BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT //
In recent weeks, I’ve spoken a great deal about the dynamics of a community – specifically, the dynamics of a community that’s working towards a goal. I’ve highlighted the beauty of a communal project, the importance of relinquishing control and the necessity of knowing your own limits.
This week, I’m going to finish off this list with one last key to community. I’ll start with a simple fact: I can’t draw.
My friend Moya, on the other hand, is an incredible artist. I’ve watched her turn blank pages into detailed sketches, and to me, Point A and Point B are very clear, but the process is a blur.
Watching her sketch, I can see nothing but a series of accidental wonders. Moya wisps her charcoal in a line here and a curve there. She makes that one darker and smudges this one with the side of her finger.
She looks at her model, then back down at her page, and to her, it all fits. She sees the markings she has made as part of a completed image – an image I won’t be able to see until it’s completely drawn out in charcoal.
Now, another simple fact: I have a lot of friends who can’t write. Normally, it’s the chemists and the engineers who struggle to spin phrases into synchronized thoughts, but I certainly wouldn’t say it’s only them; plenty of people “don’t get it.”
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As a writer myself, I often get questions about my inspiration, my ability to birth characters onto a page and my flair for details. “I don’t know,” is really all I can respond.
“It just happens,” I say.
And that’s the truth. Just as we all have limitations – things we can’t do and will never be able to do – we also have gifts.
We’re raised to avoid bragging; we’re supposed to be humble and modest. Maybe that’s why you’re more likely to hear students compare their faults than their victories:
“I’m so not ready for this test tomorrow,” says one.
“Actually, I haven’t opened my notes yet,” says another.
“Oh me either, but I mean…at least you go to class,” says the first.
Students tell you what they’ve procrastinated on, but not what they’ve finished; they’ll mention a psychology test they failed, but not a math exam they passed. This pattern inhibits a key component to the success of a community: specialization.
This week, we read Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei. In the past three weeks, we’ve read Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa, the three-part instruction manual for the building of the Tabernacle; now, it’s time to build.
The portion starts with the collection of materials. Moses instructs the Israelites: “Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person shall bring it, the Lord’s offering: gold, silver and copper and blue, purple and crimson wool; and linen and goat hair… (Exodus 35: 5-6).”
Moses shuffles through the long list of materials. The Israelites are instructed to bring everything from ram skins and acacia wood to oil and spices. No one man is required to bring everything, but all are encouraged to bring something:
“Every man with whom was found blue, purple or crimson wool; linen, goat hair, ram skins dyed red or tachash skins, brought them. Everyone who set aside an offering of silver or copper brought the offering for the Lord, and everyone with whom acacia wood was found for any work of the service, brought it. And every wise-hearted woman spun with their hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple and crimson wool and linen (Exodus 35:23-25).”
People gave what was readily available to them, and as the supplies grew, Moses summoned two Israelites: Bezalel, of the tribe of Judah, and Oholiab, of the tribe of Dan. The two men had been chosen by G-d to build the Tabernacle.
Moses announced to the Israelites, “[G-d] imbued them with wisdom of the heart, to do all sorts of work of a craftsman and a master worker and an embroider with blue, purple and crimson wool and linen… (Exodus 35:35).”
Together, Bezalel and Oholiab built the Tabernacle. By hand, the two of them sewed curtains, made golden clasps, built planks of acacia wood and silver sockets for each board. They made an ark cover of pure gold as well as gold-plated poles for carrying the ark. They built tables, entryways, goblets, altars and a menorah.
When they were finished, they brought the Tabernacle to Moses. On their completed work, the Torah reads, “in accordance with all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel do all the work (Exodus 39:42).”
The children of Israel did the work. The text does not single out Bezalel and Oholiab as the carpenters of the Tabernacle; it was all the children of Israel who built it.
Those who could give wood brought wood; those who could give curtains brought curtains. Only two men could construct the Tabernacle, and so only two men did – but all the children of Israel contributed in their own way.
Each was proud to give a golden bracelet or a woven garment; proud to say, “This is what I can do, and I will do it.”
Often we get caught up in misfortunes and frustrations. We concentrate on the difficult: the exam, the presentation, the stack of bills or the page of unchecked “to-dos.”
What if instead – even if for only a minute, even if just to your dog – you bragged about yourself everyday?
“I have [insert project here], and I don’t feel like I can do it, but I should keep in mind [insert list of accomplishments and good qualities].”
Within a community, there are always some artists, some chemists; some chefs, some athletes. There are people with all sorts of different gifts.
In order to work together, we have to be comfortable saying, “Hey, I can’t give any acacia wood, but I’ve got some crimson wool we can use.”
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School and currently attends Washington University at St. Louis.