Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Last week, the Torah reading – Parashat Terumah – kicked off a series of chapters pertaining to the Israelites’ building of the Tabernacle – the Mishkan – in the desert.

In his interesting article on the topic, “Terumah – The Home We Build Together”[1], Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reminds us of how the Jewish people only complained, whined, and seemed ungrateful despite how much Moses and God had done for them up until this point. Yet suddenly, upon being charged with constructing a “home” in which God could dwell among them, they notably changed their tone. He writes, “The people contributed, some gold, some silver, some bronze…others gave their time and skill. They gave so much that Moses had to order them to stop.” The opportunity to contribute according to ones skills, talents, interests, and means – the chance to engage in a personally meaningful manner – fostered a community understanding that united them in support of a common goal. Each seized the chance to donate some precious metal: gold, silver, or bronze for the collective good.

*   *   *

The Winter Olympic Games are upon us once again. They date back to 1924 when they started in Chamonix, France[2] with a focus on winter sport competitions. They were established to complement the Summer Olympic Games that started in Athens, Greece in 1896 to promote international understanding through sporting competition.”[3] This year, over six thousand athletes of all races, nationalities, genders, religions, and sexual preferences from eighty-five countries are assembling in Sochi, Russia to compete. After years of dedication and hard work, each hopes to win at least one precious medal: gold, silver, or bronze to reward his or her individual achievement.

*   *   *

Twelve years ago, on Parashat Terumah, we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah. Although it was “his” day, it was a milestone event that was shared with family, friends, and our community.  His year of studying and training, and subsequent “performance,” emulated the necessary focus, concentration, and prowess of an Olympic athlete. And, although he didn’t win any medals, he proudly took his place on the podium alongside his ancestors.

*   *   *

After the unforgettable September 11th, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Park City, Utah in February of 2002. I was glued to the television throughout the week of competitions. On the one hand, I was worried about potential security threats; after all, nerves were still raw from the events of five months before. On the other hand, I was excited to see the Games play out on ski slopes and terrain that my own family had enjoyed many times before. Lastly, I was proud of the nationalistic pride and spirit of the U.S. team – placing second in the overall medal count (Germany was first) compared to being fifth in the 1998 Games.

*   *   *

As metals go, gold (zahav) and silver (kesef) are of the highest of worth and most precious. In ancient and pre-modern times, only the wealthy, royal, or holy could boast these luxuries. Bronze (primarily made of copper – nechoshet) is a more durable, reliable, and commonly used metal. Each is necessary; each has its place. But even as these metals have value, they are secured, molded, and shaped by people with vision, skill, and commitment.

There are times to be “individual contributors” and times to be part of a team…a community. The individual contributor, however, must remember that he or she didn’t “get there” alone. Somewhere along the way, support and help was needed from others. Likewise, the community must realize that it is stronger and more successful if it nurtures and embraces what each and every individual can offer. The adage “all for one and one for all” is truly precious.

[1] From Covenant and Conversation, by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

[2] Winter Olympic Games per Wikipedia

[3] Summer Olympic Games per Wikipedia

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