Seeking Meaning

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch as each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. Common language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the burdensome task of “finding oneself” given to the young adult. Also, consider the pressure of higher-level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college-bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, especially if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). There is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; yet, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Additionally, each child may be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, and learning style. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

Unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for themselves, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of societal norms. Yet, there is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up within a more traditional framework. This would include those within cultures that embrace traditional morality, as well as those that uphold religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each was committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard.

Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. We need a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example for us to seek meaning and the utmost good for our lives.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

motzei Shabbos: Terumah 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Terumah 5781

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The sin of the golden calf preceded the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). The gold used to build the calf, was contributed by the men, who gathered the earrings for the cause of making an idolatrous calf. “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (Exodus 32:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). When Moses returned from on top of Sinai, he shattered the tablets upon discerning the idolatrous revelry focused on the golden calf; thus, in effect, the covenant was symbolically broken upon its intended reception (Jeremiah 31:32). Incidentally, the covenant was not renewed, until Moshe spent another forty days on the mountain; and, brought down the second set of tablets.

Yet, first, Moshe pleaded on behalf of B’nei Yisrael for H’Shem to forgive their descent into idolatry. Moreover, it can be understood that even before the actual transgression, the remedy for the sin had already been given to Moshe on the mountain, when he received the instructions regarding all of the details for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). For, “the Tabernacle was a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, JT Shekalim 1:5, sefaria.org).

The collection itself of the materials for the construction of the mishkan served as a form of repentance; inasmuch that the collection was designated as a free will offering; this reflects the nature of teshuvah (repentance). Or HaChayim explains that this is the reason why the collection was not made mandatory; instead, everyone contributed of their own free will, inclination, and what their heart compelled them to give; otherwise, “they would not enjoy the atonement for their participation in the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org).

The essential nature of the Mishkan reveals a hint as to why this type of repentance led towards reconciliation with H”Shem. The Mishkan is where H’Shem’s presence dwelt, in a visible way when the clouds of glory would hover over the Tabernacle. There is an inherent transition enacted amongst the people, from idolatry to the worship of H’Shem, indicated by the difference between them freely contributing gold for the golden calf; versus giving freely from their heart for the tabernacle that will enable the worship of H’Shem. We may also make that transition in our lives, from the idolatry of the modern world, towards the everlasting values given to us at Sinai.