Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sanctuaries, Safe Places, and the Work of the World (Portion Pekudey)

According to all that the Eternal had commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did all the work.  Then Moses looked over all the work, and indeed they had done it; as the Eternal had commanded, just so they had done it. And Moses blessed them.

Countless commentators, both ancient and contemporary, have noted the literary links between the completion of the mishkan, the Israelites’ portable sanctuary-tent, described in this week’s portion, Pekudey and the creation narrative in Genesis.  The mishkan is a microcosm, a world in miniature—a modest human echo of God’s grand design.

There is, however, a significant difference between the model and the thing itself.  With the mishkan, everything falls perfectly into place, exactly according to plan.  Later, even in the worst of times, when the Israelites rebel and fall and fail, this space remains a beautiful, safe, and secure shelter for the Divine Presence.   Would that this were true for the wider world!  As Rabbi Shai Held notes: “In reality - and according to the Torah itself - the world as we find it falls far short of God's hopes and expectations. Instead of a world in which human dignity is real, we live in a world in which barbarism and cruelty all too often rule the day, in which unspeakable suffering pervades every corner of the globe. . .”

So what do we make of the mishkan in a world so often gone awry?  Perhaps it is meant as a powerful and essential reminder of the way things were meant to be—and might yet become if we can learn to work together to create justice, compassion, and peace. As Professor Jon Levenson notes, the world is supposed to be just like the mishkan: "A place in which the reign of God is visible and unchallenged, and God’s holiness is palpable, unthreatened, and pervasive."

It is hard work to repair what is broken in the world—and in ourselves as well.  Sometimes we need to take time to renew our vision of what we are working toward.  We seek havens—sanctuaries—that remind us what we are laboring to achieve and why it matters.  Our experience of God and sacredness in brief moments and small spaces can restore our dedication to the larger effort when our strength, faith, and courage might otherwise falter.

This week, consider: where do you find the spiritual resources that fuel your efforts to bring healing in your life?  What are your sanctuaries?  And how do you take the wisdom and security you find in those times and places out into the wider world?

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