Challenge but satisfaction in working with a team

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Rachel will be contributing regular commentaries and d’var Torah reflections, which will be posted on the Jewish Light’s website,  stljewishlight.com — some of which will also be included in the Jewish Light’s print editions.

By Rachel LaVictorie

I realize the irony in this claim after last week’s article, when I voiced my difficulty with making decisions, and how I sometimes crave the approval of others. The truth is, though, I thrive on control. Probably due to some backwards logic, I like that if a project is successful it’s because of me. I am not terribly disturbed if it falls through the cracks—I’d rather be the one responsible.

Take, for example, any sort of group work. Right now I’m in an introductory management course at Washington University, a class taken by over 300 kids every semester. Within the first few weeks, we were divided into teams of four to five people. Each week, our team is responsible for turning in either case reports or homework problems—one copy for the whole team.

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Based on what I just told you, which of my team members do you think has all the files on her computer? Of course, it’s me.

Our first assignment was a case study on Wal-Mart. We each chose two topics to research and came together later in the week to begin the paper. I walked in to the study room, the last one to arrive, and put my backpack down. Immediately, I pulled my computer out and said, “I’m much better with writing than I am with analyzing business jargon, so how about y’all brief me on your topics, and I’ll write the paper. Then later, we can edit it together.”

We spent a few hours that day going over the different topics. When we left, I had a four-page outline typed up on my computer. It would be my responsibility to turn sporadic data and analyses into a comprehensive paper. I was comforted by the fact that the pages we turned in would be filled with my own words.

After countless hours of organizing, re-analyzing, fact checking, and writing, I had only four paragraphs to show for it. I couldn’t do it alone. It was too much. I contacted my group, and asked them to each write a paragraph or two for the specific topic they had researched. Then I would edit the paragraphs together to ensure our paper had one continuous voice. We got an A on the paper.

The truth is, a lot of us enjoy the stability that comes with our own personal control. If all the power is in your hands, you can never be thrown off-guard. This manifests itself in different ways depending on the person. Some need to wake up at the same time every day while others always have to be in the driver’s seat. It may be easier to do things alone, but what might we gain from letting others into our lives?

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, G-d instructs the Israelites on how to build a sanctuary. G-d says to Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering” (Exodus 25: 2). It is with all of these offerings that the Israelites will proceed to build a sanctuary for G-d.

Think back for a minute to the story of Noah. Believing that His people had become corrupt, G-d decided to flood the earth. G-d said to Noah, “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with compartments, and you shall caulk it both inside and outside with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). G-d gave instructions to Noah, and Noah alone. He would build the ark himself.

Now, in the book of Exodus, G-d is gathering all of His people to work together. Through Moses, G-d reaches out to the whole community. G-d says:

“this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, tachash skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense; shoham stones and filling stones for the ephod and for the choshen. And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst according to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its vessels; and so shall you do” (Exodus 25:3-9).

In the next two chapters, G-d doles out specific instructions: how to build a menorah, what materials to use for the roof, what table should be used to hold a showbread for G-d, and which curtains should be used for the Mishkan (or Tabernacle). Together, the Israelites followed G-d’s requirements. Having given their own gold, silver, copper, wood, animal skins, and other materials, they created the house of G-d.

There’s an intense power, a feeling of gratitude and pride in knowing that you have built something great. However, in this week’s parshah, G-d is showing us that there is even greater appreciation in working with others. Think about the potency of the completed tabernacle. Put yourself into the story of Exodus and walk into the lavish sanctuary, surrounded by crimson and gold, silver and blue, wood and stones. Each pillar, each table leg, and each inch of each curtain, once belonged to a member of your community. You built it together. You are all a part of the tabernacle. Even if you sow curtains or build tables better than the men assigned to do so, there’s a sincerity that comes from group work. You can all be proud.

When our professor handed back the case study, we all smiled because we all earned that A. It’s frightening and discomforting to trust others to do things you’re sure you can do yourself, but there’s also a satisfaction that comes with being able to do so.