My daughter stayed home sick today, so we spent some time getting ready for Shabbos and talking about the parsha. I asked her to share some things, and she pointed out that much of the Tetzaveh talks about what the kohen gadol wears. It’s also about the decor in the Mishkan. Seems a little dry and superficial I admitted in my head while scanning the pages of our chumash for something I thought she — and I — could connect with.
One thing I saw in the Chabad chumash under Sparks of Chasidus, insights from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, said that baal teshuvahs are in between two worlds — the secular world of their early life versus the holiness they seek. This can be a very “noisy” existence, full of challenges. A tzaddik, on the other hand, lives a quiet life. So the Kohen Gadol wore bells on his garments, our sages tell us, in order to make noise, in part as as a reminder of the internal struggle of the baal teshuvah. An awesome idea for me as a BT. But not for my teenage daughter.
So I reached out to one of my chavrusahs via WhatsApp. She lives in Monsey, grew up in a Torah environment and teaches high school. We love to share ideas and read various books together. I sent a voice text, including the photo of the page about the noisy bells, and asked if she had any thoughts on the parsha that might resonate with a teen.
She replied, also with a voice text — how great modern technology can be when used in such a way! — that our role is to elevate the mundane, material world… to utilize our talents and possessions to serve G-d. In the Catholic religion, priests don’t get married. In Buddhism, monks spend days on a mountain top isolated from others.
But in Judaism, we are taught that all the mitzvahs are about engaging in this world, in family life. Of course we try not to be materialistic, but we should use and elevate our talents and possessions to serve Hashem. Just like our ancestors used fine linens and threads and special wood and gold in the Mishkan.
I added that the same can be said of our home, our own personal Mishkan. It’s nice to live in a beautiful house, but it should be to serve a higher purpose — a place to share Torah ideas, to welcome guests, to observe Shabbos. And it can be said that for some people, living in a beautiful environment helps us feel better about ourselves so we can better serve G-d. But just wanting a fancy house shouldn’t be the goal in and of itself, as tempting as it can be.
It’s a reminder for myself, as a noisy baal teshuvah. But it’s that “noise” that pushes us to dig deeper in the parsha, into the words of Torah, and bring out what’s relevant to our own lives.