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Home » Terumah

Terumah: Escapism Is Not A Solution

Submitted by on February 29, 2012 – 10:15 pmNo Comment | 2,563 views

Build A Sanctuary

There is not a neighborhood in the world without drawbacks, nor a community without problems. No matter how lovely the school, synagogue or organization appears on the outside its flaws and fissures are always discovered when we make its acquaintance from the inside. There are always those, who vilify the community for its flaws and look to move elsewhere. Then there are those who invest time and effort to correct said flaws.

There are those who fix and those who flee, those who take responsibility and those who lay blame. What is it about our complex makeup that drives us to such different extremes?

The story is told of a Chassid, who begged his Rebbe to approve his relocation to Israel. Upon hearing his stirring depiction of the Land’s sanctity and loveliness, the Rebbe advised, “make this your Israel.”

We are each capable of transforming our domain and raising it to a higher standard. If we don’t like our child’s school we can join its board of trustees and work to improve it. If we don’t like the nature of our synagogue we can grow active and upgrade it. If we are disappointed with our neighborhood we can work to transform it. Or we can pick up and flee. We can look for greener pastures… elsewhere. In the parlance of our story, we can seek our Israel elsewhere. Or we can choose to make this our Israel.

The question asks itself. If it is greener pastures that we seek, who can guarantee that we will find it in our new location? Are the grasses greener and the sky bluer there than here? And what if we uproot our lives and make the journey only to discover that the other side is just as plain and flawed as this one?

Look Within

The story is told of a little bird who announced its intentions to flee its nest. When its mother asked why it was leaving, the bird blamed it on the nest’s perpetual stench. The poor bird flew from continent to continent and joined many nests, but, to its chagrin, discovered that every nest sported the same stench.

After months of flying the little bird returned home. If I am to live with this stench, it sighed, I may as well do it at home. The mother welcomed its long lost child and tenderly set to grooming it. Slowly and deliberately she bathed its feathers and when she reached the nostrils she discovered a foul smelling substance. You see, dear reader, it wasn’t the nest that smelled, the stench was in the little birdie’s nose.

When we travel from place to place and discover them all faulty it behooves us to look within and ask ourselves if that is where the problem might lie. It is quite likely that there are problems everywhere, but many people live in these places and put up with these problems. The question is why can’t I? Is it possible that the problem lies with my inability to tolerate or correct a fault?

They tell of a patient in an insane asylum who threw salt at all visitors. Most grew irritated, but cleaned up and shrugged it off. One grew terribly upset and couldn’t stop shrieking. Can you guess why? Yes of course. This particular visitor had a gaping wound on which the salt was poured.

The salt thrown on this visitor was precisely the same as the salt thrown on every other visitor, but for this visitor the pain was intense. When problems in our sphere become more difficult for us to tolerate than it is for most we are best served examining ourselves for internal wounds.

There are often external factors that are not to our liking. We tolerate them, confront them or correct them. If all of else fails we relocate to a different community. But there are those for whom these external factors trigger internal wounds that are far too painful for them to tolerate and far too difficult for them to correct. As they see it their only course is to flee, but these wounds aren’t healed by running away. They come with us no matter where we go. Escapism is not a solution.

The Tag Along

A Chassid was once asked by his Rebbe why he prays at such breakneck speed. The Chassid explained that his speedy prayer was a tactic to outrun his distracting thoughts. If he ran through his prayers quickly he would be forced to concentrate on them rather than the distractions.

He used a metaphor to explain his position. It is as if I were in a carriage and rocks were being hurled at me from behind. I race the horses to outrun the rocks. The carriage is my prayer he concluded, the rocks heaved at me are my distractions and I am racing to outrun these thoughts. To this the Rebbe replied, it is all fin and good if the rocks are  being heaved at you from behind, but what if the rock thrower is right in your carriage? In that case you cannot outrun him. You must confront him.

The same applies to those who flee from external problems that arouse or exacerbate their internal wounds. These can be wounds left over from childhood abuse or wounds caused by dashed expectations in adulthood, no matter the nature of the wound fleeing from it and railing against what triggers it will not heal it. The only way to heal it is to acknowledge it, examine it and diagnose it.

And I Shall Dwell In Them

Perhaps this is one of the messages of the Torah’s dictum, “They shall make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in them.” (1) It does not read I shall dwell in it as it might have, but I shall dwell in them, which indicates that sanctuary refers not only to the central temple in Jerusalem, but to the sanctuary in the heart and soul of every Jew. The words “in them” means inside every single one of them.

We can each create a sanctuary for G-d wherever we are. We need not flee to Jerusalem to make this happen. If we have failed to create a dwelling place for G-d, it need not be blamed on our location, community or environment. G-d’s sanctuary doesn’t require a particular location. It can be built anywhere.

If we find it impossible to build G-d’s sanctuary where we are then we must look for the reason within. Build for me a sanctuary, says G-d, and when it is complete I shall dwell within it. The place to build G-d’s dwelling place is within and if we run into difficulty the place to find the solution is also within.

Are there perfect places in this world? The Torah teaches that there are, but they aren’t geographic locations on a map. They exist within our hearts. There is no community or neighborhood that is problem free, but if we put our hearts to the task, if we determine to heal within and empower our ability to solve rather than break and build rather than destroy, we can indeed create a perfect place. (2)

Footnotes

  1. Exodus 28:8
  2. This essay was culled from the teachings of my brother in law Rabbi Yitzchak Wolowik.

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