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My Gucci Baby…Vaykel-Pekudei 5778

So few days; so many outfits. What will it be today? Should it be the striped dress by Marc Jacobs with the custom Ferragamo heels? Or perhaps the Armani bubble dress with the Jean Paul Gaultier down coat? Then there’s always the casual option, that one piece Dior jumper dress made of the softest material in the world, with the Hugo Boss canvas sneakers. Some tough decisions will need to be made today, decisions most four year olds would be ill equipped to make.

But thanks to a booming children’s designer wear industry estimated at 60 billion dollars this year, more and more children are becoming adept at these tough decisions. Years ago, children were forced to be content with fleece sweaters and denim skirts. But the discrimination against children has clearly ended. Now, designers from Armani to Zegna line up to offer fashion starved children the myriad options they deserve. A five year old can now go to Harrod’s with Mum and deliberate between the £1,300 black fur coat by D&G Junior and the cheaper-looking but more socially conscious gabardine trench coat by Burberry for just £579.

How did $280 baby shoes become normal? What great need is being met by a $189 t-shirt in size 2T? Why are venerable luxury brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Dunhill scrambling to create clothing lines exclusively for 4-12 year olds?

“Parents increasingly see their children as a reflection of themselves, so they want to make sure they look good and are in the latest things,” said Sarah Peters, senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, a part of the Datamonitor Group. Fflur Roberts, Euromonitor’s luxury-goods research manager, adds that dressing their kids in designer gear is a guilt-free way for fashion-focused parents to indulge their own penchant for following trends, Roberts said. “It makes them feel good.”  

Some experts describe the new phenomenon in even more stark terms. Ann-Katrin Weiner, editor-in-chief of the international Kids’ Wear Magazine said children are becoming more and more like accessories. She points to Suri Cruise, recently chosen Hollywood’s best-dressed child by a US magazine, who is often dressed to match her mother, Katie Holmes. They both wear the same skirts, lace blouses and patent-leather sandals, the entire outfit looking like it’s just off the fashion runway. Children’s outfits often come with a matching dress for the child’s doll, but now it seems like adults are looking for that matching dress for their own dolls, who will be able to look just like mommy.

Ironically, the only other sector of luxury goods that can match the meteoric rise children’s designer clothing is experiencing, is pet clothing and accessories. “There’s been a huge increase in spending on designer pet clothing and accessories,” according to Euromonitor’s Roberts.  Looking for a carrier bag for Spot? You can try the Louis Vuitton “Baxter” bag for $1,439 or the similarly priced bag by Gucci, which you probably want to match with the $450 dog leash.

Loretta Lazar, a full time mom in Paris who was recently interviewed while shopping for her children on the famed Champs Elysees, explains the connection. “Let’s put it this way,” she said. “If the dog is wearing Gucci, the kids aren’t wearing Gap.” Thank you Loretta, it all seems to make perfect sense right now.

Personally, I would rather my children don’t even know that there is a label in their clothing until they’re in their mid-twenties. The only thing my children need to know about labels is that if they are on the outside, you are wearing your clothing inside out. This is not only a cost-saving measure (one shopping excursion to Harrods’ newly expanded children’s section would probably cost me my salary for the next three years), it is a priority of values. I want my children to learn to value that which is inside the clothing, people, and not so much the clothing itself,, the most external layer people display.

Child psychologists are not too fond of the trend either. Dr Colin Gill, a chartered psychologist, explains, ‘The child will quickly become aware that you place a great deal of importance on what they are wearing and you are therefore teaching them that things are as important as they are. It’s an insidious message.’

A friend of mine related to me how his niece in fourth grade called the other day, so excited to tell them about her new Juicy sweatshirt. Is this child perhaps already feeling her self-worth tied to the label on the inside of her shirt? Does she already value something bought with money over something acquired by hard work?

Children as accessories aren’t too high on my priority list either. The concept of children as accessories isn’t limited to how they dress, it can include how they behave as well. Many times parents will publicly admonish their children in a humiliating and traumatizing manner just to make sure that no one thinks that they were in on their child’s plan to overturn the soda at the birthday party or to take a handful of lollipops from the candy jar at the neighbor’s house. At other times, parents will make it clear to the rebellious teenager who has taken to dressing in an inappropriate manner that they don’t want to be seen with him/her in public, because “what will the neighbors think?” The message here is the same; the way  “you” look on the outside defines “me”.

