This week's portion teaches us the amazing idea that we can make everyday things and possessions holy by using them for a higher purpose. In the Tabernacle, gold, silver and other materials were made into the holy utensils which helped people feel closer to God. So too, we can make our own possessions holy by using them to do good.
In our story, some kids find out that the same stuff can have two very different meanings depending on how we use it.
Steve felt like he had to walk though the Wal-Mart sporting goods department every time he wanted to get to his closet. He'd just finished wading through the usual jungle of his brother's old tennis rackets, roller blades, hockey sticks and pads (regular plus goalie) and balls of every shape and size, when he decided it was time to put his foot down - that is if he could find any empty space on the floor where to put it.
"Lar-rry!" he yelled out in a voice that let his brother - and roommate - know he meant business even before he burst into the living room.
"Yeah, Steve - what's up?" Larry said, looking up from his book and hoping for the best.
"What's up is that I've had it!"
"I've had it with all that junk you've accumulated in our room - the sports equipment you don't even look at anymore, the piles of unused games. I want it out - and I want it out now!"
Larry tensed. His 'stuff' had been a point of friction between the two of them for a while now, and it seemed like Steve had finally reached the boiling point.
"But a lot of it is good stuff," Larry countered. "Maybe I am going to use it - some day. And besides what am I supposed to do with it anyhow?"
"That's your problem. Store it somewhere; chuck it in the dumpster for all I care, but if you don't get rid of that unholy mess by today you can forget about any math help for your midterms and forget about using my gameboy ever!"
Threats like that were too big to ignore. He had been counting on his math whiz brother to help him pull his grade up from a C minus to a more respectable B. To think things over without letting his brother know he'd 'won,' Larry stormed out the door in a huff.
He'd been walking for quite a while, not paying much attention to where he was, when he heard what sounded like a bunch of kids playing. He looked up and saw he'd wandered right next to the playground fence of the local children's home, where orphans and other kids who needed help all lived together.
Curious, he watched for a while and noticed that they hardly had anything to play with. A lot of kids were waiting in line to shoot just one worn-looking basketball and some others were playing street hockey, but only about half the kids had real hockey sticks. The rest were using what looked like broom handles or even just kicking the hockey ball with their feet.
'Funny,' he thought to himself. 'Here I am, not knowing what to do with all my extra stuff, while these kids...' Suddenly, Larry had an idea. He walked over to a man standing by the gate who looked like one of their teachers, and a few quiet words later, ran home, smiling.
"Um, Steve" Larry said to his brother, who was lounging on his bed playing with his gameboy.
"Yeah?" he raised a suspicious eyebrow.
"Can you help me load up all my extra toys and stuff into that old shopping cart we have?"
"You've finally come to your senses and are going to chuck the stuff out, huh? For that, I'll gladly help!"
The boys loaded the cart bursting over the top and Steve figured he'd follow Larry out to the dumpster, just to make sure the kid didn't chicken out in the end. He was surprised when Larry, walking fast, kept pushing the cart straight past the dumpster and down the block. Steve jogged behind to keep up and discover the mystery.
Soon he saw Larry stop in front of the gate of the orphanage's playground where a smiling man seemed to be waiting for him.
"Son," the man said, looking through the toy and equipment-laden cart, "you are going to make a lot of kids, who don't always have all that much to be happy about, really happy with this gift of yours!"
"Wow!" said Steve, blown away by what he'd just seen, and with a whole new appreciation of his brother. "Larry, I think you just took an unholy mess and made it very...holy."
Q. How did Larry feel when he saw the kids playing who didn't have many toys?
A. He felt sorry for them and wanted to help.
Q. How did Steve feel after he saw Larry give his stuff away?
A. He felt proud of his brother and that he had done something very good and holy.
Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. When Larry's stuff sat unused and scattered in his room it was truly being wasted and bothersome - however, when he took that same stuff and gave it to the underprivileged kids, it became a source of great kindness and happiness. It's the same way with all material possession - their true, spiritual value all depends one how we chose to use them.
Q. Does that mean there is something 'wrong' about enjoying our stuff ourselves instead of giving it away? A. Not at all. However, even as we enjoy our possessions we should try to do it in a positive way - by being careful not to waste them, nor use them to hurt others or make them jealous. By feeling gratitude to whoever gave them to us as well as to God, the ultimate source of all we have. Of course we should also keep in mind ways to let others benefit from our things, by sharing and lending them out, or as in the story, giving them away to others when we no longer need them.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think the way we use something has any spiritual effect on the object itself?
A. Actually it does. Our sages and mystics teach that everything, even 'inanimate' objects, possess a spiritual 'soul.' Though not as developed as the human soul, this spiritual part of every object responds to how we choose to use it - receiving pleasure when we use it to do good, and vice versa if we do the opposite. It is a deep concept, but the point to remember is that our decision of whether to do good, directly affects our souls, our possessions and the whole world.
Q. What does the term 'holy' mean to you?
A. 'Holy' has numerous definitions, however one which is central to Judaism but not very well known, is that holiness is achieved by the 'spiritualization' of the physical. We do not view holiness as something spiritual and physicality as being its opposite. Rather, the highest level of holiness is achieved specifically through partaking of physical life and all its pleasures, yet 'spiritualizing' them by using them in the way God revealed to us to through the Torah. The Torah teaches us how to become holy by making every aspect of our lives holy.