A Lesson from President’s Day by Amitai Glicksman

(2014/5774)

In this week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYakheil, an interesting anomaly occurs when introducing Betzalel, the craftsman responsible for much of the beautifully designed Mishkan. He is introduced as, “Betzal’eil, Ben Uri, Ben Chur,” “Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Chur” (Shemot 35:30). Typically, an individual is introduced in the Torah with his or her name and father’s name alone. Thus, the additional “Ben Chur” is seemingly extraneous in this case. Chazal explain that when Bnei Yisrael were crafting the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf, Chur was among the few to protest. He was ultimately killed by the people for resisting them. For this reason, Chur is honored and named in the Parashah.

This past week, on the secular calendar, we celebrated President’s Day, or Washington’s Birthday. I see President’s Day as a lesser holiday. Aside from a three-day weekend, no mail, and maybe a few sales at the mall, one has to question what it is we are observing. Usually, the name “Washington” is mentioned in the context of the city or state, not the individual. What role does George Washington play in our lives? To investigate, I decided to ask around, “Why are we devoting a holiday to President Washington?” Unfortunately, the most meaningful response I received was, “Well, he’s the father of our country.”

In reality, George Washington has very little to do with us. The fact that he was a Revolutionary War general and the first president of the United States a couple of centuries ago does not change the fact that he is no longer alive and unable appreciate any honor we bestow upon him. Hence, to reiterate the question, why are we devoting a holiday to President Washington? I believe President’s Day is not about Washington himself; rather, it is about appreciating his values, morals, and all that he stood for. Many of the values that were important to Washington are values that we cherish today, such as honesty, perseverance, love for fellow men, and standing up for what one believes in. For this reason, we celebrate the third Monday in February as President’s Day, a day on which we should recall and the values of the first president of the United States.

The example of President’s Day demonstrates why Chur’s name is included in this week’s Parashah. It is more than to just honor Chur himself- it is to serve as an eternal reminder of the values he stood for. Chur did not hesitate to stand up for what he believed in and knew was right, regardless of his decisions’ popularity. Challenging Avodah Zarah made him one of the first people ever to die Al Kiddush Hashem. Mentioning his name in the Parashah will forever act as a reminder of this great man, and, more importantly, as a symbol of what he stood for.

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