The Torah portion begins with God instructing Moses to tell the people to bring the raw materials necessary in order to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). "This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; and turquoise, purple and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins; tachash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the ephod and breastplate." (1)
The Ohr HaChaim points out that the order of the materials mentioned is difficult to understand; the shoham stones and the 'stones of the settings' are the most valuable of all the items in the list, therefore logically they should have been mentioned first.
He answers by bringing the Midrash that informs us of the background to the donation of the precious stones. They were brought by the Nesi'im (princes) after everything else had already been donated. The Nesi'im had initially planned to wait for everyone else to bring their contributions to the Mishkan, and whatever was lacking, the Nesi'im would then give. But their plan backfired when the people, in their great enthusiasm, gave everything that was needed with the exception of the precious stones. The Medrash goes on to say that God was displeased with them because they were so late in giving to the Mishkan. Their 'punishment' was that the 'yud' in their name was omitted at one point in the Torah.(2) Accordingly, the Ohr HaChaim explains that since the donation of the precious stones involved some kind of error, they are mentioned last in the list of the materials given to the Mishkan. Despite their great material value, the spiritual failing that resulted in their donation by the Nesi'im meant that they were inferior to all the other materials in the list.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks that it is still unclear why God was displeased with the Nesi'im. Their reasoning for delaying their donation seems to be very understandable; why are they punished for a seemingly innocent miscalculation? He answers by quoting Rashi's explanation for their punishment: Rashi states; "because they were initially lazy, they lost a 'yud' in their name." (3) Rashi is revealing to us that the real reason that the Nesi'im tarried in bringing the gifts was because beneath all their seemingly valid justifications for their actions lay the trait of laziness.
The Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just) writes at length about how laziness can prevent a person from fulfilling his obligations properly. He writes: "We see with our own eyes many, many times, that a man can be aware of his obligations, and he is clear about what he needs for the goodness of his soul... yet he weakens [in his Avoda/Service] not because of a lack of recognition of his obligations or any other reason, rather because of the powerful laziness that overcomes him." He continues that what is so dangerous about laziness is that one can find several 'sources' to justify his inaction. "The lazy one will bring numerous sayings of the Sages, verses from the Prophets, and 'logical' arguments, all of them justifying his confused mind into lightening his burden ... and he does not see that these arguments do not come from his logical thought, rather they stem from his laziness, which overcomes his rational thinking." (4) Accordingly, he warns us that whenever we have two choices we should be very weary of choosing the easier option, because the root reason for doing so may very likely be laziness.
The Mesillat Yesharim is teaching us that even the most 'valid' arguments may simply be veils for a person's desire to avoid pushing himself. We see a striking example of this in the Introduction to the great ethical work, Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart). He writes that after planning to write the book he changed his mind, citing a number of reasons: "I thought my powers too limited and my mind too weak to grasp the ideas. Furthermore, I do not possess an elegant style in Arabic, in which the book would have been written… I feared that I would be undertaking a task which would succeed [only] in exposing my shortcomings... Therefore I decided to drop my plans and revoke my decision." However, he recognized that perhaps his motives were not completely pure. "I began to suspect that I had chosen the comfortable option, looking for peace and quiet. I feared that what had motivated the cancellation of the project had been the desire for self-gratification, which had driven me to seek ease and comfort, to opt for inactivity and sit idly by."
To the eternal benefit of the Jewish people he decided to write the book. The reasons that he initially cited why he should not write the book seem fair and logical, but he recognized that, on his level, they were tainted by a desire for comfort. If someone as great at the author of Chovos HaLevavos nearly fell victim to the yetzer hara (negative inclination) of laziness, how much is everyone at risk of being ensnared by this destructive trait. A person generally does have seemingly valid reasons for why he may choose to ignore possible avenues in which he could improve his Divine Service, but he must be very vigilant that our true motivation is laziness.
The yetzer hara of laziness is so cunning that it can clothe itself in some of the most admirable of traits, in particular that of humility. Rav Moshe Feinstein addresses a common tendency of people to underestimate themselves by claiming that they are greatly limited in their talents and that they can never achieve greatness. He writes that this kind of humility really emanates from the yetzer hara.(5) It seems that this attitude actually derives from laziness, which is really a manifestation of the desire for comfort. It is not easy to achieve greatness; it requires great effort and the willingness to face setbacks and even failure. This is difficult, therefore it is very tempting for a person to 'write himself off' and thereby exempt himself from even trying - this is certainly the more 'comfortable' option.
Constantly, throughout a person's life he is given the opportunity to improve himself and attain great heights in his own Divine Service and his influence on others. We see from the lesson of the Nesi'im that perhaps the single most powerful factor preventing him from achieving his potential is a desire for comfort that stems from laziness. This causes a person to 'create' numerous 'reasons' as to why he does not push himself in the way that he could. The Mesillas Yesharim teaches us that he should recognize that these excuses often originate with the yetzer hara and that he should disregard them and proceed in his efforts to grow and accomplish. May we all merit to overcome this powerful yetzer hara and make the correct choices even if they are difficult.
