Empowering Ourselves

This weekend is the fourteenth anniversary of my son’s bar mitzvah. In cleaning out the dining room buffet a few days ago, I stumbled upon his study guide, invitation, kippah, and speech. I opened the booklet and softly hummed his haftorah; proud that I too had studied hard and had done much to prepare for that meaningful weekend so long ago.

As I reflect back on the seemingly dry and detailed surface story of parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), I recall that it was about building the Tabernacle – the Mishkan – the temporary home in which God would dwell among the Israelites. The deeper, more insightful truth, however, comes in the story’s lessons about the voluntary contributions, personal satisfaction, and power of teamwork that come out of taking responsibility and working together to achieve a common goal. This act of building was the first constructive, non-complaining thing the Israelites willingly embarked upon together.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in one of his commentaries on Terumah (“The Home We Build Together”), points out that building something together unites people. When people work together towards a common goal, they don’t gripe or complain. Instead, they pull together and feel they each have skin in the game. Building something together creates a bond of ownership and independence from those who typically dictate or control things. And, when the desired outcome is achieved, everyone feels like a winner.

A boy or girl of thirteen is old enough to understand the benefits of playing on a team; as many do. While being an individual contributor certainly is important, teams impart the values of building trust, developing confidence, lending support, and showing up ready to play. If managed correctly, each member of a team should feel needed and valued.

It’s interesting how many children and teens effectively learn about being a team player, yet seem to forget these lessons in adulthood. It is not uncommon, for example, for business professionals to find themselves working in silos, lacking clear direction, suffering from poor morale, distrusting co-workers, and generally disliking their day jobs. In these cases, strong leadership is required to provide opportunities that enable others to define, contribute, and participate in working towards achieving a common vision…the building of an environment in which the team can drive results and thrive. 

If the ancient Israelites could do it, so can we. The things we do with and for others have the power to transform us all.

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