Terumah: Birthright education

Terumah: Birthright education

Chabad of Fort Lee, Orthodox

In this week’s Torah portion we are instructed, “Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”. Rabbi Aharon HaLeviof Barcelona in his Sefer Ha-Chinuchrecords this mitzvah, and says that it applies only when the majority of Jews live in Israel, and when the messiah will come it will be once again rebuilt and observed. However, not everyone agrees with this opinion. The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher rebbe) is of the opinion that this mitzvah is a continuous obligation for all generations. Maimonides as well, one can argue, holds that “Make me a sanctuary” is a continuous obligation in all times and all places.

How would one fulfill this obligation of making a sanctuary for God in exile? The Tzemach Tzedek suggests (based on the Talmud and Zohar) that building shuls and houses of study constitutes the fulfillment of this mitzvah in our times. When one participates in building and supporting their shul or bet midrash they are fulfilling the instruction of “V’asu li mikdash.” That is why the shul and study hall are called “mikdash me’at,” mini sanctuaries.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe takes this a step further, and applies this mitzvah to each and every individual. He suggests when a Jew designates a place in their house for Torah study and prayer, they too individually participate in this mitzvah.

Jewish day schools are the modern mikdash, sanctuary, of our time. However for most Jewish families it is simply unaffordable. To be sure, there are many who understand the importance and are willing to sacrifice their lifestyle to enroll their children in a day school. However, many in this category are faced with choices that make them reconsider how large of a Jewish family they can build.

Although many schools offer scholarships in the most dignified way possible, for most families the process remains humiliating. Many cannot afford the gracious discount and remain stressed to meet the demands. Jewish education has become a luxury that few can afford. Some spouses are not in sync with their level of commitment or readiness to sacrifice to even ask for a scholarship.

Unaffordable Jewish education might just be the number one problem facing the Jewish nation today! Our children are facing greater temptations and challenges than they have ever in the past. They are exposed to every nonsense in society. It is enough of a challenge even with a Jewish education, to withstand the pressures of our secular world, the least we can give them is a Jewish education to assist them in the process.

One of the many beautiful elements of this country is that every child is entitled to an education by birthright. It was not always that way, but it is now so fundamental, that we wonder how there ever was a time that it wasn’t so.

John Adams in 1785 stated “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

We need to do to education what Birthright did for Israel, we can even call it “Birthright Education.” Imagine if every child was entitled to a free Jewish education from kindergarten to 12th grade? Perhaps it would not only make a stronger, more confident Jewish nation, but it would also multiply our numbers. We spend so much money, time, and resources to bring vibrancy, inspiration and enthusiasm into our Jewish community. Chabad on campus and other groups are doing wonderful work engaging our students on campus. Their work would be exponentially enhanced if every Jewish child was offered a Jewish education in their years prior. Some might argue that there is not enough money to support it. I would argue that money exists in exuberance in the Jewish world. Every politician campaigns around the Jewish dollar. Every imaginable cause has a nonprofit fundraising account. The problem is less about finding the money, and more about allocation of money and resources. We simply need to shift our mindsets from luxury education to birthright education. We need to shift the responsibility from the parents to the Jewish community. Implementing this idea is not easy but if we truly felt that we are responsible for every Jew alive, we can begin the process.

Maybe that is our modern day mitzvah, “Make me a sanctuary, so I can dwell in them.”

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