Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:3)

Lessons from Dunkin Donuts

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 raise it up, 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 is that 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?

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? How about the immune and nervous systems, and everything else 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 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 worker at Dunkin Donuts. Every day, he takes home two packages of freshly baked donuts for his kids, who 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 Dunkin Donuts 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 conveyor belts, mixers, and feeder chain ovens needed to produce the donuts.

When people harness a force of nature, they are perceived as brilliant thinkers who invented something that heretofore didn’t exist. Discovering the mechanics or underpinnings of the system is worthy of our accolades but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking of unintentionally attributing 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. The action was attributed to him because by following orders he was accessing the system that G-d had set up. ‘You begin moving your hands, and this will be the result.’ It was no different than a farmer planting wheat or a couple having a child. The result is not our responsibility; 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 pained by the life choices made by their children. The mitzva of parenting 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 a paradigm for Jews. Parents bless their daughters every Shabbat may you be like Sara…and we pray every day for G-d to 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, wasn’t Abraham Ishmael’s father? Yishmael represents the opposite of so much of what we Jews stand for. Yes, but Abraham was not held responsible for the unfavorable outcome of his son, and neither are Isaac and Rebecca 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 realize that the final result is not in our hands. This understanding will enable you to remain humble when things are going better than expected and it will also prevent you from feeling worthless or dejected when life throws a curve ball—or emotional tsunami—your way.

Good Shabbos

(Sources: The Shmuz, Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, pp. 157-161; Twerski on Chumash pp. 187-188)