PRINTS FROM THE JERUSALEM POST; BY GOL KALEV, APRIL 16, 2020
After a year of trial-and-error, the Hebrews built a Tabernacle – so that God could dwell within them (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
This week’s parasha describes the inauguration of the Tabernacle, which occurred a year after the Exodus from Egypt. That year was marked by various attempts to identify the appropriate conduit for connection with God.
Shortly after crossing the sea, in Marah, there was an attempt that might have been too abstract: “There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them.” This was followed by an attempt at Mount Sinai, which might have been too direct – a nationwide prophetic communication with God: “There was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.” This was evidently too much for the people, who pleaded with Moses: “‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’”
But when Moses went up Mount Sinai to do exactly that and receive the Torah, the people downstairs engaged in their own attempt – the making of a physical object as a conduit for their communication with God.
The events of the Golden Calf demonstrated that the people were not yet ready for a connection that is too abstract or too direct. A new route was apparently needed to be calculated. Indeed, Upon Moses’s second descent from Mount Sinai, he informed the nation of that new route: the construction of the Tabernacle.
Over the next six months, the people over-donated items toward its construction, building it precisely to the specification conveyed by Moses, which he received from God.
This time it worked. The Tabernacle provided an interface to connect with God that had the user-experience suitable to the state of the nation. After a year of trial and error, the Hebrews built a Tabernacle, so that God can dwell within them.
FOR THE next 1,000 years, they would engage in the ritual of sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple that replaced it. A high point of the animal sacrifice was a smell that emerged. That smell might have been a tool for the sacrificer to absorb the presence of God. The Bible describes it as reiach nichoch – translated as “pleasant smell,” but this could possibly also be read as “smell of presence” (spelled differently, but such spelling discrepancies are common in the Bible). At the end of the long, cumbersome and rather uncomfortable process of animal sacrifices, comes that smell that enables the sacrificer and those around him to internalize the presence of God.
Indeed, the Tabernacle and then the Temple were the conduit to connect to God, and a point-of-orientation to one’s Judaism. The Tabernacle stood right in the center of the formation of the tribes, maximizing its visibility and epitomizing its centrality to the wandering nation in the desert. Similarly, when the permanent Temple was built by King Solomon in its place, it rose to 120 cubits, as told in the Books of Chronicles (estimated to be roughly 60 meters). Therefore, it was likely seen from afar, underscoring its role as a central focal point of the Jewish nation.
The Temple lasted physically for about 1,000 years, and continued to live in the dreams and prayers of the Jews for the next 2,000 years while in exile. One dreamer described the Temple in his utopian vision for the renewed days: “The Temple will be visible from long distances, for it is only our ancient faith that has kept us together.” Indeed, for a 1,000 years, the Temple provided the tangible manifestation of Judaism for the Jew, regardless whether he actually worshiped there or not. It was the anchor that has kept the Jews together. Hence, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, they destroyed Judaism’s anchor.
Other nations that lost their anchor have evaporated, but Judaism stunningly did not. Instead, it transformed, adopting a new anchor – Rabbinical Judaism, centered around Halacha (Jewish Law) and the canonization of the Oral Torah. The prayers replaced the sacrifices, the synagogues replaced the Temple, the insular ghetto – physical or virtual – replaced the insular life in Judea, and the yearning to return to Zion, replaced the actual presence in Jerusalem.
Yet, this anchor of Judaism 2.0, has also faded. Over the last 150 years, the walls that confined the ghetto have crumbled and mass secularization of the Jews ensued. Yet once again, a historic transformation of Judaism is occurring.
THE INAUGURATION of the State of Israel on the fifth of Iyar is akin to the inauguration of the Tabernacle on the first of Nissan – the beginning of a new era of Judaism.
Just as back then, the Jews’ primary vehicle to connect to God and to Judaism was through the Temple, today, it is through the Jewish State. After 2,000 years without a tangible conduit, Judaism now has one: the State of Israel.
Zionism, the national expression of the Jewish nation-religion, has turned into the new anchor of Judaism. It is increasingly becoming the primary manner through which Jews meet their Judaism – both in the positive and negative. It has also become the main prism through which the outside world relates to the Jews, just as the Temple was back then.
The concept of “light to the nations” is rooted in the Temple. This is evident in the prophecies of Isaiah and description of the Temple in the Book of Kings. Perhaps it is in this context that the Egyptians “lent” their goods to the Hebrews shortly before the Exodus. The Bible stresses twice that it was a loan, even though it also makes clear that the exit from Egypt was permanent. We are told that the Egyptians viewed the Hebrews with favor, and therefore lent them jewels of silver, jewels of gold, and raiment. It would seem logical, that those items were among the massive stock that the Hebrews donated toward the construction of the Tabernacle six months later; it even fits the description. The Temple that succeeded the Tabernacle served as a beacon to the nations, including to Egypt. Hence, perhaps those items were merely a “loan” that were repaid upon their donation to the instrument that would beam light to Egypt and could provide the blessing their King requested.
In our time, Zionism has turned into this beacon. Through technological advances, medical breakthrough and cutting-edge social innovations, it sends blessings to the nations. Indeed, It serves in the role that the Temple previously did – as a light to the nations.
That light was beaming this Passover from the site of the Temple, as 10 priests, including American Ambassador David Freedman, conveyed the Passover priestly blessing from the Western Wall right into people’s homes via YouTube. It was also beaming on the Passover Seder: Israelis celebrating in solitude, due to corona restrictions, took to their balconies at a prearranged time at 8:30 p.m. and joined together as one in song and prayer. An estimated 93% of Israeli Jews observe the Seder annually, recounting God’s miracles taking us out of Egypt. This underscores that in this third era of Judaism, Jews are not only beaming light outwards, but indeed have an effective and relevant conduit for their own connection to Judaism.
The writer is author of the upcoming book Judaism 3.0. More info at JewishTransformation.com, and comments to comments@Jewishtransformation.com. For more of the writer’s articles: EuropeandJerusalem.com.
This article appeared in the April 17 Jerusalem Post Magazine. Click for PDF of the magazine:
Related Parasha commentary by Gol Kalev: