774 / February 21 - 22, 2014

The Small Task at Hand
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s Torah portion Moshe gathers the people and asks them to provide free-will offerings of precious materials in order for the artisans and craftsmen to build the sanctuary in the desert. All the people of Israel responded with overwhelming generosity. Our parsha states in Chapter 36:

“But when these continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning, 4 all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged, 5 and said to Moshe, ‘The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.’6 Moshe thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ So the people stopped bringing: 7 their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.”

I love hearing about a project that actually gets done. So often, I find myself working on projects that seem to have no end, for example, engaging Young Jews to explore their religious, spiritual, and cultural heritage. I can get into the mindset, that there really is no end to such a task, and it is easy to get lost in the progress that can be difficult to perceive. I think social justice causes have a similar resonance; will we ever really reach a just society? Will all people on earth (or in this country or city) be safe from bodily harm, starvation, or degradation?   Possibly not anytime soon. And so at times when feeling the hints of despair it is important to remember the Jewish adage, “It is not upon us to finish the work, but neither can we desist from working towards the goal.”

Our Torah portion offers another useful strategy than just plowing through feelings of despair – notice the projects that do have an end. All huge goals can be broken up into smaller parts, and those goals into smaller parts…and in the end there is but one task, “give a free will offering” to the moment. That is really all we can do. Snap out of our locked in ways of being and give ourselves freely for one moment to acting in a way that brings us towards our goal. This is true for repairing a car or ridding the world of micro-aggressions. Make this small moment a free will offering towards your goals.

When we focus on the small moments of change, and then pick our heads up to see where we have come (Shabbat, for example is a great day to stop and see how far you have come), there might be a sense of, “Hey! The car is fixed!” or, “Hey, I really have stopped unconsciously talking down to people that are different from me!” We can celebrate the end of a task and feel a sense of progress towards a larger goal.


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