June 22, 2024
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One Mishkan to Go, Please

Every school milestone comes with its own set of rituals, celebrations and drama. That’s right, drama. Which administrators should speak at kindergarten graduation? (Drama!) Which child gets the longest speaking part in the Siddur Play? (Drama!) Who gets the part of Moshe Rabbeinu in the Chumash Play? (Drama!) Oh yes, the drama is unavoidable, from pre-K to high school and beyond.

Middle school graduation drama is often centered around awards. Who deserves the Chesed Award? What if the clear valedictorian isn’t the nicest student? Who should be allowed to choose the faculty speaker—students, faculty or the administrators? And so it goes for many schools, Orlando Kosher Academy Yeshiva (OKAY) being no exception.

Upon returning from Pesach vacation, the first OKAY middle school faculty meeting was dedicated to graduation awards. Ms. Frank, the middle school director, began the meeting by reviewing the previous year’s awards. She then asked if any teachers had ideas for new awards, which was followed by a few minutes of sarcasm. “I have a few candidates for Most Annoying.” “Can we rename it the Valedictorian Because There Was No Other Choice Award?” “What about giving academic awards to parents who do their kids’ work for them?” “I think all awards should just go to teachers.”

Finally, Ms. Frank had enough. “All right, everyone. Comedy Hour is over. Last year we spoke about giving out awards for certain subjects. Are we all still in favor?” Most of the teachers nodded, and Ms. Frank began to list all the subject awards. “That sounds like it. Did I miss any? Great. Let’s break up into departments and discuss who deserves what.”

While most departments had little problem identifying their candidates, the Tanach department was struggling. Figuring out which students were strongest at Chumash and Navi wasn’t difficult; grades are grades and skills are skills. However, neither of the top students for these subjects were great role models. What to do? Ms. Frank cut straight to the point. “Well, we are using grades and skills for the other subjects. Why should Tanach be any different?”

Rabbi Portnoy spoke up first. “This is a Torah subject! Having good middot is part of being a Torah Jew! How can we give a Torah award for students who don’t practice good middot?” Ms. Frank nodded in agreement. “I understand, but we have a middot award for that. We are already separating middot from academic performance. Maybe we can change the wording? Would that work?” Then Mrs. Langer piped in. “I agree with Rabbi Portnoy. I would hate to give Torah awards to rude students. But it’s your call, Ms. Frank.” Ms. Frank thought for a moment. “I need more time. Let’s continue this conversation next week.”

After the meeting, Rabbi Portnoy headed down to the cafeteria to supervise lunch. He entered the room, with its usual mix of those eating lunch calmly and those bouncing off the walls waiting for recess. Through the mess, Rabbi Portnoy saw Yishai and Yosef, the top two Tanach students, sitting together. Each boy had his lunch in front of him, paired with a Tanach. The boys were studying for the Chidon, and they clearly did it want to waste a second.

As Rabbi Portnoy approached the boys, he could hear them being rude to one another. “Yishai, you dope! The answer is Avner, not Yoav!” “Well, at least I know the difference between Tzidkiyahu and Yirmiyahu!” “You know what I meant to say before, you liar!” Rabbi Portnoy was now a few feet away. “Boys, boys! Relax. Maybe try being a bit nicer to each other? You might enjoy it.” Yishai smiled “But Rebbe, it’s a lot more fun to fight. Try it; you might enjoy it.” Rabbi Portnoy was stunned by this response, but before he could say anything, the boys jumped out of their seats and ran across the room.

Rabbi Portnoy was about to raise his voice to stop them, but changed his mind when he saw the reason for the running. One of the custodians was taking the garbage bags out of the cans and seemed to be struggling with their weight. The boys rushed over to help with the task. Rabbi Portnoy was blown away. But how did this fit with their rudeness to him earlier? So, when they came back to their table, Rabbi Portnoy decided to (sort of) ask them. “Boys, that was really kind of you. I was amazed at how quickly you ran to help. Are you two always so helpful?” This time, Yosef spoke up. “In Chumash class we just learned about the mitzvah to help somebody out if they have a load that is too big to carry. And in Gemara, we are learning Masechet Bava Kama, which is about caring for other people and their possessions. I guess we’ve been thinking about helping others a lot.”

At this point, Rabbi Portnoy felt like one of those memes where the “main character” keeps getting more and more amazed. He didn’t know what to say. So instead, he pulled out his phone and sent a text to Ms. Frank and Mrs. Langer, letting them know that Yishai and Yosef were the right choices after all. When he had time to explain later, they all agreed, as long as the Tanach classes included a few lessons about how to talk properly to others.

After the Mishkan’s construction is completed, we are told something that seems unnecessary—Bnei Yisrael could not travel until they received the signal from Hashem’s cloud. Why is this necessary to mention here? How is this part of the Mishkan itself?

Perhaps the answer is that the Mishkan is not just a place to experience Hashem once in a while, like on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The experience of the Mishkan must stay with Bnei Yisrael even while they traveled. This is what these final pesukim of Sefer Shemot teach us. True Torah learning is meant to come with us when we leave the beit midrash or classroom. Like the examples set by Yishai and Yannai, the Torah we learn must be present in all the actions we do.


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at [email protected].

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