We were sitting around the table at Friday night dinner, eating up a storm. My step-grandmother Sandra made a scrumptious feast of home-baked challah, sweet and sour meatballs, delicious chicken and more. My twelve-year-old sister Mira finished her dinner quickly (since meatballs are her favorite). Sandra remarked, “I spent days preparing this meal, and it’s gone in five minutes!”
What a depressing thought! In the subsequent weeks, Sandra’s statement haunted me. While cooking on Fridays, I’d feel disheartened. Why am I spending the day making a nice meal that will quickly disappear?
In this week’s parasha, the Israelite tribes bring an offering to celebrate the completed tabernacle. The leader of each tribe brings the same present each day for a twelve day period. Members of the tribes surely spent many hours making the silver dish and bowl and golden spoon of exactly the correct weight, filling them with flour and oil for the meal offering, and choosing the choicest animals. I wonder how each tribe felt after their offering day was complete. Were they disappointed that the gift they had worked so long to prepare was past?
Whereas they may have thought their gift only lasted one day, their story is read now, thousands of years later, and will continue to be read long into the future. The offerings lasted far longer than they thought.
This idea reminds me of a midrash about the ram in the story of the binding of Isaac. In Genesis, when Abraham nearly sacrifices his son Isaac, at the last moment he sees a ram caught in a thicket which he offers instead. In the biblical account, the ram’s part is fleeting. He appears on the scene and is immediately killed and consumed in flames. Yet, in Pirkei de Rabi Eliezer, the rabbis argue that the ram’s role was not over. Rabbi Hanina taught that no part of the ram went to waste. Its dust became the foundation of the altar in the Temple. Its tendons became the ten strings on the harp of King David, and its skin became the girdle that the Prophet Elijah wore. The horns of the ram became shofars, one of which was blown at Mount Sinai and the other of which will be blown in the future at the messianic time of the ingathering of the exiles.
I’m unsure how the mechanics of this miraculous preservation of the ram’s parts works. Nonetheless, this fanciful midrash makes an important spiritual point – that our efforts may last longer than we think.
What is true of the offerings of the ram and at the dedication ceremony can also be said about dinner. I once cooked a brisket when my sister Mira was at my house. Mira told me, “You’re a good cook, so am I. We come from a long line of good cooks.” Mira inherited confidence in cooking from her grandmother Sandra to her mother Melissa to her and she will hopefully transmit that skill to her children as well.
Whereas Sandra thought the food she made was gone in minutes, it actually lasted far longer. The love and confidence contained therein persists.
So Sandra, I beg to differ with you. I don’t think the meal was gone momentarily. Like the ram, your cooking endures – perhaps even until the time of the Messiah.