And they brought the Mishkan (Tabernacle) to Moses…
When all the parts of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) had been made, they were brought to Moses, who actually stood the walls up and erected the Mishkan. Rashi quoting the Midrash explains that due to the massive weight of the materials, none of the people were able to erect it, so they brought the materials to Moses-but he was also unable to lift up the heavy walls. G-d instructed him to go through the motions “as if you are lifting them, and they will be lifted on their own.”
The challenge with this explanation is a few verses later, we are told that “Moses erected the Mishkan.” (40:18). Moses is credited with actually putting up the structure but didn’t the Midrash quoted above explain that he wasn’t physically capable of doing so? What does “Moses erected the Mishkan” mean if he wasn’t able to do it?
The answer sheds light on any creative human act. When a couple decides to have a child, they use a system that G-d put into place to create a child. They don’t claim to have the knowledge in anatomy, physiology, synthesis of proteins, and everything else needed to create a human being. Do they know how to form the 100 trillion neural connections or synapses in the human brain? (That’s at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy!). How about the immune system, nervous system, and everything else that a developing fetus requires?
When we say they made a baby, we mean they used a pre-existing system set up with unfathomable wisdom. They merely used a preexisting system and began the process. Nine months later, a perfectly-formed complex marvel is created. They had the baby, they didn’t create it.
Whether it’s a couple having a baby, a farmer growing corn, or an entrepreneur creating an industry, we take pre-existing elements, use pre-formed systems, do some action, and take the credit for the result. In our minds’ eye, our effort is what brought forth the result but the reality is that we created something from preexisting ‘machinery.’
Imagine a factory worker at Entenmann’s bakery. Every day, he takes home two packages of freshly baked donuts for his kids. His children love to brag about the delicious donuts their father makes and are the envy of the first grade. When the school is planning its annual bake sale, wouldn’t it be ridiculous if they went to this Entenmann’s employee asking for help with recipes? He knows very little about baking donuts. He works machinery and moves inventory, but he can’t take credit for actually producing the donuts. He didn’t create the process and can’t tell you which ingredients go into the mixture or the difference between radiant and convection heat and their effect on the crispness of the donuts. He also is clueless on how to create the industrial process of conveyer belts, mixers, and feeder chain ovens needed to produce the donuts.
When a person harnesses a force of nature, (s)he is perceived as a brilliant thinker. (S)He invented something that heretofore didn’t exist. We unintentionally attribute the wisdom of the system to the one who was able to discover and harness it.
Moses understood that any action in which he was engaged was simply going through the motions of what he was instructed to do. He could not take credit for the result, no matter how great. He was conscious of Who set up the system and Whose rules run it. If G-d told him to go through the motions, then he did so. He began erecting the Mishkan, even though he wasn’t physically able to do so. The action was attributed to him because he was following orders; in that situation, this was the system that G-d had set up. ‘You begin moving your hands, andthis will be the result.’ It was no different than a farmer planting wheat or a couple having a child. The result is not our responsbility; our role is to go through the motions. As such, Moses “built” the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Parents are tasked with raising their children to be mature, independent, and emotionally stable human beings. I have seen negligent parents who have produced wonderful children and committed parents who are disappointed and even pained by their children’s behavior. The mitzva is to invest as much as you can in your children, educate and cultivate them, but in the end, it is not up to you. Parents should not take credit for wonderful children nor berate themselves for children who have gone in the wrong direction.
Abraham and Sara remain the paradigm of Jews. Parents bless their daughters every Shabbat may you be like Sara…and we pray every day that G-d remember us in the merit of Abraham. An explicit verse even testifies to Abraham’s loyalty, when it says, “For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice. (Genesis 18:19). But wait, didn’t Abraham father Ishmael; the nemesis of so much of what we Jews stand for? Yes, but Abraham is never held responsible for the unfavorable outcome of his son (Isaac and Rebecca weren’t held accountable for Esau, another thorn in the side of the Jewish people).
The phraseology used to describe the construction of the Mishkan drives home the point that our job is to do what we can, but we must realize that the final result is not in our hands. This understanding will enable people to remain humble and also prevent feelings of worthlessness due to some of the unpleasant results that have come to him or her as a result of life’s vicissitudes.
(Sources: The Shmuz, Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, pp. 157-161; Twerski on Chumash pp. 187-188, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D.)
Our Standing Offer
Interested in a one-on-one study? Got a Jewish question you want answered? Is there a specific topic you would like to hear more about? Please contact email@example.com and we will make that happen.