Interestingly, we find at least one person in the Torah who was very quick to notice the externals, but he’s not exactly the hero figure. Esau, Jacob’s twin brother,  is a man who notices what something looks like before he notices what it is. When he comes home from a long day of killaging (killing + pillaging), he sees his brother cooking a pot of lentil soup. “”Pour into me some of this red, red, for I am faint.” He doesn’t even notice what is being cooked, he notices the color, which is the most external representation of anything. “Therefore,” the Torah tells us, “he was named Edom (red).” In Judaism, a person’s name defines them, and a person who only sees the externals will be defined by the external. If all you see is red, you will be defined as “Red”.

Jacob, on the other hand, is defined by his accomplishments, by what he came to through great internal struggle. Just as Esau got a new name during his lifetime, Edom, Jacob gets another name in his lifetime ,as well: Yisrael. He earns that name through an intense struggle with the forces of evil, a battle he fought all night long. “”Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with G-d[ly beings] and with men,  and you have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:29). Jacob’s new name, is given to him because it defines who he is, not what he looks like, because who he has become is what he values.

Thankfully, we are blessed to be part of the great nation that carries the name that represents internal struggle, the Children of Israel. While parents are busy accessorizing their children, trying to turn them  into reflections of the parent’s style and status, we, the Children of Israel, try to do the opposite. We try to turn ourselves into reflections of the great vision that our parents, all the way back to our forefathers, had for us, the vision of a people “struggling with G-dly beings and with men, and prevailing!”

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

“And every wise hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the Lord has commanded” (Exodus 35:10)

W ith these words, Moses calls upon the people to step forward and begin building the Tabernacle. Rabbi Eliezer Man Shach of blessed memory (1898-2001, Lithuania-Israel) notes that wisdom is usually associated with the brain, not the heart. What exactly, he asks, is the meaning of this verse that refers to wise hearted people?

He bases his answer on something we see in Ethics of Our Fathers, which famously proclaims, “Who is the wise man? He who learns from every person.” (Ethics, 4:1). Rabbenu Yona of Gerona (13th Century, Spain) points out that it doesn’t say, “he who learned from everyone” in the past tense, but rather, “he who learns from everyone” in the present tense. This is because being wise is not as much measured by what you know or what you’ve learned, but by your attitude to learning.

If a person has an enormous amount of knowledge but disregards the significance of continued learning and growth, he is not a wise person, but a fool – comparable to a pack of donkeys carrying hundreds of books on dozens of subjects. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t possess much knowledge, but recognizes the value of knowledge and spends his time in its pursuit, he is a wise man, one who truly knows what is valuable and what is not.

For this reason, the mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers says that a wise person is someone who learns from every person in the present, because that is a person in pursuit of knowledge. Someone who already learned from people, but is on hiatus from learning now, is not what we would call a chacham (a wise person).

Based on this, Rabbi Shach explains what Moses was looking for when building the Tabernacle. He wasn’t looking for people who were head-smart, people with lots of knowledge in their heads, but rather he was looking for people who were heart-smart, people who were looking to expand their knowledge, people thirsty for learning. Even if they were not yet proficient in every field, Moses had full confidence that they would become so.

We see a similar idea in a famous story from the Talmud. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Tannaim (authors of the mishna), was a simple shepherd, working for Ben Kalba Savua, one of the richest Jews in Israel. At the age of forty he was uneducated and didn’t even know the Aleph Bet. To make matters worse, he had a fierce hatred for Torah scholars. He had an epiphany one day after observing how slowly dripping water bored a hole right through a boulder. It convinced him that the Torah could likewise penetrate his hardened heart – even at such a late stage in life.

Ben Kalba Savua’s daughter, Rachel, saw that Akiva was now a man on a mission; a person in pursuit of knowledge. She told him she would marry him if he went to study in Yeshiva, and they secretly wed. When Ben Kalba Savua heard that his daughter, who could have married anyone she wished to, was married to an ignorant shepherd, he angrily vowed that neither of them would ever benefit from anything of his.

