This week's parsha
The Magic Touch
Do hard workers become successful people? I’d like to think so . . . when I’m successful. But for every time I’ve worked hard and succeeded, I’ll show you another time when I worked hard and fell flat on my face.
Success is the magic that floods my efforts with satisfaction. But success is never a guarantee, because there are so many variables that play into my ideal outcome. Magic happens when all the variables are aligned and things play out even better than I’d anticipated.
What’s unnerving is the schism between work and success. In that schism, I am so vulnerable. Sometimes work flows seamlessly into success, and then I take all the credit for my achievements. Other times, that gap brings success close, but so out of reach.
I have my work cut out for me today. In the morning, I’ll prepare for a few of my classes. Success would mean that my students walk away stimulated and consciously aware of their core spiritual identity.
Later on, I’ll cook for Shabbat. Success would mean that the food is perfectly kosher and very tasty, and nurtures my Shabbat guests.
When my daughter comes home from school, I’ve planned some alone time for us. We’ve been getting into power struggles, and we need to talk. Success would mean that she shares openly with me and is receptive to my guidance. Ultimate success means that she develops healthy skills for conflict resolution.
After the kids are asleep, I’ll write. If I’m lucky, I’ll uncover the unifying idea behind my research and find the right words to express myself.
Success may be a wild card, but hard work is a skill you can master. You need to assess your resources: internal resources like talents, skills and intelligence; or external resources like money, family and friends. Once you know what you have to work with, you need to have the confidence to utilize and cultivate those resources. As the old adage goes, “You’ve got to do your best with the tools you have.”
It’s G‑d who gives us the resources with which to work. My opportunities are His gift to me. But pulling things together and pushing my agenda forward is laborious work. And once I put in the work, it’s all too easy to forget that G‑d is the sole determinant of success.
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and later became a rebbe in his own right. He had a student who meticulously observed the mitzvah of refraining from eating leavened foods (chametz) on Passover. This student scrutinized every morsel of food that he ate on Passover -- he wouldn’t even eat at the home of his rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas. Rabbi Pinchas invited him to his house for every meal, and every day his student refused him. On the last day of Passover, Rabbi Pinchas invited him yet again, and his student politely declined yet again. “Check the bottom of your water barrel,” Rabbi Pinchas told him. Lo and behold, lying at the bottom of his water barrel was a kernel of wheat -- actual chametz. The student was shocked and devastated. He ran to his rebbe and cried, “How could G‑d have done this to me, knowing how careful I am not to have one speck of chametz in my home?” The rebbe replied, “We all need G‑d’s help, and we all have G‑d’s help -- unless we say to G‑d, ‘I’ll manage on my own.’ Then G‑d says, ‘By all means, show Me that you can do it on your own.’”
It’s humbling to have to ask G‑d for success. Especially when you’ve invested so much personal ingenuity. But G‑d’s final touch is much more effective than our cumulative efforts.
There are short-term goals and more global pursuits. Top on my list of global, lifelong pursuits is to develop spiritual sensitivity. I want a relationship with G‑d that tugs at my heartstrings. I want a higher consciousness, and more passion when I do mitzvot. Does that sound noble or unrealistic? Perhaps it’s both. Chassidic teachings explain that authentic feelings for G‑d are a gift from Him. My part is to serve G‑d through the mitzvot. I can’t make myself enlightened, but I can do what G‑d wants of me. If I’m successful, if G‑d chooses to bless me with overt success, then our relationship will be emotionally satisfactory as well. Spiritual narcissism comes from going directly for the inspirational relationship with G‑d. Humility means doing what G‑d wants and waiting for Him to gift me with inspiration.
The template for our partnership with G‑d is spelled out in the Jewish people’s first national venture: the construction of a portable sanctuary, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was G‑d’s home on earth and His vehicle for communication with the Jewish people. It was an intricate and exciting project. G‑d had provided them with all the resources they needed, as well as detailed instructions. Parshat Vayakhel describes how the Jews invested money, labor and effort into the construction. Everyone pulled together in their unique way. The Parshah’s name, Vayakhel, means “and he assembled,” and they truly assembled a beautiful structure with elegant furniture. But it was empty. It didn’t feel like G‑d’s home yet. The Parshah concludes, but the story doesn’t culminate.
In the next Parshah, Pekudei, Moses reviews the inventory of the Tabernacle and sets up shop. And then the magic occurs: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L‑rd filled the Mishkan.” G‑d transformed the Tabernacle from a wooden edifice into a magical, G‑dly oasis.
“Work smarter, not harder” is a popular phrase. To me, working smarter means consciously attracting G‑d’s blessing to our endeavors, acknowledging our dependence on Him, being aware of the partnership between us.
Sometimes, partnering with G‑d can be counterintuitive. Like when I’m so frantically busy that I don’t have any time to pray. But here is another perspective: “I have so much to do today, I can’t afford not to pray!” I can work from the bottom up, but only G‑d can see the situation from the top down.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that although having a large family is so incredibly time-consuming, the more children a mother has, the more efficiently she will work. Not only because of her learned expertise, but because G‑d gives her work an extra dose of blessing and success so that she can accomplish more in less time.
In Parshat Vayakhel, the Jews work hard to make the Tabernacle happen. In Parshat Pekudei, G‑d’s presence rests on the Tabernacle.
In a standard year with 12 months (not a leap year with 13 months), we don’t have enough weekends for the 54 Torah portions to be read. The solution is to double up several of the short Parshiot. The Parshah of Vayakhel is paired up with Pekudei, making them “sister Parshiot.” This Parshah partnership itself speaks volumes about efficiency and time management. If you want to get twice as much done as usual, look to merge “Vayakhel” and “Pekudei” -- personal effort and the recognition that it’s G‑d who makes it magical.