You Shall Pursue

February 10, 2014

God in the Details: Parshat Tetzaveh

Filed under: D'var Torah — marleyweiner @ 12:06 pm

This week’s portion is one of the, let’s say, challenging ones. One of the ones that B’nei Mitzvah students hope that they don’t get. It describes, in minute detail, the vestments of the Priests, and all of the sacrifices needed to install them in their new office. As Jews, people of the Book, we are always looking for ways to make the text relevant to our own lives, to mine it for themes. So what do we do with a text like this? How do we take a text, that seems like it’s chock full of irrelevant and extraneous detail, and read lessons out of it?

The fact is, our lives are full of the equivalent of descriptions of sacral vestments. The majority of our lives focus more on the mundane details, the routines, than the life-changing moments. In between Sinai and the River Jordan, the people have forty years of sacrificing, embroidering the Tent of Meeting, and complaining about the food. In between the birth of our children, our weddings, the beginning of college, and other life defining moments, we get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, talk to our partners if we have partners, play with our kids if we have kids, watch TV, go to bed.

And yet, those mundane details are what make our lives. A tunic is just a tunic, until it is the tunic that Aaron will wear on his first day as High Priest. A dress is just a dress, until you put it on and get your hair done and your nails and go to prom, or your wedding. And just as descriptions of ancient clothing are mundane until they are the Word of God, so are the details of our lives mundane until we realize how they are the foundation of our most important moments.

 

As an example, I turn to a film that I went to see over Christmas with my parents, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In it, Walter is a man with a life that seems dull and humdrum to him. He has an office job at LIFE magazine, is close with his family, and doesn’t have much success with dating. Through the film, he goes on ever more wild and magnificent adventures to all parts of the globe in search of a photographer who as taken the ultimate photograph for the cover of the last print issue of the magazine. But at the end, when the photograph is discovered, it is a simple black-and-white shot of Walter himself, staring with rapt attention at a sheet of photo proofs. Through his attention to detail, the small things, Walter is able to bring a world of beauty and amazement to the American public.

Many of us are like Walter; we only realize the importance of the little details after the moments have long passed. In the moment, we go through life on autopilot, longing for an adventure. So how do we shift our thinking? How do we realize, in the moment, the importance of those details?

My answer comes in a story from my childhood. From the time I was an infant until the end of High School, my family spent two weeks most summers at Long Beach Island in New Jersey. We stayed in the north part of the island, up by the lighthouse, where nothing much happens. And yet some of the fondest memories of my childhood, catching sand crabs, getting sick in a fishing boat, walking down the beach for miles, took place at that beach.

And it wasn’t because I saw those moments as more profound than they were. It was because in that moment, I was happy, and I took the time to say, in my own eight year old way, I am happy right now. Living in the moment, wringing every scrap of joy out of it, left me with good memories even today.

God could have told Moses that he was to build a tabernacle and fine outfits for the priests and left it at that. Similarly, we can gloss over the details in our lives, living on autopilot. But God takes the time to set the stage, to describe, in loving detail, exactly how splendid the Temple and the clothing of the Priests will be. And so should we take the time to revel in the details, to drink them in, and to find meaning in their small pleasures that can add up to a life of joy.

The challenge that I want to extend to you today is to take the time to notice, and to appreciate. To take the time to notice the potential for joy, divinity, learning, growing, in even the most mundane of moments. There is the potential for preciousness in all things, when we take the time to notice them, whether standing on top of Mount Sinai, or in embroidering the decorations for a tunic.

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