Do Jewish And Love It – Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773

This morning, we read the double portion of Vayakhel-Pekudei. It describes the building of the Tabernacle. We hear a lot about the chief craftsman – Betzalel. There is even a major university in Jerusalem named after him, The Bezalel School of Art and Design.

But we don’t hear so much about his number two guy – Aholiav. He is mentioned only five times in the Torah, once at the beginning of last week’s Parshah, and four times in this week’s double portion.

Here is what we know about him: Aholiav was the chief assistant to Betzalel. His father’s name was Ahisamach, from the tribe of Dan. He was an expert carver, designer, and embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen.*1* That is pretty much it in the Torah. And the Rabbis don’t have much more to add.

The Talmud*2* cites a midrash about one of Aholiav’s descendants. When King Solomon was building the Temple in Jerusalem nearly four hundred years later, he recruited a lot of top talent. One of the artisans mentioned is named Hiram from Tyre. This is a different Hiram than the well-known King Hiram from Lebanon. Hiram of Tyre is described in the Book of Chronicles*3* as being “skilled at working in gold, silver, bronze, iron, precious stones, and wood; in purple, blue, and crimson yarn and in fine linen…” His mother is from the tribe of Dan, and his father is a Tyrian.

The midrash notes that Hiram’s mother and Aholiav both come from the same tribe, Dan. And, they both share common skills in artistry. The lesson is then drawn that a child should never abandon his or her parent’s trade.

Elsewhere in the Talmud*4*, we are taught: “Happy is a person who sees one’s parents in an exalted trade. Woe to a person who sees one’s parents in an inferior trade.”

The Torah Temimah, Rabbi Barukh Epstein’s turn of the twentieth century commentary that weaves together the Torah and the oral tradition, ties these two midrashim together:

“When [a peson’s] parents seize on to a nice trade, s/he too will seize on it. And so to when [a person’s parents] seize on to an inferior trade, s/he too will seize it. Therefore, happy is one who sees his/her parents in an exalted trade, because s/he will consequently seize upon something similar.”*5*

The Torah Temimah is not saying that children have to follow their parents into business. No, the burden is not on the child to follow his or her parents’ examples. The burden is on the parents to be the example for their children. And the result, according to the midrash, is “ashrei,” happiness.

So much of our path in life is set into motion by our upbringing. Our parents are our moral, intellectual, and emotional role models. Whether we embrace their example, or reject it, we will always be responding to what we experienced growing up.

A son who sees his mother making ethical decisions in business is much likelier to make decisions ethically himself. Similarly, if a person’s father lied and cheated, his daughter is far more likely to behave similarly.

This is also true when it comes to transmitting our Jewish tradition. The big question everyone in the Jewish world wrestles with today is continuity. How do we ensure that the next generation is going to continue to identify Jewishly and affiliate with the Jewish community?

And so, the money pours in. Lately, the trend is towards trans or post-denominationalism. The big bucks have gone towards Jewish day schools, summer camps, and free trips to Israel for young adults. Spend the vast amount of resources on creating Jewish experiences for young people, the thinking goes, and they will continue to affiliate when they start to have families of their own. Maybe it will work.

At the local level, although we don’t quite have the big bucks, we are also concerned with the questions of Jewish continuity. When I speak with parents before their children’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, this is by far the number one goal that they express for their kids.

For decades, synagogues have invested their energy in children’s programming: religious school, youth groups, Shabbat youth programs. And these things are important. We have to provide engaging religious and educational opportunities for kids in our synagogue.

But that, in and of itself, is not going to achieve the desired outcome. Pouring all of our religious commitment into our kids is not going to make them better Jews. It is not likely to produce a deep and lasting faith, or a life-long commitment to Judaism.

The model cannot be totally kid-centered. When it is, the message it sends is that as soon as you have your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or for some, graduate high school, then you are done.

When we pour all of our efforts into kids, it means that there is nothing left for adults except to repeat the pattern with their own kids.

The solution for Jewish continuity is not to create more and more programs and educational opportunities for children. These things are certainly important, but are ultimately hollow if we don’t do something else.

The solution lies with all of us: We have to do Jewish things, and we have to love it.

This has been my driving goal for our Purim celebration. Growing up, Purim was always a kid-centered holiday. It was great fun dressing up, eating lots of junk, running around, and making a lot of noise. But when you outgrow that, what is left? My goal for Sinai has been to take back Purim from the kids. The adults have to have fun. Because you know what, if we are having fun, the kids are going to have fun too. And they are going to expect to have fun when they grow up.

The same is true for Pesach, in just over two weeks. When there are a lot of kids around a seder table, there is pressure to cater to them. To skip the adult-level conversations and hurry up to the meal. But when we do that, we are not doing the kids any favors. Children need to see adults engaging in the seder at an adult level. And they need to be welcomed to participate at that adult level when they express an interest. That leaves a powerful impression, a more powerful impression, I suspect, than a seder that is only about games and exclusively kid-oriented activities.

It is also true with regard to the daily practice of Judaism. When Jewish ritual is normative in a household, and embraced positively, that leaves an impression.

To a parent who asks “what can I do so that my kids will be Jewish when they grow up?” my answer is “Have Shabbat dinner at home every week, and make sure that you enjoy it.”

When children see the adults in their lives embracing Jewish life in meaningful ways, that becomes a model for themselves.

Imagine a child complains “why do I have to go to Hebrew school? It’s so boring.”

If the answer is “I know it’s boring, but you’re going because I had to go when I was your age,” what do you think that child is going to take from the experience?

Think about how different the lesson would be if the answer is: “because learning is a really important part of Judaism, and religious school is where you go to learn. I am learning by reading such and such a book, or taking such and such a class.”

So many Jewish adults today ended their formal Jewish education right after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. So many parents never had a chance to engage formally as adults with our rich tradition.

If we want our kids to embrace Jewish life as adults, the answer is not forcing them to do it as a necessary rite of passage. We have to embrace Jewish life ourselves, and then we can invite our kids to join us.

If the midrash connecting Aholiav and Hiram is true, I would imagine that the children of the tribe of Dan saw their parents engaging in fine craftsmanship from a young age. They saw adults having meaningful conversations about metalwork and embroidery. They saw uncles and aunts, neighbors, and elders showing and admiring one another’s work.

The young Danites attended formal and informal classes where they learned the basics of artistry, and then entered into apprenticeships as teen-agers, before finally opening up shops of their own as master craftsmen.

By creating such a culture, the great great great great great grandson or nephew of the number two artisan in the construction of the Tabernacle was privileged to serve as one of the primary architects of King Solomon’s Temple.

 

*1*Exodus 38:23

*2*BT Arachin 16b

*3*II Chronicles 2:13

*4*BT Kiddushin 82b

*5*Torah Temimah on Exodus 31:6

 

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