29 February 2008
23 Adar 1, 5768
This week I find myself thinking and speaking repeatedly about a phrase from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayakhel, that recurs, albeit in slightly different forms, over and over again: “kol nediv libo” – “every person whose heart moves him, every person of willing heart or mind.”
As we near the end of the Book of Shemot (Exodus), B’nei Yisrael begins the construction of the mishkan (tabernacle), the sanctuary in which God will dwell, that will travel in the center of the Israelites camp as they travel through the wilderness. This parsha, which repeats the instructions for the construction of the mishkan in painstaking detail, emphasizes that the materials for the mishkan and the sacred garments should be brought by “all the men and women whose hearts moved them (asher nadav libam) to bring anything for the work . . .”
Why is the Torah not content with telling us that all the people contributed something to the building of the mishkan? Why is it not sufficient that to teach us that Moshe spoke to “kol adat B’nei Yisrael,” to “the entire community of Israel,” emphasizing the unity and the participatory nature of the building process? The notion that this process of building is not merely the job of a hierarchical leader or of an elite few, but rather involves the entire community is a powerful message; yet, why does the Torah need to remind us repeatedly that people not only participated, but were in fact nedivei lev, of willing hearts and minds, moved by their own spirit?
The modern Hebrew word for a volunteer or the verb “volunteer,” mitnadev, is built from the same root letters as the word nadiv or nadav that appear in this week’s parsha. I spend a great deal of time with members of our community who are mitnadvim, volunteers – who contribute to our work with their time, energy and resources. This week in particular I have been struck by several meetings with these mitnadvim. On Tuesday morning, several passionate students shared with me their concerns that they would not be able to play a particular leadership role in our school’s Purim celebration. I suspect they felt disempowered precisely because they are so committed to building our school culture with their leadership, their ideas, and their spirit. On Tuesday evening, at our monthly Board of Trustees meeting, I was reminded of how important and special our relationship – between Board and Head – is; the Trustees, my partners, illustrated their commitment to building our community by engaging with me in a supportive yet challenging and reflective dialogue about our mission and our strategic decisions. After leaving school late Tuesday night, I arrived Wednesday morning for a meeting with a different group of mitnadvim, our Parent Liaison Committee, at which we reflected together on ways we can strengthen our community and live out our mission.
The conspicuous repetition of this concept of nedivut lev (willingness of heart) in this week’s parsha raises questions for me; this week, they have been answered by my personal experiences with our community’s willing participants in our shared building process. Genuine collaboration empowers the community and breaks down hierarchical power structures; but the values of volunteerism and participation extend beyond unity, buy-in, and the greater productivity that this democratic model offers. There is a deeper level than simply the time, energy and resources that our students, our parents, our faculty, and our Board commit to our building process. Here at Gann, I am blessed to work with people who are nedivei lev, whose work and whose commitment to our school are motivated by and infused with their spirit and their love for our students, our community and our mission.
May the building of our community, like the building of the mishkan, continue to be even more than participatory. It is this holy building process – moved by the intentions, the passions, the willing hearts and minds of the entire community – that elevates us from a democratic community to a sacred community.
Rabbi Marc Baker