‘Stop! Pay attention!’ The Torah says soTeruma, Exodus 21:1-24:18
Think back to one week ago today. Can you remember what you ate that day?
Can you remember the various people you spoke with? Do you remember what you said?
These are the kinds of details that sometimes slip our minds as we go through the tasks of everyday life. We treat them as mundane and do not pay much attention to them. We look back at the big picture of the day and evaluate it based on overall finished product.
But what if we paid more attention to the smaller pieces?
This week’s parsha, Teruma, is all about paying attention to the details. It begins by asking each Israelite to make a donation, in whatever amount he chooses, from a list of items that will be needed to build the tabernacle.
Several chapters follow, explaining in exacting detail how the ark needs to be built to hold the tablets of the covenant and what other objects need to be built to accompany it. It also includes descriptions of the outer courtyard that should be built to surround the ark.
For 87 verses, the Torah explains lengths and widths, types of wood, metal or yarn, sockets and rings, and intricate metal work and design. And we are left asking, “Why?” God could have simply told Moses to build these things and left it at that. The people would have figured out something. Or, God could have given a little bit of detail, approximately what size God wanted the finished product to be and with what materials God wanted it made.
But that is not the text we have, so why do we have such a detailed listing of how to build the tabernacle?
The commentators have many explanations for this, but I think one is particularly relevant in our busy lives today. This is God’s way of telling us, “Stop! Pay attention!”
There are things happening in our lives that are passing us by, and we do not even realize it because they happen so quickly that we brush them off as insignificant. All we want is to get to the end product, but sometimes the beauty of life is in the details — sitting down and having a real conversation with someone you care about; sharing a good meal with your family and then thanking the person who made it; pausing to remember the purpose or meaning behind the project that you are working on at work.
Another way of looking at this question is explained by Rabbi Harvey Fields: “No real achievement is possible without attention to detail. The musician must practice note after note, day after day to play with excellence. The athlete must stretch, run and lift weights to compete successfully. … Genuine accomplishments, like magnificent sanctuaries, are the products of hard work, deed after deed, and careful attention to every detail.”
As you go through your days this week, try to remember the message of Teruma. It is not just the results that count, but the details and hard work of the tasks we accomplish along the way.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)