From Insights and Inspirations
       Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
   Bamidbar 5764
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                                  Finding the Center  

                                                 Rabbi Binyomin Lipson

“And the Tent of Meeting in the camp of the Levites traveled in the midst of the Jewish people.”

(Bamidbar 2:17)

Why was the Tabernacle located specifically at the center of the Jewish people’s encampment? The Chofetz Chaim explained that this was necessary because the Torah was stored within. Just as the bima, on which the Torah is placed, is located in the middle of the synagogue, and the “Tree of Life” was planted in the center of the Garden of Eden, so too, the Mishkan which contained the Torah had to be located in equal proximity to each and every segment of the Jewish nation. Just as the heart, which provides us with a constant life force, is located in the center of the body, the Torah, which serves as the life force of the Jewish nation must always be placed at the center of our lives. Both literally and figuratively, we always place those things which are the most significant in the center, surrounded by everything else which is only of secondary importance.

In the course of our daily lives, every one of us is constantly forced to choose between a wide variety of possible options. No matter how much we may wish to, we cannot possibly experience everything that life has to offer, nor can we hope to  invest time and energy into one goal without at the same time taking away from something else. Unfortunately, we have all heard about people who upon reaching the end of their lives expressed regrets about not having pursued that which they knew all along was ultimately important. How can we prevent ourselves from falling into this same trap? How can we ensure that we are putting our resources into the areas which will give us the highest possible return on out investments?

The most obvious answer to these questions is that we must have our priorities straight. Usually, when we are able to define clearly what it is that we want, we are able to strive towards it and achieve it without compromising our standards or settling for less than we would have liked to. However, when we remain unclear about our goals and values, or we mistakenly try to achieve two different goals which ultimately contradict one another, we are not likely to succeed and will probably be left with a lot of regrets in the future.

One area in which we are particularly likely to fall short if our priorities are not straight is in the education of our children. If we hope to be successful at raising well-educated, mature individuals with strong Jewish values and identity, we must certainly consider far more than an institution’s location and how many members of our social group send there. It is said that the Chazon Ish often lamented the fact that while most people will never venture to decide even simple questions of kashrut without consulting the Rabbi, they thoughtlessly make all kinds of important life decisions without even considering to ask a question. Is the spiritual fate of our children of significantly less importance than the fate of a milchig spoon which was used to stir onions in a fleishig frying pan? If we wouldn’t dream of purchasing Pesach products that may contain kitniot, which are only forbidden by custom,  does it not make equal sense to exercise a similar level of caution in selecting the schools which they attend, the friends with which they should associate, and the types of media to which they will be exposed? Is the fact that a gan or youth group classifies itself as “religious” sufficient grounds to lay our concerns to rest and  to allow us to think that we have fulfilled our obligation? If we were in need of a doctor to treat a serious condition we would certainly not suffice with just anyone with the title Dr. on his calling card, and if we were investing our assets in stocks we would certainly demand to see reports of past years’ performance. Assuming that our children’s development as Jews is at least of equal importance, we should pay attention to treat it as such.

In addition to keeping the Torah at the center of our thoughts when selecting our children’s formal education, we must also realize that by way of the things which we treat with importance in our daily lives we are also teaching our children powerful lessons about life and helping them to arrange their own system of values by which they will eventually direct their lives. Our sages tell us that there are three principle factors which are the most about revealing about a person’s inner values; his cup, his purse, and his anger. Let’s just focus briefly on the last two.

The way in which we spend our money says a lot about who we are. Every  purchase that we make and the attitudes which we display when doing so give our children a subconscious message about what’s important in life. In the same way, the feelings that we express over a loss or profit of money make a lasting impression. In a similar vein, what we get angry over also says a lot and communicates lasting messages. If a scratch on a new car or a spot on a suit elicits a strong emotional response, a child quickly understands that these are very important matters which are worth getting upset over. On the other hand, if one conspicuously uses his money for mitzvot in the presence of his children, he helps to inculcate the vital message that spiritual achievements are worth far more than financial ones. Although one may wish to hide his charity activities from others, he should make sure that his children know very well what he is doing with his money so that they will gradually learn to do the same.

Like in any business venture, we cannot hope to be successful in life if our values are not clear. We must remember that the Torah rests at the center of the camp, in the center of the garden. In our own lives as well, we must strive to place Torah values and viewpoints at the center; the all-important considerations which lie above all else.    
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