Building the Mishkan

by Robin Weintraub, Mikveh Center Coordinatorheadshot 4 (2)

It’s almost time to build the mishkan (The not-so-helpful English translation of that is “tabernacle”, but really it’s where God lives – I mean, to the extent that God “lives” anywhere – it is the physical manifestation of God’s presence in the Bible’s imagination).  Bnai Yisrael, literally the children of Israel but actually the Biblical term for the Jewish people, needed something physical, a thing they could carry with them, on their way through the midbar, the wilderness.

These days, according to the Torah, we’re making our slow, painstaking way out of Egypt; we’re singing at the sea; we’re developing reluctant leadership; we’re surmounting the obstacles of our own psyches.  We are overcoming our own reluctance to take on the roles that we must.  In a few weeks, we’ll read parashat Terumah, which details the monumental construction project of the mishkan.  And we’ll keep reading in the following weeks, and slowly, painstakingly, the mishkan gets built.  A recurring theme in all these mishkan parshiot is contributing.  Bnai Yisrael contribute their gifts, whatever they are, to whatever extent they are willing (אשר ידבנו לבו – asher yidbenu libo – as their hearts move them to give).

Yes, there are master craftsmen in charge of the mishkan project, and there are blueprints – this is not a free-for-all.  But it’s emphasized that these master craftsmen cannot – and do not – do the building on their own.  They need everyone’s hands, everyone’s willingness, everyone’s individual gifts.  They need all of us.  The word used to designate that freely given – נדבה, nedavah – shares a root with the modern Hebrew word להתנדב, lehitnadev, to volunteer.  And so it is that Mayyim Hayyim asks you, needs you, to give freely of your time – to volunteer – to become a Mikveh Guide or to help us identify those in your communities who would thrive in this role.  Only in this way can we build our mishkan, our mikveh, and continue to be a monument, a sacred place, a sanctuary, for those who visit.

For some of us, this is easy.  My grandmother says that for her, volunteering is like breathing, and it has been that way throughout her life.  We have time, and obviously we should share it with a place we care about; obviously, we should give to a cause that matters to us.  Just as we may share our income in response to a year-end appeal (or all the more so if we can’t), so we should volunteer regularly.

But for some of us, it is harder.  We have work, school, partners, children, endless demands on our time.  Carving out any more time may seem like an impossible task.  Why carve?  Why sit at Mayyim Hayyim’s front desk, pushing to fit it all in, fighting to further partition our time, which already has more demands than it can sustain?

I think the answer lies back in the Torah (okay, I almost always think that – but to be fair, it’s often true).  נדבה –nedavah, freely given.  These are the gifts we give, but they are also our blessings, those gifts given to us.  They are our obligations reframed – our work, our school, our partners, our children.  For me, these gifts include also my teachers and the texts they have taught me, snowflakes, my favorite pair of boots.  They are second (or even fifth) chances.  They are this mikveh, they are these warm waters, they are healing and gratitude and everything in between.  They are everything we have that we didn’t earn or maybe didn’t even ask for.  They are everything we have, whether or not it is less than we want, whether or not it is – even, especially – less than we need.  This is gratitude.

Just as we are given to, just as we receive gifts – so may we give freely – of our time, ourselves, our hearts, our presence.

Robin Weintraub is the Mikveh Center Coordinator at Mayyim Hayyim.  She does her best to practice gratitude. If you are interested in learning about becoming a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim, click here to visit our website. Deadline for applying is January 27th. 


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