Motivated for A Cause: From Girl Scout Cookies to the Life of Temple Emanu-El

Parashat Vayakheil-Pekudei

Delivered at Temple Emanu-El on March 9, 2018

If you haven’t noticed, we are in the full swing of Girl Scout Cookie season — a time when driven young ladies may have their first experiences at asking strangers and family members for something. I mean, who can say no to an articulate little girl asking you to buy some delicious cookies! 

When I was about eight-years-old and in Brownies (I never made it to the coveted rank of Girl Scout) I was, what some might categorize as….slightly competitive. I HAD to sell the most cookies. So I went door to door through my neighborhood and the ones near my house and cubicle to cubicle at my dad’s office. All in all that year, I sold 412 boxes of cookies, and I only stopped because my parents said it was getting to be too much.

My poor parents. As I walked up and down the aisles at my dad’s office, his fellow employees would dart to the bathroom, or try to get to another cubicle row because they knew they couldn’t say no to me. I looked them dead in the eye as I reached out for a handshake and said, “Hi, my name is Rachael Klein, I’m Jeff’s daughter from the civil, environmental department, and I am selling girl-scout cookies to support my troop. You can buy one box for $3, two for $6, and three for $9. How many boxes will you be taking today.” 

Now don’t get me wrong, my parents loved watching the selling part, but the delivery was another story. We now had to pick up 412 boxes of cookies; we had to fit them into the car, and, since I couldn’t drive, my parents had to schlep me door to door and cubicle to cubicle to deliver the boxes.

In no uncertain terms, it was excessive. But boy was I motivated: Motivated to do something for my community — help my troop reach their box goal, motivated to better my business skills, and I was motivated to be #1 and sell the most boxes.

In this week’s double portion, Vayak’heil-P’kudei, the Israelites worked as a motivated people. They were motivated by the fear that continued to push them forward having recently left Egypt. They were motivated by their desire for freedom and they were motivated by a yearning to thank God for getting them this far and forgiving them along the way. In fulfilling their motivation for thanksgiving, though it was at God’s request, they were tasked to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle. To accomplish this goal, the Israelites worked as individuals and as a community to build the Mishkan for God. Accordingly, Moses asked for donations and skilled workers to help with the building. Those who were so motivated could step forward to provide their skills and materials to the cause. Together, they were going to build the communal location where the priests would sacrifice on behalf of the community and where Moses would speak to God — this was now the place where the Divine Presence would dwell. 

Regarding those skilled and motivated workers, our text shares:

וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ

Every person, whose heart so moved them, came forward (1).

But, as Ramban points out, the use of the word heart, really means skilled worker. The text is saying, every person who is skilled, they came forward. 

 וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נָדְבָה רוּחוֹ אֹתוֹ 

and whose spirit so moves them, they came forward as well.

וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים עַל־הַנָּשִׁים כֹּל נְדִיב לֵב

All the men AND women whose heart moved them came forward (2).

Everyone was working together, men and women. Anyone who had a skill, anyone who had in their possession the specific colors and textiles, our Torah says that they brought it forward. 

Our 12th-century commentator, Ramban, has lots to say on the topic. In one comment he notes that “Artisans who were skilled in performing tasks but had never trained others to do so, now became skilled at teaching their art” (3). Those Israelites who had the skills to do, but had never necessarily had the skills to teach what they do, now they were able to share their methods with those who were willing to learn.

As the story continues, the Israelites were bringing so much to the Tabernacle, that Moses had to put a halt to the communal collection. Moses had to declare to the people that they had brought more than was needed and he stopped the Israelites from bringing more gifts to the Mishkan. The Israelites were SO motivated to do something for the community, for God, that they had to be told to stop.

There are only so many causes that we would work and work and work for until someone told us to stop. At eight years old, that cause was my Girl Scout troop and cookie sales. For the Israelites the motivation was a communal project to serve Adonai. Today, that cause for us is the Jewish life of our Temple Emanu-El community. This is a place where the Divine presence dwells. This is a place where our prayers have replaced the sacrifices and is, therefore, a space for discovering Jewish prayer, ritual, and observance. This is a place where we foster Jewish identity. This is a place where we empower Jewish learning. And, Temple Emanu-El is a place to nurture Jewish values. 

Each one of us has a skill to bring to this community. Each one of us is motivated in different ways to make real our vision for Temple Emanu-El. Take the work of one of our congregants, Libby Pollock, who has been involved with our Caring Committee for the last ten or so years. There are so many wonderful people involved with this committee, thank you for all that you do. Libby has been a part of a team that makes calls to congregants experiencing a transition in their life: the death of a family member, engagements, marriages, babies, and more. She helps coordinate food deliveries when needed and provides that sense of community and family in hard times and in times of celebration. Libby shared with me that she is motivated to do her work because she feels like it is her way of giving back and contributing to the sense of family that she feels through her involvement with Temple Emanu-El.

Or take the work of another congregant Danny Summerfield who has helped to reshape our brotherhood utilizing his people skills to build connections and organize some awesome activities. In conversation, Danny shared with me that he was motivated by the building energy surrounding Temple Emanu-El. He is proud and excited about the direction of the synagogue, he felt like he had some energy left in the tank to give, and so he wanted to put that energy toward’s Temple Emanu-El and the brotherhood. Finally, if you’ve ever walked in through our administrative entrance and noticed that the blank bulletin board has been filled with decorations to match our holiday calendar, that would be the work of Cheryl Miller, whose skill for arts and crafts have filled an otherwise empty space in our synagogue. Cheryl loves doing Judaic crafts and told me she was motivated by the ability to bring smiles to the faces of Temple Emanu-El families as they enter our doors. She’s also passionate about the concept of hiddur mitzvah, of beautifying a mitzvah. We see her decorations as a way of beautifying our upcoming holidays.

If like the Israelites stepped forward for their Mishkan, every person in this congregation came to us with a skill to further the mission of this institution, to continue to build a congregation of thought-leaders, spiritual seekers, and engaged Jewish change-makers, then the sky is the limit on what we can accomplish. So don’t just think about those skills tonight, act on those skills tomorrow, next week, next month, and all year. And by the way, if you are feeling unmotivated, consider this an open invitation to come and find me and meet so that we can work toward something together. Let’s find ways for you to join in the building of something great, just like Libby, Danny, Cheryl, and countless others who have come to be a part of this community in the last 40 years of Temple Emanu-El.

In all that I do for a cause, I uncover what motivates me, and I seek to find the best ways to fulfill my motivation and further that cause. Join me and your clergy, your board, and the members of our community as we continue to build up this great congregation. Temple Emanu-El turns 40-years-old this year. We are visioning for this coming year so that we can strive to make year 40 the best year at Temple Emanu-El. Find your motivation and join us during this exciting time. Like the Israelites journeyed toward the promised land, working as a community along the way, the Temple Emanu-El family will have countless opportunities for you to come forward with your skills to help us build something together. May we feel God’s guiding presence as we go on this journey together, and may we find the strength, the motivation, and the Divine spark to help us on this path.

(1) Ex. 35:21

(2) Ex. 35:22

(3) Ramban commenting on Ex. 35:21–211