The haftara for Parashat Beshalach is the story of the prophetess Devora and the war Benei Yisrael successfully waged under her leadership against the Canaanites (Shoftim 4-5). Devora is introduced in the opening verse of the haftara (4:4) as the wife of a man named “Lapidot,” a word which means “torches.” The Midrash (Eliyahu Rabba, 9) explains that Devora’s husband was given this name because of a unique contribution that he made. He was ignorant of Torah, the Midrash relates, and Devora suggested to him that he bring wicks to the Mishkan that would be used for illumination, and this way he would earn a share in the next world. The Midrash tells that Lapidot made especially thick wicks in order to increase the amount of light they would produce, and he brought them to the Mishkan. In commemoration of this unique mitzva which he performed, he was named “Lapidot,” alluding to the torches which burned with his wicks, illuminating the Mishkan.
The Midrash, reflecting on this story, comments, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses that whether a Jew or gentile, man or woman, servant or maidservant – in accordance with the actions one performs, so does the sacred spirit rest upon him.”
The story of Lapidot is told to instruct that each and every individual has the ability to “illuminate” the world in some way, however, small, and thereby earn “the sacred spirit” and his or her eternal reward. Lapidot was simple and unlearned, but he found a way to shine, to contribute, to give and to have an impact. And thus the Midrash shows us that no matter a person’s background, character and natural limitations, he or she has the capacity to make a meaningful contribution. This story also shows the importance of extending to one’s fullest and striving to excel in whatever he involves himself with. Once Lapidot decided to take upon this project, of making wicks for the Mishkan, he set out to do it in the best possible way, making the wicks especially thick, thereby enhancing the illumination in the Mishkan. In performing any task, big or small, we should aspire to do the very best job we can, and adhere to the highest standards.
No less significantly, the Midrash describes Devora as urging her unlearned husband to make his contribution by bringing wicks to the Mishkan. She did not complain about his ignorance of Torah, nor she ridicule or disrespect him because of his ignorance of Torah. What’s more, she did not even urge him to study, perhaps because she recognized that he was not suited for scholarship. Instead, she encouraged him to “shine” in a manner that was right for him. Rather than bemoan her husband’s lack of academic skills, and look down on him because of it, she instead identified his potential and encouraged him to use it to its very fullest.
The Midrash here teaches that instead of criticizing or disrespecting people for the qualities they lack, we should instead identify the qualities they have that could be used to “illuminate” in the world. In educating our children, particularly, we must ensure not to pressure them to try to accomplish what they are not cut out to accomplish, to be somebody whom they are not cut out to be, and instead help them find their special way to shine and bring more light and joy to the world.