One of the things that we often hear in both political and social conversations is that the next generation is the first that will have less than their parents.
Our immediate response is “Oy gevalt, what is happening to the world?” But I’d like us to think about what that means for most of us here, because most of us have a lot. Our homes are quite large, we have more food than necessary, our closets are filled with clothing, and we are comfortable.
Now, I’m not indicating that this is true with everyone, or that I think that the next generation should lack. But I am saying that it may be ok, in our world, to have a little less.
Truth be told, our ecological foot print endangers the world. We have over built. Too much food is not healthy, and over consumption can be considered a disease. So it may be that the conversation around what we leave to the next generation needs to include considerations of other dimensions of value and worth.
Here’s what made me think of this: The Torah reading describes the completion of the building of the Mishkan, the portable and sacred space where God’s presence resided. In the descriptions of the building, there is a great deal of attention paid to the details of the work. The work on this project becomes the paradigm for the meaning of work for our people in relation to developing laws about Shabbat.
The rabbis teach that the word for work, melachah, is used in both the construction of the holy place and the creation of the world. And then they further imply that the creation of the world was not complete until the building of the Temple.
What are they trying to teach?
We might consider the following: We build “things.” But if our world was just made of “things” – material objects and possessions – we would probably destroy ourselves, as we have a natural desire to want more and more, build bigger and bigger, and own whatever we can. As a result, we create greater gaps between people and begin to only serve ourselves. But a sanctuary is a place of holy reflection. It’s a place that is meant to inspire humility and create bonds between ourselves and others and between physical beings and the spiritual dimension of life. It enables us to say “enough” and focus on other elements of being – relationships and love, respect and kindness, patience and joy.
Maybe…just maybe…where we are at this time in history, and the evolution of people, should force a new conversation. And that conversation is not about what we will leave to the next generation in terms of monetary assets, but rather what our country and world will be like; what our responsibilities to others will consist of; how we will use our time; and what we will give, rather than what we will get. Let’s talk about meaning and responsibility. Let’s talk about ourselves and others, and figure out how we speak together.
The Psalmist said: The heavens belong to God but He gave the earth to us. We have to make sure that the next generation is left with an earth that is sustainable and that people start talking about peace. That’s the melachah – the work – we need to do.
See you in shul.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Steinhardt