Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Communal Service -- A Privelege or a Burden? Table Talk for Pekudei 5768

We all know the feeling: that heavy sensation we get when the phone rings, and it's the rabbi, or the school president - calling us to ask for our help. Yes, we'll help. But we somehow convey the attitude that we'd rather be doing something else, and that the opportunity to participate is more than a little bit of trouble.
Yet, some people feel precisely the opposite. I was speaking with someone this week about a ticket that I got (yes, I deserved it), and he told me that if I didn't call his wife for help, "she would genuinely be mad at me." Meaning, if I neglected to call her for assistance, she'd be angry that I didn't want to ask her for help. She sees participation and helping others not as a burden but as a privilege, which is just how Moshe wants us to see things.
When the Jewish people finally finish building the mishkan, they bring the completed work to Moshe for his inspection. The Torah tells us that when he sees their meticulous attention to instruction and their wonderful work, ויברך אותם משה -- "Moshe blessed them." What did he say to them?
Rashi tells us that he gave them a simple blessing: "May it be God's will that the Shechinah (presence of God) dwells in the actions of your hands." In other words, I hope God likes this mishkan as much as I do.
But the Seder Olam gives a different version of Moshe's blessing. According to this version Moshe told them, "You are fortunate, O' Israel, that you merited the work of the mishkan. And just as you merited this, so you should merit that you will be given the Temple, and the Shechinah will dwell in your midst."
First and foremost, Moshe tells us that they - and we - must see the ability to contribute to the construction of the mishkan not as a burden, but as a privilege. It's a merit to have the talent, ability or even wealth to contribute to God's dwelling place. And if we truly see our communal service as a gift and not an obligation, that very attitude will brings us the merit of the Temple and God's presence back into our midst.