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THE LITTLE PEOPLE THAT COULD

by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Norman was a man of many talents. He was a good father, a good golfer, and an honest businessman. But above all his other talents, Norman had always prided himself as being a good investor. Using the perfect combination of analysis, hunch, and luck, he had profited significantly from his investments in the stock market over the years.

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Norman was a man of many talents. He was a good father, a good golfer, and an honest businessman. But above all his other talents, Norman had always prided himself as being a good investor. Using the perfect combination of analysis, hunch, and luck, he had profited significantly from his investments in the stock market over the years. Recently, one stock had been bothering him. He had a large investment in a certain company, and for years it had experienced stable, but very sluggish growth. Hoping to find better returns elsewhere, Norman finally sold all of his stock in the company. The next day, when he opened the morning paper, he was shocked to find that the stock he had just sold had shot up to twice its former value! Norman threw down the paper in distress, angry at himself for not keeping the stock for just a little longer.

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Hashem describes the different materials that were to be used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). During the description, Hashem adds that, [The Jewish people] will make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). The Midrash recounts that when Hashem said this, Moses became frightened. How could Man possibly build a house that is suitable for Hashem? In a similar situation, when Hashem commanded the Jews to offer the korban tamid (daily offering), Moses had the same fear. Even if we would offer all the animals in existence, how could we produce a sacrifice deserving of Hashem’s acceptance? There was no way we could ever build a house or offer a sacrifice in proportion to Hashem’s greatness.

Hashem’s response was that He did not expect a Tabernacle or sacrifices in accordance with His greatness and strength. That would be impossible for us to produce. Rather, Hashem wanted these tasks to be performed according to our abilities. As such, each task was given physical parameters. The Mishkan would have an area of 20 x 8 beams, and the korban tamid would consist of one sheep every morning and afternoon.

From this, the Chofetz Chaim, the foremost leader of Torah Jewry at the turn of the 20th century, draws a beautiful lesson. Hashem only expects us to do what we can. A person may fear that his spiritual responsibilities are overwhelming and that he will never succeed. However, we learn from Hashem’s response to Moses that one need not be afraid. While a person must exert himself and utilize his abilities, his expected output is only what he has the potential to produce nothing more. This lesson is very applicable and can inspire us to utilize our individual potentials.

In order to apply our abilities, we must first recognize what they are. At the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel, the Jewish people are encouraged to donate both physical materials and artistic talents for the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah records that, Every man whose heart inspired him, and everyone whose spirit motivated him, [donated to] the work of the [Mishkan] (Exodus 35:21).

The Ramban, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, points out that every man whose heart inspired him refers to the artisans who built the different parts and vessels of the Mishkan. The reason why they needed this inspiration was because they did not otherwise know they were gifted with such talents. As slaves in Egypt, they only worked with bricks, mortar, and mud. They had no experience working with gold or silver, or with the complicated weaving that was necessary for the Mishkan nor was there anyone to teach it to them. The artisans were only able to perform these tasks because they were naturally gifted with such talents. However, that talent was left dormant within them. They did not know they had such capabilities, and it took a special inspiration to recognize their abilities and volunteer them for the construction of the Mishkan. Each one of us also has our own special strengths. We must recognize what they are and push ourselves to use them to their fullest.

Unfortunately, we often sell ourselves short, never fully realizing the extent of our own abilities. This can be especially true in our spiritual pursuits. For example, we might never consider driving around in a run-down, old car, but we wouldn’t be so quick to downplay a second-rate prayer service. Our spiritual well-being is often less important to us than our current, physical condition, and we may therefore underestimate what we actually have the potential to accomplish.

King Solomon teaches us how to counter this inconsistency. If you seek [Torah and mitzvot as if they were] silver; if you search for [them as if they were] hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem and discover the knowledge of G-d (Proverbs 2:4-5). People will go to all extremes to earn money. The Vilna Gaon, perhaps the greatest Torah scholar of the past few centuries, explains that people will travel around for opportunities to profit, and they will search places where they think treasure may be buried. This must also be a person’s attitude towards Torah and mitzvot. If we apply the same dedication to Torah and mitzvot as we do to our acquisition of money, then we will reach great spiritual heights. There is another parallel to draw between the quests for money and for spiritual gain. When dealing with a monetary loss, one does not only fret over that which he had and then lost. A person is also troubled when he misses an opportunity to gain profit. Although the person is no worse off now than he was before he missed the opportunity, he is still plagued by the thought of what he could have had. This idea can be applied spiritually, as well. Everyday, we have countless opportunities to study Torah and perform Hashem’s mitzvot, enabling us to grow as Jews and thus amassing more reward for the World to Come. If we perceived this in the same way as we do our pursuit of money, how would we ever consider missing these opportunities?

The discontentment over a lost opportunity is exactly what was bothering Norman when he sold his profitable stock prematurely. While he did not lose what he had by selling, he lost the opportunity to gain, and this upset him tremendously. When considering the parallel to our spiritual endeavors, how could we not be bothered by a lost opportunity for eternal profit?

There are several ideas that can help us to fully apply our individual abilities and talents. We know that our expected level of religious responsibility is only according to what each of us has the individual potential to perform. We should not be overwhelmed by the seeming difficulty of the pursuit, as we must only do as much of it as we can. At the same time, we must not sell ourselves short. We are each sitting on a goldmine of undiscovered talents and abilities. Every one of us has special strengths that we must recognize and tap into. We can inspire ourselves to find and apply our full spiritual abilities by comparing our religious pursuits to our monetary ones. We would not be satisfied with mediocre or missed monetary gains. Why should we settle for less in our spiritual lives? With these ideas, may we each find and fully apply all of our latent talents, as the opportunity for profit is so great.

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Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in New York.

You are invited to read more Parshat Terumah articles.

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