Thursday, February 20, 2014

Got talent?

Do you have a talent? Can you juggle? Play a musical instrument? Were you perhaps one of those double-jointed kids who could bend your elbow and twist your tongue? 
Maybe your talent is in setting up cracker business deals or sharing empathy with people who have been traumatised. Each of us has talent, be it flashy or subtle, entertaining or uplifting. 
Society only celebrates talent once it hits the silver screen or the Top Ten. Idols Runner Up or Wimbledon Quarter Final Champion won't earn you a beeline to stardom. In a society where only the flashiest, fastest and funniest hit the Big Time, most people barely recognise the talents that they have.
Your athletic ability could win you a gold medal, your voice a Grammy or your brain a Nobel prize. But there is no major finger-prize for knitting. Besides, if there were one, what would we call it if? The Golden needles? The Yarnies?
Ah, but the Jews, only we would celebrate knitting. The Torah celebrates the skills of its crochet team. It's for good reason, though, what these women did has probably never been replicated. While the rest of the original Jews fashioned spectacular golden utensils and hammered together towering cedar boards, a group of needle-able women got to weaving the goat hair hangings that would cover the Mishkan. Nu, so they knitted goat's hair. Big deal. The catch is that they wove these tapestries before removing the hair from the goats. Weaving a tapesty on a moving target takes exceptional skill.
You must be wondering why these women chose the most inconvenient way imaginable to produce a tapestry. Their artwork would surely have looked just as good if it had been produced the conventional way. But, these ladies recognised that they had a unique talent, and they figured that if you have a talent, you should use it. Where better to use it, but in the service of G-d? After all, He's the one who had gifted them with this skill in the first place.
Like those proficient women of the Bible, each of us a unique talent. G-d gave it to us so that we would use it. And, once we're using it, it would only be right to use it also to serve His purpose, His temple and His people.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Living on the edge

Old-fashioned fashion isn't likely to catch your eye. It's even less likely that you'd imagine you could learn a life-lesson from ancient clothing.
Well, everything in the Torah is meant to be a lesson for us. If it had no take-home message, the Torah would not have mentioned it.
You have to wonder, then, what could you learn from the uniforms that the kohanim used to wear in the Temple. The whole Torah portion this week focuses on the four garments that a simple kohen wore and the eight that the high priest wore.
Big deal. I mean, you may find the blue tunic or sparkling breastplate interesting, but the real question remains: "Will knowing how long the kohen's belt was really make me a better person?"
Let's look at one item from the chief kohen's wardrobe and the real-life lesson that it shares. When the kohen gadol wore his special garments, he represented the entire Jewish people, not only as their spokesperson, but even by wearing clothes that represented different types of Jews. One garment that the kohen gadol had to wear was called the "me'il", a long blue cloak that had bells and pomegranates on its hem. The designs at the bottom of that cloak, millimetres off the ground, represent the Jews on the fringe- the disaffected, disenchanted and the disiniterested.
We may sometimes feel tempted to write off or criticise the Jews who are "empty" of Judaism. Yet, the Talmud insists that even the most "empty" Jew is full of good deeds as a pomegranate is full of seeds. The pomegranates dangling from the edge of the high priest's clothes remind us that there are no "empty" Jews- and that every Jew comes into the Holy of Holies somehow.