April 18, 2024
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Vayakhel: Offerings from the Heart

Shemot: 35:5

Rabbi Chezky Markovitz knew that second grade was not where he was meant to be. True, he had just finished his smicha program and had been ordained as a rabbi only two months earlier—and under the circumstances he was glad to find any teaching job on such short notice (Rabbi Blass had left with diverticulitis—indefinite leave)—but he wanted more. He wanted to be a community rabbi with a big shtele in some prestigious synagogue, with lots of important baal habatim. But, for now, serving as a rebbe at the Nachmanides School would have to do. Deep down, though, he knew he was going places.

Until that time, he had a classroom of students to contend with. And they didn’t seem too interested in a mid-year replacement teacher. The boy in the third row with the red hair had a comic book hidden in his binder, the girl in the back with the braids was doodling a picture of a dancer on the side of her Chumash notes, and the boy in the front with the Transformers kippah had his head down on his desk and was actually drooling. Chezky knew he had to spice things up, or he would struggle with this group all year long.

“Does anyone know what this week’s parsha is?”

“Anyone?”

“Vayakhel?” a girl in the fourth row, who was pretending not to chew gum, said.

“That’s right,” Chezky said. “Very good, uh…”

“Shoshi.”

“Yes, very good, Shoshi. And in this week’s parsha, klal Yisrael bring to Moshe beautiful gifts to decorate the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. So I have an idea. Tomorrow I’m going to bring in a special table for davening, and whoever leads the class in tefilot that day will stand at the special table.

“Now, I want all of you to bring in some of your favorite things from home to decorate the davening table, and we’ll make it beautiful, like our own private Mishkan for praying to Hashem. What do you think?”

Chezky wasn’t sure, but he thought he sensed a bit of excitement from the children.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he thought.

The next morning, Chezky grabbed an old shtender that he had sitting in his basement gathering dust, and put it in the back seat of his car. He carried it to the classroom and placed it before the group.

The children stared at him in silence.

“Nu, so what did you bring me?”

One by one, the class straggled up to the teacher’s desk and offered an object for the davening table.

An old matchbox car.

A bald doll.

A lollypop.

A New Jersey Devils hat, lightly worn.

An action figure, minus a left arm.

Chezky stopped them before more could be brought up.

“This is what you bring for our Mishkan? This is the best you could do? Everybody sit down.”

Class 2-A took their seats.

“When klal Yisrael donated to the Mishkan, they gave all their best stuff. It was from the heart. They gave gold and silver, turquoise and linen. Now, I can’t tell you what you should give, but I want our davening table to be special. I want you to go home and search your hearts for what Hashem should see in our special Mishkan tomorrow, OK? You just put your gifts up there when you come in, and we’ll see what we’ve got.”

Chezky swept the room with his gaze, making eye contact with each child.

“I think you get the idea. Now let’s open our Chumashim and get back to work.”

The day passed without incident.

The next morning, Chezky came to the classroom a few minutes late, to allow the children time to put out their donations before he arrived. When he opened the door to room 16, all the children turned to look at him with proud smiles.

Chezky surveyed the teacher’s desk.

An iPod Touch.

A Rolex watch.

Silver candlesticks.

Diamond cuff links.

A trophy that looked astonishingly similar to an Oscar.

Chezky turned to his students and stared in disbelief. Obviously, he hadn’t intended for them to loot their parents’ houses, but still, their level of giving was astounding, and inspiring. Suddenly he realized how influential a speaker he was, and how much he could inspire others. He knew that he would go far in life, leading the Jewish community.

He also realized that, at that moment, he was in… a lot of trouble.

By Larry Stiefel

Larry Stiefel is a Pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics. He is the author of the parsha story blog Themaggidofbergenfield.com.

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