Sunday was my daughter Hannah’s third birthday party (which came just three weeks after my son Jeremy’s sixth birthday party). My husband and I threw the same kind of party for my daughter as for my son. I baked a cake — shaped like Dora the Explorer this time rather than The Cat in the Hat. We had Hannah’s class over for a party in the back yard, just as we did for my son — with a Moon Bounce and entertainment.
Although the preparation, set up and clean up of my daughter’s party were the same as for my son’s, I found the experience much more relaxed this time. Making the cake for my daughter took me hours less than for my son, and the whole process felt less of a production. I wondered what had I done differently to make the event go so much more smoothly? I did the preparations exactly the same as before, so I could find no explanation for why things felt calmer this time.
As I repeated the party preparation, this week’s Torah portion was also a reprisal. The double parasha, called Vayakhel-Pekudei (which means: And he gathered-accounts), contains virtually no new information. The first portion recapitulates the commandment to keep the Sabbath and the instructions for fashioning the tabernacle — both of which have been previously explained in detail. The second portion simply tallies up the expenditures that were already spent in fashioning the tabernacle and its furnishings. This repetition is particularly puzzling because the Torah is normally sparing in its use of language.
In reading the parasha, I had a déjà vu experience — the weekly potion for my daughter’s birthday party was virtually identical to the one coinciding with my son’s birthday three weeks ago. (I wondered if I should just repeat the column I wrote that week!) Since the portion contains nothing new, I pondered why the Torah even bothered to include it.
Perhaps, however, the lesson of the parasha is to be found precisely in its repetitive quality. Often times, in life, we get things better the second time. When we read a book (or see a movie) for the second time, we pick up on nuances that we didn’t see before. My friend Michael teaches the same class to different groups of adults five times each week. He said by the fifth time, the session is fantastic — because he’s perfected it through each repetition.
Children understand this spiritual lesson far better than adults. Toddlers and preschoolers love to hear their favorite story over and over again. I’ve read “My Little People School Bus” book to my daughter multiple times a day for the last few months, and I now can recite it in my sleep! Likewise, my son likes to hear his favorite song on repeat for 45 minutes at a time — until I start to lose my mind.
As adults, we are far more wary of repetition. If we read a book once, we’re finished with it. We won’t go to the same show twice. Perhaps, there’s a spiritual lesson to be learned from children about the power of encore performances. On reflection, I think Hannah’s party went more smoothly simply because it was so soon after Jeremy’s party. We knew precisely what to do and therefore felt more relaxed. Indeed, the lesson from this week’s portion can be summed up with the great phrase from Casablanca. To really enjoy the music of life, just “play it again, Sam.”
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.