Dwelling in Holiness

This year, I noticed that Torah gives us this awesome counterpoint of time – moments and metaphors spinning around themselves and overlapping.

Over the last several weeks, the Torah readings have focused on the building of the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting) – the place which will be home to the menorah, sacrificial altar and Ark of the Covenant for centuries, until Solomon eventually builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

Midrash compares the Tent where God’s Presence resided to the human body – the supporting beams were like ribs; the woven curtains the skin; the table with showbread the stomach. Going a bit deeper into metaphor, the menorah represents our intellect;  the seraphim (angels) whose wings spread over the Ark are our lungs; and the Ark itself is our heart.

Inside the heart? Well, the Ark had the Tablets of the Law – both the whole set, but also the broken set. Inside our own heart we can find those same commandments – some broken in all of us, no matter how diligently we try to adhere to them, and others whole.

At the end of the book of Shemot/Exodus, we read:

“When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle…”

Similarly, we can be filled by God’s Presence. In our finest moments, I believe we are.

The same portion tells us that,

“In the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Tabernacle was set up.”

…and hey, it’s kind of funny, but Tuesday will mark the first day of the first month – Rosh Chodesh Nisan! This isn’t some cosmic coincidence either. The Jewish calendar and the Torah reading cycle cause this to occur just about every year.

What you realize is that the Israelites have been out in the wilderness, camping at the foot of Sinai for 2 years. That they have finally gotten over their abusive past as slaves and begun to build a holy home for themselves and God.

And what are we doing? Well 2 weeks from now we’ll sit down at our table, and retell – re-LIVE in fact – the story of our slavery and journey to freedom.

Between now and then, between the building of our Mishkan and the retelling of our troubled past, comes the cleaning. Many of us are in a frenzy right now, trying to clean out the chametz from our homes. “Chametz” has come to mean “stuff that has flour in it”, or just plain “bread”. But it really refers to things with leavening, things that rise. At the heart of the issue, however, is the fact that “chametz” comes from the Hebrew word for “sour”. You get rid of leavening because it sours what it touches.

So in effect we are being told to set up our Mishkan – our holiest selves – in a time and place and way that affirms our whole-ness.We then have 2 weeks to clear it of those things that sour our dwellings.

Then and only then can we look back through the lens of experience to a troubled time. We will be able to see and even plunge ourselves back into the experience of Exodus, because we are anchored in the present (whether that present time is the 2-years-later of the Israelites in the newly-erected Mishkan; or our present time where we are further from that incredible dwelling but still just as blessed).

We sit in our tent surrounded by God’s Presence, knowing it will be – that it actually IS – all right.