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Not too long ago, as we walked into Lisa’s mother’s kitchen and sat down to have lunch, we noticed a man’s wristwatch on the table. The watch, which was over fifty years old, had been kept by my mother-in-law in her safe. It was a really old digital watch, where the numbers were separated one from the other by a metal strip. She thought if a new battery was put in, it might work. It didn’t seem like anything much to me and was truly a weird looking watch. But to my mother-in-law it was special. She was hoping that our youngest son Bradley (who like his father loves watches), would be interested in having it.  As I looked at the watch, I wondered if this retro watch could ever keep time that would be visible to the naked eye. It almost seemed like one of those old pieces that could only could have been kept for sentimental reasons.

As the story goes, Lisa’s father, of blessed memory, received the watch from a Swiss watch company as a gift for all of the work he had done for them. Lisa’s father passed away more than forty-one years ago, but because it was a special gift to her husband, my mother-in-law kept it in a safe place, with the coin shaped battery still inside. As I tried to play with the watch, I figured that it could never work, especially since the battery had never been removed. As I pushed the crown inward toward the watch the numbers did not light up. But sentimentality, even when the watch was not in working condition, was important both to my mother-in-law and to Lisa.

The first task was to try a battery that would work with the watch. The second was to install that new battery. To my dismay, the battery was no longer being made. With some detective work on Google, there seemed to be a possible but unlikely compatible replacement. To Lisa’s dismay, the replacement battery did not illuminate the crystal numbers.  So we took the watch to a repair shop; again to our dismay they too could not find a way to make the watch work.

For sentimental reasons, she wanted the watch to work, so she could have another beautiful memory of her father. So we left it on the kitchen counter. That night our son came home, and saw the watch. He was intrigued by the watch design itself and by the fact that it belonged to a grandfather he had not known. He began playing with the crown and with the back. Not too long later, a smile came to his face, as he saw the numbers somewhat come to life. He then asked, “may I have the watch and put it into my collection?” Lisa responded that it was her fathers, and that grandma had gifted it to him. One could sense his happiness in the illumination of his face, which clearly was much brighter than the dim numbers that appeared on the face of that watch. (Honestly to this day, I cannot see the numbers, even with readers on. But they can.)

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about sentimentality attached to items. Hashem tells Moses, now that you have received the Ten Commandments and Torah, you and the Children of Israel must take the next step. “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me, from every person whose heart so moves him.”  The Torah states in Hebrew “Veyikchu li terumah," it is not any gift, but one which you literally “take up” or “lift up,” and it comes from Me.” It is not any gift that fits that category. As our commentary in the Etz Hayim Humash shares: these gifts were not simply items in your possession, but ones “that were originally Mine,” implying the sentimentality of gifts that were originally those in God’s possession. They were the items of gold and silver that were retrieved by them from the Egyptians during the plague of darkness. “They were not to be used for personal benefit, but for the holy and transcendent.” As such, these items were quite sentimental not only to the people but also to Hashem.

The other day, a congregant showed me some of her most prized possessions. In those items were some of her mother’s Jewish possessions, including a menorah and a yahrzeit lamp with the bulb still intact. Each one on its own may not have been worth a lot of money, but the sentimental value was priceless. She also showed me a letter, that many years ago, was written by Rabbi Astor to her. Again, the words and thoughts…priceless.

We often joke about the fact that some of the items that were considered valuable and important to us today, our children have no use for. Many of us have fine China dishes, real silverware and crystal glasses that will never be passed down. But I wonder how many of us will take the time, to point out to our children what we do consider sentimentally important to us. Hopefully, one day they will hearken to the words of the Torah “veykichu li,” and they will elevate in stature these items and pass them on from generation to generation, just as we have done with the watch that now works.

Shabbat shalom.

Thu, April 25 2024 17 Nisan 5784