Bereshit 1:31 says: “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was TOV MEOD -very good” “וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד. Vayar Elohim et-kol-asher asah vehineh-tov me’od”
Recently I heard the words of song which were “I have nothing good in me“. That message is a continuous bombardment to our youth telling them: “You’re good for nothing.” This has caused a social phenomenon among our youth called “Ni-Nis” in Spanish or N.E.E.T. in English, an acrostic for “Not in Education, Employment or Training”. In Spain, it is estimated that 1 in 5 young people believe this, in Italy 25% of its population, and in Latin America, we are not far from these numbers, reaching 20% according to experts.
When we believe words that do not come from the Eternal, and we invent songs telling people “You are good for nothing“, we are breaking the third commandment: “You shall not invoke the Name of the Lord your God in vain“. Why? Because Our Creator has already told His creation, which includes all of us, past, present, and future, that we are “Tov Meod” (very good).
The building of the Mishkan in this portion Terumah, happened chronologically after the incident of the Golden Calf, despite Israel’s failure with idolatry. In less than 40 days after they said: “we will do and we will obey“, they created a “god according to their likeness and image”. They had just seen the extraordinary manifestations on Mount Sinai where there was not the slightest doubt that there is only One God, blessed be He. Critically speaking, by “human standards” and by their actions, this people was not “tov meod”. However, the Eternal purposely placed this story Terumah in the Torah before that incident to show the world that Israel was Tov Meod despite her failure. This places the antidote before the disease, displaying Israel’s good characteristics before mentioning their mistakes, thus not removing honor from His people.
Tov Meod doesn’t mean that Israel was perfect, that she didn’t make mistakes, that she didn’t vacillate, that she was still dominated by her senses, or that she didn’t complain. I thank God because it is through my imperfection and my mistakes that I can come to know His Kindness and His Love toward me, I must continuously be corrected and seek to do teshuvah; as long as I am in this body, I will struggle with my inner soul that says I am very good – “Tov Meod”.
In this portion, I discovered the Divine antidote for our failures, no matter how great we consider them to be, so that we can move forward to tov meod and to be good people in a great way: First, Shemot 25:2n says “Daber el-beney Yisra’el veyikchu-li terumah me’et kol-ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et-terumati.” “Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing, you shall take My offering.”
דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי.
The greatest gift that God gave man is “bechirat chofshit”, free will, with which he is able to exercise his ability to decide. Often, like with the Golden Calf incident, a few decide for many. Here they were even forced to give toward the making of the calf as we read in Shemot 32:2-3 “and Aaron said to them: ‘Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me. And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.” When we make mistakes, it is as if we have lost our ability to choose; we obey our natural impulses, and we move forward to make that mistake, even though we know deep down inside, that it’s wrong. So, the first component of this “vaccine” is to voluntarily bring to God what He has given us by freely exercising our intention. He gives us back our ability to choose, starting with material things.
Then, He will ask us to present those materials that He has already given us for His service. We read in Shemot 12:36 “And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus, they despoiled the Egyptians”. We ALL have capabilities, gifts, and talents that the Eternal has given us for His Service. Let’s not be like those people who say, “I have nothing good in me“.
Many years ago, I read an article that struck me; I can’t remember where or who its author was, but it stuck in my mind. Allow me to paraphrase: “This is a story of a boy who got a bad mark at school one day and he couldn’t control those feelings that said to him: “I’m not good enough“; not only did the guilt and shame affect him, but he also couldn’t control his behavior. His mother heard about it and said to him: “I will not allow anyone to speak evil of my children, even if it is yourself!” As I read those words, I understood that this is how the Eternal is with us. When we place the holds on the capabilities that the Eternal has given us and we believe what others say about us (which boils down to Lashon Hara), we must remember the words of this mother, “I do not allow anyone to speak ill of my children, even if it is yourself”. Let’s stop thinking that we can’t, that we don’t know, that we don’t want to… Let’s change our vision, our paradigm.
There were 15 types of materials brought for the building of the Mishkan and in gematria the word fifteen is Yud Heh י ה (10+5). In Gematria every letter stands for a number and has a meaning. When we connect with the Divine Spark within, we can raise our self-esteem. Present your being to the service of the Eternal, no matter what the vision of yourself is; Remember He sees you as Tov Meod – very good.
Finally, let us build a Mishkan, a tent of meeting, for the Eternal to dwell among us. Note that the Eternal provided talents, materials, and the gift of free will, BUT WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for erecting the dwelling for the Eternal. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z” L, said, “The Tabernacle, a temporary structure, turned out to have permanent influence, whereas the Temple, intended to be permanent, proved to be temporary – until, as we pray daily, it is rebuilt“. When I read this, I thought: “Do not let appearances deceive you”. It is not about the luxury of the temple; it is not about the external aspect, or the materials used; the Eternal decided to live in a place that had characteristics such as humility and simplicity, (when we compare the temple with the tabernacle) and that the tabernacle, the Mishkan was made with those materials that the Eternal gave us.
How can we make this practical? The Eternal did not give me, Mauricio Quintero, the gift of being a good singer, but he gave me other abilities such as being a host who is hospitable. With what materials should I build my tabernacle? By exercising the kindness of being hospitable. If I want to deceive myself into thinking that I am a good singer and I want to serve the Eternal as a singer because that is something impressive and beautiful as others see it, I need to think of the pain it would cause the listeners, and this would not be the ideal place for the Divine Presence to manifest.
What supplies has the Eternal given you? The ark (the Aron) had secrets that were contained within; it was in the place of residence in which a curtain separated the area that is holy from the especially holy where the Creator would present Himself; this inner Holy of Holies contained various symbols; it was built with an outer layer of gold; it contained a box of acacia wood lined inside and out with gold. At the top of this structure were two cherubim pointed towards the center of the Ark representing the close relationship of a father with his sons, and within it were contained the ten utterances delivered at Mount Sinai. According to Rabbi Abraham Ashkenazi, external gold is our conduct towards our community, family, work, society, etc. The aspect of our temporary nature is represented by the acacia wood with changeable parts representing personality and moods, and the inner golden part was the Divine Spark. The combination of these aspects depicts something so beautiful and practical…if we live by His Ten Commandments, we will have a very high internal value that will manifest as gold on the outside, even though we are as temporary as acacia wood, and it will lead us to be as close as a father-son relationship with the Eternal.
Today, I call us all to reflect, although we are not perfect, remember, we are good. Do not allow anyone to define who you are; in the eyes of the Eternal, you are TOV MEOD, VERY GOOD and UNIQUE. What we are doing here is erecting a house of honor so that the Eternal can dwell in our midst.