What Separates Boor From Mensch? Details!


I believe that one of the requirements of adolescence is that each generation of teens must find new and creative ways to annoy their parents and any other adult in the vicinity. In recent years, one such habit is the use of the word "whatever" as a response to almost any statement or question.

"Whatever" means "I have better things to do" or "Don't bother me with your pitiful little questions" or "I can't be expected to pay attention to such trivial details." But, as architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously reminded the world, God is in the details.

And details are important. After all, Israel and the Palestinians both want peace in Jerusalem, they just differ on the details. The teachers' unions and supporters of school vouchers both want excellence in education, they just differ on a few details. Entrepreneurs and identity thieves both want to make money, they just differ on the details of their approach. You get the idea.

Almost the entire second half of the book of Shemot is about details. For the past three weeks, in Terumah, Tetzaveh and part of Ki Tissa, we have read detail upon detail: the instructions for the building the Mishkan (the portable sanctuary), the ark, the menorah, the altars and its other furnishings, and for making the ritual garments to be worn by the high priest. In this week's double portion, we read them all again. These two portions essentially repeat all the instructions to tell us that they were carried out.

The Torah could have told us this in just a few verses, something like, "The Israelites made the Mishkan, its furnishings and the ceremonial garments just as God has commanded Moses."

Instead, we again read the description of each item, and that it was made according to instructions. In all, the Torah contains some 400 verses of detail about the construction of the Mishkan; in comparison, there are fewer than 40 verses about the creation of the world.

God's Creations Remain a Mystery
Why is this? Perhaps it's because we humans were to make the Mishkan, and God's acts of creation are beyond our understanding. But it also comes to teach us that details are important. God is in the details — and not just in instructions for building projects. If you can't be bothered with details — whether it's paying your bills on time, or remembering to change the oil in your car, or checking to see if you need to have your prescriptions refilled before you leave on vacation — you're asking for trouble.

God is in the details because it's often paying attention to details that defines the difference between a mensch and a boor:

· A mensch takes a moment to smile and say "thank you" to a waiter, a retail clerk or the UPS man.

· A mensch remembers the name of a co-worker's daughter, and that she is in the third grade.

· A mensch knows that his hostess loves tulips and asks for them in the flower arrangement he is sending.

· A mensch knows that her mother-in-law's cousin recently had surgery and calls to find out how he's doing.

· A mensch is someone who pays attention to all of these details because he or she cares about other people. Vayakhel-Pekudei reminds us that we can find God in the details; that rather than "whatever," we should respond to those around us with "Really? Tell me more."

Rabbi Joyce Newmark is a former religious leader of congregations in Leonia and Lancaster, Pa. E-mail her at: [email protected] earthlink.net.



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