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Don't Worry America

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

Have you ever been in a store and thought to yourself, "A few simple changes would make this place so much more pleasant and probably even more profitable?"

Recently, I had to compare two hospitals, as the father of the patient. One hospital was world class, Johns Hopkins, while the other, unfortunately, was not. Not even close.

The differences between the two really had to do with little things along the way. How the doctors listened and responded, nurses, pillows and simple courtesies. Lots of small differences, which in of themselves could easily be dismissed, but when put all together would either make the whole experience very pleasant or very distasteful. While in the "not close" hospital, I kept thinking to myself, I have to call up the CEO and explain why their hospital is so second rate. However, I knew it would be a waste of time.

People find it hard to make those small little changes that make all the difference in the world, even if they want to. Like a building, once the foundations are set there is a real limit to how much a person can grow.

This concept explains the longevity of America and I believe explains why it has nothing to worry about.

The integrity, nobility and the impressive commitment to the concepts upon which America was founded elevate it above every other country in the world. Others may appear to come close, and even seem to be serious contenders, but they only shine for a moment and eventually fade away.

The only country that is in America's league is the modern State of Israel. And to be accurate, it's America that is in the same class as Israel. Countries founded on meaningful principles, true ideals and grounded dreams are in a very small class. Only two in fact. But considering it used to be only one, we have had a very good last quarter epoch.

In a very similar way, families, marriages and even a single person can create their own dream and vision. When people make a full commitment to great and meaningful concepts, they themselves become imbued with a fabric of values that makes success almost inevitable. Almost every small decision will be the right one.

However, without such a commitment it's impossible to detail how someone should behave so that they can get to the top. In other words, you can't script someone on a daily basis for success, if they don't have the personal commitment.

It is for this reason our Sages tell us that the Western Wall to The Holy Temple will never fall. Because it was constructed by the poor people, and their commitment, focus of purpose and self sacrifice was so deep, it imbued the wall with such intense meaning, guaranteeing itself eternity.

The Tabernacle, the forerunner to the permanent Temple, was a magnificent construction of many donated items, none of which does the Torah tell us what they were used for previously.

Except one...

The washstand through which the Priests purified themselves before they engaged in the holy service. The only item in the entire Tabernacle where the Torah tells us what it was made from was this washstand. The Torah explains it was made from the womens' mirrors that they themselves donated.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant to discuss such a sensitive subject, and maybe would have just glossed over it if not for the fact that Moses similarly felt these mirrors did not belong in the Home of God.

Why not?

Because these mirrors were used by the women in Egypt to make themselves attractive to their husbands, who were exhausted from the slavery. Moses felt such items did not belong in the Tabernacle even though they were instrumental in bringing the next generation of Jews.

God however disagreed. Moses sought to exclude them and God intervened and tells him, "These are dearer to Me than all the other contributions..." (Rashi, Exodus 38:8).

And not only were they used, but they were used to "Purify."


Mirrors were considered quite a luxury, reserved only for the wealthy. Before modern China was invented, a mirror was no cheap item. Slaves, by definition, don't spend what little money they have on mirrors. One of the last things a slave has to worry about is what they look like.

Think about how important these women viewed their connection to their spouses. For them to own a mirror, imagine how many other "necessities" they had to give up. They didn't do this for vanity. They did it for spirituality.

Spirituality doesn't begin with God. It ends with God.

To be spiritual, you must first appreciate there is life outside yourself just as real as you. These mirrors represented their real spiritual awareness which despite the bitter, harsh and brutal slavery, was never lost.

"To love God, one must first love man. If anyone tells you that he loves God but does not love his fellow man, he is lying." (Divrei Chassidim)

These women understood that even though we may be slaves, we are still wives. We are not objects. We, and our husbands, are people.

What is crucial to understand is that real spirituality doesn't fade even when the physical realm seems daunting. Real spirituality is not a luxury, sort of like a pastime or hobby of the rich and famous. That is not spirituality, it's phony self indulgence.

* * *


A house is a place where you merely exist, but a home is a place where you find the meaning. It's easy to build a house. It takes real commitment to ultimate values to build a home.

The same is true for a country. Given a big enough battleship, it's relatively easy to plant a flag on a small continent. It's nowhere near as easy to imbue its inhabitants with values such as free speech, human rights and dignity, to name but a few. From a satellite in space, both places may seem the same, but here on earth those two countries are worlds apart.

From this, you can understand what The Temple was all about. It wasn't just a building. It stood for and embodied the ultimate purpose of life. This was the goal of everyone engaged in its construction. They understood, just like people who are building a home, or the founders of America building a country, that if we dedicate this physical space with absolute commitment to the ultimate purpose and value of life, then it will be.

People cannot make homes more meaningful than who they are. The home is a reflection of the people living in it. Homes, countries and The Holy Temple are the places that bring out our best values.

America is here because of the people who founded it. Their commitment carries on today, not through their buildings and not even through their writings, but through their citizens. Buildings are an expression of what we believe, and it's what we believe that make us who we are.

This chasm of understanding between the Jewish people and America on one side, and the rest of the world on the other, is possibly best epitomized with the tragedy of 9/11. For us, it was a tragedy of the death of so many innocent people. No one in America considered it would end the country because the country is not a building. But that is exactly what the perpetrators thought it to be. They just cannot grasp that America is bigger than its buildings. They don't understand that the buildings represent the people, not the other way around. Other than Israel and America, no other country exists like this, nor do they comprehend.

The builders of The Temple had a deep and enduring commitment to meaning and spirituality. It expressed itself in The Temple, but all that they stood for continues in the people, and that doesn't die when the building is no longer here. We, the descendents of those women, embody their commitment.

It is for this reason, that we Jews know, without a doubt, that such a building, dedicated for such a noble purpose, by such a people, will eventually be rebuilt.

* * *


Question 1: Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

Question 2: Are spiritual people better than others?

Question 3: Is being spiritual a choice or are you born that way?

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