BY RACHEL LaVICTOIRE / AJT //
The first step towards change is admitting you have a problem, right? Well, today I’d like to own up to one of my most unattractive qualities, something I’ve dealt with since I was very young: I’m extremely possessive.
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In kindergarten, I made Rachel Foody sit outside my blanket-fort for an hour while I played in it. A few years later, Jill Rubinger sat next to me while I single-handedly controlled the lives of our virtual “Sims” characters.
And in fifth grade, we had a group in our math class called the “Pretty People” – which actually had nothing at all to do with being pretty – and no one could claim membership without my approval (which I never gave)!
It’s fairly easy to blame these moments on immaturity or second-child syndrome. The sad truth is I had a habit of claiming things as mine – and only mine – and this problem stretched far past a reluctance to pass the Nintendo controller off to my brother.
Unfortunately, I still deal with this compulsion: I want my things to be, well, mine!
For example, I will admit to some cunning conversation during my week of sorority rush this past January (though I am far from proud of it). Having decided which sorority to call “mine,” I felt it was necessary to help everyone else realize which sororities to call “theirs.” Even when talking to a good friend, I couldn’t help myself.
“I don’t know what to do,” she told me, “I went to X today and I really liked them, but I also liked Y and Z.”
X was mine.
“Ya, I kinda liked X too. I’m really between X and Y,” I offered.
Honestly, I’d made up my mind to put X as my first choice, and though I never lied to my friend, I certainly re-scripted some of the thoughts I was having – focusing on my cons list for X and my pros list for Y, rather than the other way around.
In the end, my friend chose Z, so I realize that my manipulation meant nothing; regardless, though, it wasn’t right.
I don’t know why I’m prone to this sort of behavior. Morally, I know it’s wrong. I know things that are mine can also be someone else’s and that we have to share in order for thoughts to thrive and ideas to flourish.
But there’s just something about someone stealing my individuality that really irks me. After all, it was my idea, my fort, my Sims characters – my everything!
Perhaps I could learn a thing or two from this week’s parsha. Naso details the dedication of the Tabernacle, an event for which all 12 tribes have gathered together.
First, as the passage reads, the tribe leaders bring a gift to the Tabernacle.
“The chieftains of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ houses, presented [their offering]. They brought their offering before the Lord: six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for each two chieftains, and an ox for each one; they presented them in front of the Mishkan (Numbers 7:3).”
In addition, each leader then brought his own individual offering for the dedication of the altar. G-d said to Moses:
“One chieftain each day, shall present his offering for the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:11).”
The next 76 verses describe each of the 12 leaders’ offerings. The interesting point is that they’re all the same: one silver bowl, one silver sprinkling basin, one spoon of gold filled with incense, one young bull, six rams, six lambs in their first year, six goats and two oxen.
That’s right: All 12 offerings were exactly alike – down to the weight of each silver item and quantity of each animal – and yet G-d insists that they all come separately.
Once all 12 offerings have been made, the Torah reads:
This was the dedication offering of the altar presented by the chieftains on the day it was anointed; there were 12 silver bowls, 12 silver basins and 12 gold spoons. The total of the cattle for the burnt offerings was 12 bulls, 12 rams and 12 lambs in their first year with their meal offerings. And [there were] 12 young he-goats for sin offerings…
The total of cattle for the peace offerings was 24 oxen, 60 rams, 60 he-goats and 60 lambs in their first year. This was the dedication offering for the altar, after it was anointed.
Thus, in the end, they were aggregated…
So why did G-d ask for them to be made separately?
I see His request as a sign of His appreciation. One gift is no more or less important than the others, regardless of the fact that they are all the same.
G-d took the time to accept each individual offering. Whether the silver bowl was from Nahshon on the first day or Ahiezar on the 10th, He saw the value of the contribution and welcomed it as a beautiful gift.
It’s a perfect illustration of what I need to start realizing – that even if “mine” isn’t just “mine,” it’s still valuable. The idea, the fort, the Sims characters, the everything – “mine” can still be appreciated, even if someone else has the same, too.
And perhaps this goes even one step further: Maybe it’s the culmination of everyone’s “mine” that provides value.
Now that’s something to think about this Shabbat.
Rachel LaVictoire (email@example.com) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.