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Here’s the #1 Rule for a Successful Life….Terumah 5778

I was setting the Shabbos table one Friday afternoon when the call came in. On the other end of the line was an energetic and persuasive salesperson who wanted to give me a free stay in a beautiful resort in Florida if only we would attend a ninety-minute sales presentation outlining the joys of timeshare ownership. The joys of timeshare ownership weren’t what caught my attention, but rather the joys of a few days of vacation time with my family in a place warmer than freezing during winter break. I quickly checked flight prices and found that we could be spirited off to Florida for an incredibly low price during winter break, and even more incredibly it wouldn’t have to be on Spirit Airlines! Ninety-minute sales presentation, here we come!

It was through that fortuitous phone call that the Burnham family was able to take our first real vacation trip ever, and we were about as giddy as kids in a jell-o pool! So on a Wednesday deep into January, as Detroit braced for yet another snow storm, we stormed off to warmer climes and sunny days!

While we’d traveled to New York and Israel many times to visit family, this was our first trip where we actually had a whole week just to spend time with each other and do “family stuff” and it was quite the learning experience. Here are just a few things that we learned…

Clear Gatorade tastes just like colored Gatorade. If you have children, buy clear.

Drinks bought outside of tourist sites taste just like drinks bought in tourist sites. They also cost about 1/10 of the price. Buy drinks outside of tourist sites and load them underneath the stroller.

Children are like cars. The gas in their tanks is made up of sleep, food, and drinks. Not enough gas, and the car won’t go anywhere unless it’s pulled by the tow truck (read: Daddy).

Children are like cars. If you put a lot of sugar in the gas tank, you blow the engine.

Cars are like children. If you are running low on gas, don’t be adventurous. Make sure you get to the gas station before you break down.

We made a list of rules for our children, and after going over them multiple times every day, I realized that they are pretty good rules for life as well. (For the children we kept the rules short and sweet, everything in italics is just commentary!)

Rule #1 Always thank Ha-shem! It is pretty awesome to be here, so constantly thank the One who got you here.

Rule #2 Always thank your parents. They also got you here, and worked forever so that you could be where you are, so thank them often!

Rule #3 Never complain. It doesn’t change anything, and makes your day much less fun.

Rule #4 The longer you’re happy, the longer you get to stay out and do fun things. No one wants to be around a grouch.

Rule #5 No fighting with each other, we will just take away your stuff anyway. Isn’t that how we had the Second Temple taken away from us? Too much fighting amongst brethren.

My favorite rule was #1, and I invoked it at least ten times a day. When we came off a ride the kids loved, as we walked into a new park, as we strolled around without any coats, boots, hats or even sweaters, everything seemed to be a reason to thank Ha-shem again. And every time we did it, it really helped both me and the children realize what a gift our vacation was. At the end of each day as we sat around the dinner table, we would ask each child what their favorite part of the day was, and then we would invoke Rule #1 again, as we relived the good moments of the day. We found that the more we stopped to appreciate things, the better they seemed!

But we don’t need to be on vacation to be thankful. We can be thankful for a really good cup of coffee, a string of green lights, the beauty of the softly falling snow, or the crisp cold air that hits us as we stumble out in the morning. We can appreciate our children’s bubblyness in the morning, opposable thumbs, the pleasure of a good hard day at work, or the warmth of our car during our commute home. The more we take time to be thankful for things, the more thankful we will be for our life in general! And who would you rather be around, a happy thankful person, or a grouch? (See Rule #4 if you need help with this one.) For that matter who would you rather be?

Just like we did on vacation, every day we should ask all of our children what their favorite part of the day was, and lo and behold, even our teenagers will need to have a favorite part of the day.

Being thankful is a complex emotion. The Jewish word for being thankful “L’hodot” has an additional meaning that shows another facet of thankfulness. “L’hodot” also means to admit, because when we are thankful, we are admitting that someone did something for us that we couldn’t do ourselves. We know we couldn’t make coffee taste so good by ourselves, nor could we engineer a heart that would work fine for decades without ever needing a tune up or an oil change.

We admit that Something far greater than us is taking care of us, and being able to recognize His love for us makes our lives all that more meaningful. Its not just that we are thankful, but it also reminds us who we are thankful to! The One who could be doing anything, who has no limitations, yet He choose to give personal attention to me, to make sure that I got a string of green lights on the way to work when I was late! Of course, it also gives us a sense of indebtedness to him, we “admit” that we owe something back to Him. And all He asks of us in return is to develop a stronger relationship with Him, and kinder relationships with our fellow man.

The Jewish people are called Yehudim, which stems from the name of one of the tribes, Yehuda. Yehuda got his name because his mother felt overwhelmed with thankfulness, upon receiving much more than she deserved. Even though we are not all descendants of the tribe of Yehuda, the collective Jewish people is named after the trait of thankfulness due to its centrality in Jewish living.

After all, it is Rule #1… Always Thank Ha-shem.


Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s parsha begins with the call for donations to build the first ever House of G-d. The Torah enumerates all the different items that were needed, a shopping list of fifteen items ranging from gold to purple wool, from acacia wood to red-dyed goat skins. Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (1696-1743, Morocco-Jerusalem) in his classic commentary, the Ohr HaChaim points out what seems like an anomaly in the order that Torah uses to list items that would be donated. Generally the list is ordered from the most expensive to the least expensive. The list begins with gold and then moves on to silver, copper, and moves all the way down to herbs and spices.

