Thursday, March 30, 2023

Professor Dan Arieli once wrote about the “Ikea effect.” If we ourselves assemble something that we bought, we are more attached to it because of our personal involvement. A product that we take right out of the box, that is already put together, simply cannot create a similar feeling.

This week we finish reading the Book of Shemot with the Vayakhel and Pekudei Torah portions that describe the building of the Mishkan (portable desert sanctuary). Rabbi Sacks zt”l explained that just as we speak of the “Ikea effect,” we must also speak of the “Mishkan effect.” We are called upon to contribute, to act, to participate in a construction project—to build a spiritual center that will accompany us in the desert.

But what is this really all about? After all, God can split the Red Sea and bring the 10 plagues, so why does He make us work so hard? The answer is that this is how to make us more active and caring. Not just to wait for miracles to come down from heaven, but to act on our own in the world. In the course of the Book of Shemot, miracles or acts of God are ultimately exchanged for the actions of people.

Sometimes the biggest drama in life is that there is no drama, that things just get done. Many commentators ask why the Torah repeats in Parshat Pekudei again the details of building a tabernacle. After all, it was only a short time ago that we read in detail all the instructions that needed to be followed, and now—we are simply told in this week’s parsha that everything was carried out, detail after detail. The answer is that doing the right thing is a big thing. The Israelites fulfill the instructions well, with devotion and love and loyalty, and this is also a title. Meeting goals, meeting deadlines, accurate execution—all these are valuable things in life.

Children whose parents do not do their homework for them, but are persuaded to work hard on their own will feel more connected to what they learn. Children who help clean the house for Pesach will feel more connected to the Seder. There are countless similar examples of how getting involved increases connectedness, and we can all find them if we search for them in our own lives.

Even today it is not obvious that everything is ticking, without any scandal, strike or commission of inquiry. The construction of the Mishkan ends with wonderful words, which describe how everything was carried out as it should be: As God commanded Moshe, so did the children of Israel, all the work. And Moshe saw all the work, and behold, they did it as God commanded, so they did, and Moshe blessed them.

The Torah portions that end the Book of Shemot remind us: The greatest present that can be given to another person is not a present, but a meaningful mission that demands personal involvement. May we also be able to complete good tasks in our lives.

Sivan Rahav-Meir is the World Mizrachi scholar-in-residence and an Israeli journalist and lecturer.

Sign up now!