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2.23.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:37 pm
by RabbiMark
This week’s parashah opens with God commanding the Jewish people to bring their choicest olive oil to fuel the lamps in the Tent of Meeting. Now, I’m not sure how many people know just how difficult it is to make olive oil, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort and work to press even a drop of oil out of a single fresh olive. Not only was olive oil labor intensive to produce, it served as the primary cooking, heating, and lamp oil in the ancient Near East. Essentially the Torah is asking each and every person to bring the absolute best of what they have to offer for service in the Temple.

I am struck by this command: isn’t our best something that we want to reserve for ourselves? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the sediment-filled, second-rate oils for public use? After all, each individual farmer takes the time to grow, harvest, and press their own oil. What about the principle of “what’s mine is mine”???

The Torah here is modelling for us what meaningful relationships ought to look like. What would it mean for us to bring our second- or even third-best oil for service to God? What statement does that make about the relationship we have with the Divine? When we bring less than our best to a relationship, we are essentially telling the other person that said relationship doesn’t matter. When we bring less than our best, we are telling ourselves that said relationship doesn’t matter.

I know that I have a tendency to tell myself that something is “good enough.” Why would I put the effort into doing something well, when I can just get by? The thing is, “good enough” is fundamentally a lie that I tell myself - it is a justification to not put all of myself into an interaction, into a project, into each moment. When we give ourselves excuses to not be our best selves, we inevitably fail to fulfill our potential. Saying that what we have to offer in a given moment is “good enough” cheats both the other and ourselves of honest and true connection.

That’s the thing: we cause ourselves to suffer when we don’t offer the choicest version of ourselves to the world. We make a statement about what we have to offer when we don’t bring our best: it just doesn’t matter. What we have to offer doesn’t matter or isn’t good enough. We don’t matter; we aren’t good enough. And that’s simply not true. Rabbi Heschel remarks that there is something sacred at stake in every moment. Part of that sacred something is knowing that each interaction, each moment, each person (including ourselves) matters.

So, if each moment holds sacred potential and each of us has something wholly unique and holy to offer the world . . . then it is an absolute sin to withhold the best of ourselves. Will we always succeed? No, of course not. Living well and intentionally isn’t about living perfectly; it’s about striving, constantly moving forward. It’s about offering the best of what we have in each given moment, recognizing that each moment gives us an opportunity to do better, be better, live better. It means showing up - being present - and recognizing what it is we each uniquely bring to this world. Offering the best of ourselves honors both the sacred spark inherent to our being, and the sacred spark inherent in the other.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Andy Markowitz