The anomaly is that the most expensive of all the items is listed last! The shoham stones were precious stones worn on the shoulders of the high priest, and they had to be big enough that the names of six tribes were engraved on each one of them. They were literally priceless, and should have been the first item on the list instead of the last! The Ohr Hachayim begins his answer with a statement from the Talmud (Yoma 75A), which says that these priceless stones which were impossible to find, were brought miraculously by the clouds (a whole new meaning to “airmail!”). Since no effort was expended in bringing this item to build the Tabernacle, they were the least important to G-d and were listed last.

When someone made a big sacrifice and donated a chunk of gold to the Tabernacle it was more meaningful that when someone made a smaller sacrifice and gave a chunk of silver. But the shoham stones, despite being priceless, did not come through someone’s self sacrifice and dedication, and were thus listed last. G-d doesn’t need gold, diamonds, or platinum. In a flash He could create mountains of gold. What G-d values is the love, dedication, and sacrifice of His people, and the times that required the most dedication were the one’s G-d counted first. Items that required no dedication were left to the end, regardless of their enormous price tag.

Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820, Poland- Vilna), in his classic work on Jewish Law, Chayei Adam, talks about general principles regarding the fulfillment of mitzvos. He expands the idea above by saying that if someone can afford it, they should pay for items that will be used for a mitzvah even if they can get it for free. For example, although someone can borrow a lulav and esrog to shake on Succos, they should buy one anyway, because when we invest in a mitzvah, it has more meaning to us (which is why it is more meaningful to G-d).

He supports this from King David’s acquisition of the Temple Mount, which would later house the First and Second Temples. The owner of the land, Aravnah the Jebusite, offered the whole thing to King David for free, but King David declined. “And the king said to Aravnah, “No; for I will only buy it from you at a price; so that I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt-offerings [which I had received] for nothing. (Samuel II 24:24)” King David didn’t want to give up the opportunity to invest himself personally in the great mitzvah of building the Temple. By derivation, the Chayei Adam says that we too should try to invest ourselves personally in any mitzvah we can.

For the past eleven years I have had the opportunity to lecture for Heritage Retreats, an organization that brings college students and young professional from all over the country together for a week of “learn hard, play hard.” As part of the program, we learn about many of the basic mitzvos, including tzitzis and tefillin. Often the guys are even given the opportunity to make their own tzitzis. It is not easy, and often takes two hours to complete a single pair of tzitzis. But reliably, when people invest in making their own tzitzis, they end up wearing them much more. The more we invest in a mitzvah, the greater the return we reap.  As the mishnah in Ethics of Our Fathers proclaims, (Avot 5:26) “26. Ben Heh-Heh used to say: According to the effort is the reward.”


Parsha Summary

In this week’s portion G-d asks the Jewish people to build a physical dwelling place for the Divine Presence. The Sages tell us that the real goal is that we each build a Tabernacle inside ourselves, but that the building is the physical expression of that idea, and one we can relate to much more easily. The Jews were asked to donate the many different materials with which the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), its vessels, and the holy vestments for the Kohanim would be made.

The items the Jews were asked to bring were: gold, silver and copper, turquoise, purple, and crimson wool, fine linen, goat’s hair, red-dyed ram’s skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, and precious stones. G-d tells Moshe that He will show him a model of the Tabernacle and that the real one should be built exactly like the prototype.

After that, the Torah begins to detail the design of many of the vessels. The ark was made of three boxes, the outside and inside ones of gold, and the middle one of wood. On top of the box was a special lid that had two childlike forms with wings engraved onto it. There were four rings in which poles to carry the aron were placed and, specifically regarding the ark, the Torah stipulates that the poles were never to be removed.

The Table was a vessel used to hold twelve loaves of showbread that were placed there for a week at a time, from Shabbos to Shabbos. The table was made of gold-plated wood and had a small crown-like ornament rimming it. It had a special system of poles and supports so that the showbreads could be held up properly.

The Menorah had to be carved out of one block of gold. It was about 70 inches tall and had one central mast with three branches leading off to each side. It was heavily adorned with sculpted flowers, knobs, and decorative cups.

The building itself was made of dozens of wood planks covered in gold and held in place by silver sockets. There were also gold plated wooden bars that held them together. There were two heavy tapestries covering these planks. The inner one was made of twisted linen woven with turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and was held together with golden hooks. The outer one was made of a more simple material, woven goat’s hair, and was held together with copper hooks. The Sages tell us that this teaches us that a person’s home should always be more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. (Please note: There are so many lessons taught from everything in the Tabernacle, but space doesn’t permit me to list all of them. However, please discover these gems for yourselves!)

The altar was a hollow rectangular cuboid (the width and length were the same, the height was not) made of wood and covered with copper. It was filled with dirt. It had protrusions at each of the top corners that were exact cubes, netting surrounding it like a belt, and a protrusion in the middle that was large enough to walk on. Leading up to it was a long ramp, as no steps were allowed on the altar (see the end of Parshas Yisro).

Finally, the courtyard was swathed in a white linen sheet which was held in place by wooden pillars with copper sockets. The pillars had bands of silver going around them, and they held up the material with silver hooks. If it sounds like a beautiful place, that’s because it was one. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple, and may we once again have a place on earth where G-d’s Presence can reside in all of its Glory!!!

Quote of the Week: The best way out of a problem is through it. ~ Samuel Fremont

Random Fact of the Week: Pumice is the only rock that floats in water.

Funny Line of the Week: I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

Have a Swell Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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