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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vayakhel-Pekude: What Can I Give?

It happens nearly everyday when I pick up my sixth-grader, Alyssa, from school.

"How was your day?" I ask.

"Fine."

"What happened at school?"

"Nothing."

"Come on!" I tease. "You gotta give me something!"



She looks at me from the back seat, her backpack nearly bursting, her eyes tired from a long day at school.  And yet she might as well be barefoot and empty-handed, with the pockets of her cut-off jeans turned out: "Nothin', Mom. I got nothin'."

This week, we have a combined Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekude, in which Moses relays God's instructions for building the Tabernacle and other structures.  He tells the Israeli people that if their hearts are so moved -- that is, if they feel like it -- they should they should give their finest goods to God: their gold, silver and copper; their linens and yarns; their animal skins and wood; their oil and spices; and their precious stones. These will be used as raw materials for the building effort.

And what do the people do? They give their possessions willingly, with outstretched hands.

How did they get all this stuff? The Torah tells us that the Egyptians let the fleeing Israeli people have all their silver, gold and clothing. God intervened, we're told, and made the Egyptians look favorably on the former slaves.

But I think that subsequent verses hint at a more profound answer as to how the Israeli people were able to offer valuable gifts.

You see, the Torah goes on to explain that among the Israelis were designers and artisans and crafstmen -- people with specific and useful skills and abilities. It was the job of these skilled people to take the people's gifts and use them to fabricate the Tabernacle.

In this way, I think the Torah is encouraging us to understand that we all have gifts to share -- even when, as my daughter so eloquently put it, we think that we "got nothin'." The people, though only recently liberated from slavery, were willing to share anything they had -- and in so doing, they helped build the means to see God.

I know that Alyssa has many "gifts" she can give me when she gets in the car every afternoon. She can tell me about an enjoyable conversation she had with a good friend, or a step she took to help someone, or a story about how someone helped her. She can tell me about a teacher who said something that made her feel good about herself, or a moment when random sparks connected in her brain and miraculously, an idea was formed.

But it's up to her to decide when her heart is so moved as to share these gifts with me.

Which means that it's my job to be there when her arms are outstretched and the gifts are there for the taking.

I'm reminded of a scene in the movie "Pretty Woman" -- not necessarily an appropriate movie for middle schoolers, or even a very good movie at all, but there's a moment in it that I like. It's near the end of the movie, when Julia Roberts is about to leave, and Richard Gere is sorry to see her go. "Impossible relationships," he mutters. "My special gift is impossible relationships."

As she walks toward the door, she gently tells him, "I think you have a lot of special gifts."

Middle schoolers have a lot of special gifts. And that's one of the most precious bits of knowledge that a parent can ever own.

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