We have just come down from Sinai, and are still trembling from the encounter. We have fallen in love and now need to feel God’s presence in the wilderness. But we have to come down off that mountain and go to work, and deal with the nitty gritty details of life. What to do with that transformative inspiration? The answer given here: We give gifts of our heart, and take gather pure materials, and make something of beauty: a portable sanctuary for God to dwell in our midst, the Mishkan. So our help can come in these material details, but be careful, herein lies a trap too! (more later)
In the Hebrew translation, God commands us to build a place for God to dwell “within us”. And that box, built for our pact with God is to be plated with gold within and on the outside, and guarded with “k’ruvim” Golden creatures. What’s up with that? How can God dwell in that Miskkan? What’s with all the gold? and aren’t those golden K’ruvim some of the gravenst images you’ve seen? And what does that have to do with God dwelling within us? Maybe a story can help explain!
Many years ago, in a shtetl in Eastern Europe lived a son, the eldest in his family named Dovid. Now Dovid was tired of mundane chores, he was hungry for ultimate truths, and so wanted to find God. So he packed his few belongings, and explained to his tearful parents, and said he’d return one day. Dovid had heard of a wonderful wise Rebbe in a town further down the road and thought, surely he can show me where to find God. And so he walked many days until he came to Reb Yitzhak’s home. He explained to the Rebbe his quest: Please Rebbe, help me to find God, can you teach me the secret? The Rebbe replied, Of course, but first, do you have a place to live. You must not be a stranger here. Acquire for yourself a home, and then return to me!
Well, Dovid had little money, so he went to the clearing and gathered some wood, and sought a carpenter to borrow tools. The carpenter lent him tools, and advice, and in a short time they became friends. He hammered and sawed and soon had a frame. Several townspeople came to help him raise it, and soon Dovid not only had a crude shelter, but several friends as well. So he returned to the Rebbe. I have done as you asked and built my home, said Dovid.Please, Rebbe, tell me the secret, where can I find God. The Rebbi smiled: Wonderful, he said, but you still are not ready. Go out and find a job, earn your keep, and then return to me and I will tell you this secret. Well, Dovid was frustrated, but what could he do? He went into town, where he’d seen a sign for a baker’s assistant, and asked for the job. Another worker in the shop recognized him from the roof raising, and vouching for him, the baker hired Dovid. He worked hard, long hours, but became adept at making all kinds of breads and confections that he was very proud of. He also came to know many of the customers in the shop and was able to save a few coins. At this point, Dovid returned to Reb YItzhak. I have done as you asked and earned my keep. Now, Rebbe, can you tell me where to find God? The Rebbe smiled, You have done well, my son. Still, you are not quite ready. Dovid grew flustered: What more must I do to be ready, he exclaimed! Ah!, said the Rebbe, you must get married. What!? cried the young man. Where am I going to find a wife? But Dovid, not knowing what else to do, told the Rebbe he would try.
Well, he had noticed a lovely young lady shopping in the bakery each Thursday, and so he bought her flowers, and asked if they could walk in the park together one day. She blushed and said she would like that very much. And so they began to see one another, and tell each other of their hopes and dreams. They fell in love. Dovid did not know such happiness was possible, that another soul could touch his so deeply. So after awhile they married, and lived in happiness in the little home he had built. Dovid lived each day as if it had been created just for the two of them, and after awhile returned to the Rebbe. Rebbe, I have done as you asked and found a wife, now can you tell me the secret? he pleaded. The Rebbe replied with a smile and shake of his head that Dovid was still not ready. This time Dovid also smiled, and sighed as he asked what more he had to do. You must have children! Replied the Rebbe. So Dovid returned to his home and wife, and very soon the Rebbe’s request would, of itself, become reality. Dovid’s wife gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl! And as he held these tiny souls in his arms, he felt depths of love rise that he didn’t know he had inside. He vowed to care for them and protect them, and soon his life became filled with the details of that care. Before he knew it they were toddling around his happy home, and another child was born. You’d think there was no more love to share, but magically it simply multiplied.
And so Dovid returned to the Rebbe. He was still surprised when the Rebbe said he wasn’t ready, because he didn’t know what else he could do. Go home and wait, there is yet one more thing you must do. You will know it when it comes. So Dovid went home to his family and his work. After some months a messenger arrived in town with difficult words for Dovid. His father was very ill, and requested his son to be near. With tears in his eyes, he made the journey back and found his parents. As he sat by his father’s side and told him of his life, his home and job and family – grandchildren!, his father smiled deep in his eyes. I can be gathered to my kin in peace and happiness, now. sighed the old man. And when his father passed away, Dovid did not know the depths his sorrow could find. And yet after time, what remained were the lessons, and the memories, and some peace replaced the sorrow.
After this he again returned to the Rebbe. Yes, my son, now you are ready. You have already found the secret along your way. You find God in the connections you make to other people that fill your life. In their love and support, in the depths of your soul, in caring, there is God! Dovid at first was annoyed at this answer, but slowly he began to understand the Rebbe’s words. He smiled as he remembered his wife and children, his friends and his father, and he knew the Rebbe was right! And now, said the Rebbe, I grow old and tired. I wish to travel to be with my grandchildren, and will leave this town. Dovid was appalled! No, Rebbe, you can’t leave! Who will help people? Who will show them where to find God? The Rebbe smiled again, I was hoping you’d ask! Dovid you now know the secret. You have lived your life building loving connections to people in this town. It is you who can now take my place. Dovid did not know if he could, but he pledged to the Rebbe that he would try. And now when young men and women wander into town and find Dovid and ask him for help to find God, he asks them Tell me, do you have a place to live? (I first read this wonderful story of our tradition in a telling by R. Ed Feinstein.)
So back in the wilderness, following Sinai, the children of Israel need to hold on to inspiration. So they build a home. It takes a community to do that and gifts of their heart, and purifying metals and colors from the wilderness around them. In those connections between them, God can dwell within them. The pure gold lines the aron, the ark of the pact, inside and out, just as purity can line our hearts inside and out. And it is in our hearts that our pacts to one another and to God can live. It is a good thing to long for God and spiritual connections, but watch out. In purifying gold and other metals, and in building to make the Mishkan, we can forget what we were after. It’s the connections between us, not the material things. The gold of the k’ruvim becomes the gold of the calf that iat so is the trap of the golden calf. And the only way to fix it is to have our heart golden inside and out, to BE the mishkan, the dwellingplace of God! A few words from Debbie Friedman’s “It’s You” My Heart has opened, since there’s You.