1. Teruma, 25:3-7.
2. Vayakhel, 35:27. See Sichos Mussar of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz for an elaboration of the significance of losing a 'yud' in their name (p.214).
3. Rashi, Vayakhel, 35:27.
4. Mesillas Yesharim, end of Ch.6.
5. Darash Moshe, Parshas Nitzavim.
JEWS FOR JUDAISM is increasingly being called upon to deal with a growing and alarming phenomenon: the targeting of Jewish public school students by groups and individuals who seek to convert them to Christianity. Consider the following:
In an affluent suburb of Birmingham, a number of Jewish high school students have recently informed their parents of their “conversion” to Christianity, in a process abetted by school policies that permit Christian “youth ministers” to engage in Jewish-targeted missionary activities on school grounds and during school hours.
In Pike County, Alabama, a Jewish student is required to write an essay on “Why Jesus Loves Me,” and to attend a mandatory school assembly at which a minister states that all who do not accept Jesus are condemned to hell.
In Utah, a Jewish student who objects to participating in Mormon worship during choir class is humiliated by her teacher and ridiculed by her classmates.
Faced with a missionary agenda that is well-financed and widely supported, as well as a series of conflicting court decisions, even many well-intentioned school officials are confused as to how to respond. The following Questions and Answers are intended to help.
Why is this issue so complicated? Do Jewish students have a CROSS to bear in Public Schools?
The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Our Founding Fathers wisely sought to maintain government neutrality in matters of religion: the government was prohibited from advancing a particular set of religious beliefs and from unreasonably interfering with the private exercise of those beliefs. This requires a careful balancing of often competing demands, a balance that is threatened by the increasing militancy on the part of the Christian Right – precisely the segment of the Christian community that is most active in Jewish-targeted conversionary efforts.
While the Constitution’s “Free Exercise Clause” prohibits the government from regulating religious beliefs, the “Establishment Clause” has been interpreted to mean that any valid public school policy must (1) have a primarily secular, rather than a religious, purpose; (2) have the primary effect of neither advancing nor inhibiting religion; and (3) avoid an excessive entanglement between government and religion.
Are student religious clubs permissible in the public schools?
Under a federal law known as the Equal Access Act, public secondary schools (high school and above) must generally give equal treatment to all student-initiated groups, and may not treat student-led religious groups less favorably than they treat other types of student-led groups. In order to be entitled to such equal treatment, however, the groups must be student-initiated, student-led, voluntary, and open to all students. School teachers and other school personnel may not initiate, promote, lead or participate in religious club meetings. Similarly, outsiders – including members of the clergy – may not control, direct or regularly attend the meetings of these student groups.
What about outside religious groups: may they meet in the public schools?
Outside religious groups may not meet in the public schools during normal school hours. After school hours, outside religious clubs and organizations can meet in the schools if the school allows other types of outside organizations and clubs to meet at the same time. The school district must affirmatively make clear that it is not endorsing the group’s religious views or activities.
Are students allowed to distribute religious material to other students in the public schools?
Yes, on a limited basis. Schools have the right to prohibit such distribution if it disrupts the school’s functioning or involves coercive proselytizing.
Is prayer allowed in public schools?
Students have the right to pray on an individual and voluntary basis so long as it is neither disruptive nor coercive. Such prayers cannot be led by teachers, coaches, or other school officials, nor can such officials solicit student volunteers to lead prayers. Also generally prohibited are prayers at school assemblies, graduation ceremonies, and school football games, whether led by students or by others.
May teachers share their personal religious beliefs with students?
In general, public school teachers may not advocate particular religious beliefs when dealing with students.
These legal requirements are being ignored in my child’s public school. What can I do?
When you become aware of apparent legal violations, don’t remain silent. Contact the school’s principal, the district superintendent of schools, and the school board. Most school officials want to do the right thing, and don’t want to see religious coercion in their schools. In the unusual case where such interventions prove to be ineffective, the threat of litigation may bring about the desired response.
To the extent that religious activity is permissible in the public schools, it is often the case that only Christian groups have exercised their legally-protected rights. Just as Christian groups have availed themselves of the federal Equal Access Act, so too can Jewish groups. Consider helping to organize a student-led Jewish group in your child’s public school, or inviting an engaging rabbi or dynamic Jewish educator to lead an after-school group. We have the same right of access as the missionaries (and, of course, are subject to the same legal constraints).
There is only one guarantee: If we’re not there for our kids, the missionaries will be!
We would like to thank Larry Levey, Esq. for his assistance in writing this article.
For further information on the Separation of Church and State see:
Library Page: http://www.jcrcny.org/library/spiritual-deception.html
Resource Page: http://www.jcrcny.org/resources/spiritual-deception.html
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Article by Ruth Guggenheim / bear the cross, christian missionary, conversion, jewish children schoolLeave a Comment