Paying Attention to Details
Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20 )
Sometimes when a big new project excites us, it's easy to ignore the details. But in truth, it is the small details that make big things happen. In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the construction of the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary) in all its fine details. How much of this, how many of that, exactly what size, etc. At first glance, all these details might seem inconsequential. But if they weren't followed precisely, not only wouldn't the Tabernacle fit together properly, but it wouldn't be effective spiritually as a place where you could feel God's presence.
It is the same for anything we want to accomplish. If we pay attention to the details along the way, we'll get to where we want to go. Details are life's pieces of the puzzle that make things happen.
In our story, a girl learns the hard way the importance of details.
"Wow! These are amazing granola bars, Jenny. You really made them yourself?" asked Fran, in between bites.
"Sure," Jenny said, "and it really wasn't hard either. I'll give you the recipe if you want."
Fran really wasn't one for recipes, but to be able to make such awesome treats as these, she figured it would be worth the effort. She grabbed a pen and notebook and began to write as her friend rattled off what was beginning to sound like an army of instructions and an ocean of ingredients. By the time she wrote it all down, Fran's hand was sore, but she was into making herself some of those delicious bars.
A couple of days later, Fran was sitting home and feeling hungry, when visions of granola bars came floating into her head. She dug up her notebook, and dancing into the kitchen, began to gather up all the ingredients on the sheet.
At first she was careful to stick to just what was written down. But soon she grew impatient and began to improvise.
"Hmm, corn oil? Feh - oil is oil," she thought, pulling down a bottle of olive oil instead.
"Dried pineapple? I'm sure the canned stuff will also do the trick. And brown sugar? Hmm ... here, I'll mix a stir of soy-sauce into the white stuff, and presto, brown sugar!"
Fran started mixing everything together, more or less in the amounts the recipe called for. "After all, who needs to measure every little thing?" she told herself.
She rolled out the 'dough', and put it in the oven. Though the recipe called for a moderate heat, Fran decided to crank it up a bit and make the oven hotter. After all she was hungry, and the sooner they would be done, the better.
She went up to her room to read, but soon noticed a strange smoky aroma. Fran ran downstairs. "Oh no, my bars!" she gasped. She ran over to the oven, which was by now billowing black puffs of smoke, and quickly removed the tray.
"I guess I shouldn't have turned up the oven after all. But at some of them didn't get burned."
Fran opened a couple of windows to air out the house, while the bars cooled. "Okay - time to dig in and enjoy!" Although the treats didn't really look at all like her friend's, Fran was certain that they would taste just as good. Boy was she wrong. She took one bite and nearly choked from the taste.
"Ughh! These are awful!" she said throwing them outside to the dog who wouldn't even touch them. "I really should have followed the recipe," she admitted to herself.
The next day in school, Fran ran into Jenny after class. "Did you make the granola bars yet? How did they come out?" asked Jenny excitedly.
Fran threw up her hands, and said with a sheepish smile, "Well yes and no. I tried to make them, but I didn't exactly pay attention to the recipe, and it ended up being a recipe for disaster."
The friends laughed. Jenny handed Fran one of her delicious bars from her knap sack and Fran decided from then on that she would try to pay more attention to the details.
Q. How important did Fran feel it was to carefully follow the details of the recipe, while she was making the granola bars?
A. She didn't think it was important, and was sure that the bars were going to come out good anyhow.
Q. Did she feel differently in the end?
A. Yes, when she saw that the bars didn't turn out well, she realized that paying attention to the details was very important.
Q. Why is it important to pay attention to small details?
A. While details may seem small, and even bothersome, they are in fact a major key toward being able to accomplish any goal. Details are important parts of the big picture. If the parts are all in place, it will work out. Without them, it won't. Fran learned this clearly when she tried to skip the details of the recipe and the granola bars were ruined.
Q. Why do people sometimes dislike details?
A. Details aren't the most exciting thing in the world, and they often require a lot of effort to fulfill. But if a person can train himself to be careful with the details of whatever he's doing, he will develop a life-long habit that will help him get ahead, in whatever he wants to accomplish.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Doesn't paying a lot of attention to details make us a slave to them, and inhibit creativity?
A. We might think so, but really the opposite is true. Details, once mastered, open up a door of creative potential that otherwise would remain untapped. For instance, a musician that puts in the effort to master the details of musical composition, note reading, etc, will have a much larger repertoire from which to create his own unique style than one who doesn't. As long as we don't view details as ends unto themselves, but rather as tools to help us reach a goal, they not only won't stifle us, they will liberate us.
Q. Do details have any place in spirituality?
A. They definitely do. In fact, most of the Mitzvot of the Torah are replete with details. This is because the spiritual worlds are not just some nebulous realm where nothing really matters, but they are just as specifically defined as our world. Just like here, each small thing brings us closer to, or further from our goals, so too our spiritual actions, and their details will help us, or hinder us on our path of trying to get closer to God.