Twenty four years later, Rabbi Akiva returned home as one of the leading Torah sages of his time, accompanied by 24,000 students. Ben Kalba Savua, not realizing that Rabbi Akiva was his son-in-law, came to him to try to annul the vow he made years ago, that had estranged him from his daughter and her family. Rabbi Akiva asked him if he would have made the vow had he thought that the shepherd would become a learned man, and Ben Kalba Savua said that he wouldn’t have. Rabbi Akiva then revealed his identity, and annulled the vow. Ben Kalba Savua hugged him and kissed him, and gave Rabbi Akiva half his possessions.

But Tosafot has a problem with this story. One of the laws of annulling vows is that you cannot annul a vow based on something that, at the time of the vow, had not yet occurred, and Akiva only became great after the vow. Thus the vow should have been unbreakable. Tosafot answers that since Rabbi Akiva had already committed to learning, since he had already acquired the wisdom of the heart, he was already considered a learned person (albeit one with some learning to do!). Wisdom as defined by the Torah is not about what we know; it’s about what we want to know!

 

Parsha Summary

This week we will take out two scrolls from the Aron Kodesh. From the first we will read Vayakel and Pekudei, the two final portions of the Book of Exodus. If you’ve been following the parsha all the way through, give yourself a big pat on the back, an extra red star sticker, or whatever else you do to celebrate an accomplishment.

Vayakel begins with Moshe gathering all the Jewish people and telling them about the laws of Shabbat. Moshe goes on to tell them about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. (In the previous portions, Teruma and Titzaveh, Ha-shem commanded Moshe about the building of the Mishkan; now Moshe tells the people, and the people actually build it.) The two concepts are connected in that one is not allowed to desecrate Shabbos for the purpose of building the Mishkan. We don’t break G-d’s special time (Shabbos) to build Him a special place (the Mishkan); it would defeat the purpose.

The Torah describes the donations needed which included gold, silver, and copper (these were the days before titanium-palladium alloys were all the rage), the different colored wools, goat skins, herbs, spices, and, most important, the volunteering of time by the craftsmen to build the Mishkan. Two people were appointed to be the managers of this colossal and divine endeavor, Betzalel, from the tribe Yehuda, which was considered the most royal of the tribes, and Oholiab, from Dan, which was considered the lowliest of the tribes, thus indicating that when it comes to building a dwelling place for G-d, everyone is equal.

The Parsha then describes in detail the making of the curtains, covering cloths, partitions, and walls of the Tabernacle. Next it depicts the creation of the Holy Ark with its cover, the Table, the Menorah, the Incense Altar, the outdoor Offering Altar, the Laver (a special vessel used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet before Temple service), and the courtyard posts which had cloth sheets that wrapped around them, used to enclose the Temple courtyard. Vayakel ends. One down, one to go!

Pekudei begins with the Torah enumerating the exact amounts of gold, silver, and copper that were donated. (Quick lesson: no matter how great you are, if you are using public funds there should be a level of accountability. Listen up Department of Defense!!!) It then describes in detail the making of the vestments worn by the Kohanim and the Kohen Gadol (the priests and the High Priest). The Parsha ends with the commandment to set up the Mishkan, and its erection. The Parsha (and for that matter the entire Book of Exodus) closes with the climactic moment when G-d’s glory comes down from on High and rests in the Mishkan that was built for him!

From the second scroll, we read Parshat Parah, the portion in Leviticus that deals with the laws of the Red Heifer, the Parah Adumah. The red heifer was brought as a sacrifice and its ashes were mixed with water and a few other ingredients to create a liquid that could be sprinkled on people to remove spiritual impurity from them.

We read it at this time of the year, because it was at this time of the year that they would bring the red heifer sacrifice and because we are in middle of a cleansing time of the year, cleaning our houses for Pesach. The physical cleansing we do on our houses is supposed to remind us of the spiritual cleansing that we should be doing concurrently. Reading about the spiritual cleansing powers of the red heifer waters reminds us of that all-important job! That’s all Folks!!!

 

Quote of the Week: We run away all the time to avoid coming face to face with ourselves. ~ G. Yelnats

Random Fact of the Week: There are 461 stations in the New York City subway system.

Funny Line of the Week: The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

 

Have a Rambunctious Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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