Tetzaveh: A Tribute to Sharing Responsibility

Um… Mrs. Weisberg, I just want to let you know that I am probably going to be late for our Havdallah program because my family is going to do Havdallah at home first. It’s what we do every week.

When I first heard this statement from one of the students in the midst of preparations for the third-grade class Havdallah program, I was confused. I thought to myself: “You mean your family is going to do havdallah at home before you come to school to do havdallah again?” I proceeded to sit back and watch Ophra Weisberg, one of the third-grade Jewish studies teachers at Rockwern Academy, as she dealt with what could have been seen as another bump in the road before the program. Instead of responding with frustration, Ophra explained to her student that what they would be doing during the program would fit the halakhic requirement for Havdallah, but if they were still going to choose to do Havdallah on their own she would have a conversation with their parents to make sure the program could go on time and smoothly. This was just one example of the ways that teachers at Rockwern have shown their dedication to partnering with their students’ families in the facilitation of Jewish learning.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Tetzaveh, Moses receives the command that all those who are chochmei lev — all those who have the wisdom which God endowed in their hearts — are to make the vestments for Aaron and the priests. Those who know in their hearts how to do so will be allocated the gold, the blue yarns, the purple yarns, the crimson yarns, and the fine linen in order to make for the priests the breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash. These holy garments will be the uniform of the priests as they did their holy work serving the Jewish people. Without these garments made by the people, the expectations for the priests would not be met. If the chochmei lev do not go through the hard process of embodying the endowed wisdom, then, the priests will not be able to uphold the Israelites’ end of the brit for themselves and the people.

This parashah illustrates beautifully how the covenant between God and Am Yisrael was contingent upon a cyclical give-and-take among the people, its leadership, and God. In order for Moses and Aaron to lead the nation in a way that God approved, they had to be able to focus on receiving the laws, teaching the laws to the people, seeing to the needs of the Israelites in the desert, and navigating the nation toward Canaan. There would have been fewer opportunities for Am Yisrael to be able to fulfill their end of the covenant if Moses and Aaron also had to worry about additional tasks such as teaching the craft workers to make the priestly garments and overseeing them through the process. Rather than letting all of the tasks fall on one or two leaders, God created the expectation that the success of upholding the covenant required sharing obligations. When God endowed the chochmei lev with wisdom and ability to do the holy work that would benefit their people, God not only spread the responsibility of upholding these commandments but also created even more partners in covenant.

So how did God endow the chochmei lev with their wisdom? I think the answer to this question circles back to the tandem work that Rockwern’s teachers and parents were navigating for the Havdallah program. As partners in God’s work, I imagine that there were parents and mentors among the Israelites who played a significant part in instilling this holy wisdom and know-how into the hearts of the chochmei lev. In a similar way, both the teachers and parents have taken it upon themselves to be partners not only with God but also with one another. Through their work together, they aspire to best endow their children with Jewish wisdom and know-how in the hopes that their children will have a full and meaningful Jewish life. It is the shared task of parents and teachers (and even rabbinic fellows) to welcome new generations to be holders of our religious tradition. Both parents and teachers share the same dream: to ensure that when future generations are given their gold or crimson yarns, they will know in their hearts exactly what to do with it. This is how Am Yisrael and its covenant with God lives on.

Zoe McCoon is a second-year rabbinical student working at Rockwern Academy

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