Today, with help from and thanks to Moreh Simon, I managed to connect the week's parsha with my favorite storybook character when I visited with the 4s classes as their Shabbes Guest.
In this week's parsha, Vayakhel-P'kudei, Betzalel and other skilled artisans were granted the privilege of building and beautifying the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary, that the Israelites carried with them in the desert. When we love something we want to take care of it, keep it safe, and make it beautiful. (Just remember how much fun it was to wrap your beloved newborn in that ridiculously expensive but adorable onesie that they would never be able to fit into again.) When we take something that God commands us to do, like lighting Shabbat candles, and make sure that our candlesticks are special and beautiful, we elevate the mitzvah. This is called hiddur mitzvah.
But my favorite storybook character, Elizabeth, the Paper Bag Princess, is anything but beautiful when she rescues her prince from the dragon that burned down her castle. She's dirty, her hair is tangled, and she's literally wearing a paper bag when she outsmarts the dragon and rescues her prince. Who immediately calls her out for not looking like a princess. At which point, Elizabeth wisely dumps him and skips off into the sunset. Elizabeth knows she doesn't have to be beautiful to be wonderful.
So, we should remember hiddur mitzvah and make an effort to make our celebration of the mitzvot as beautiful as possible, while remembering that even the things that aren't so beautiful are special, important, and valuable, too.
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