Biblical Blueprint for Holy Community
by Jhos Singer
This week’s parasha, Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38), closes the long stretch of Biblical blueprints and plans for the Mishkhan, which can be understood as God’s dwelling on earth and/or our place to form holy community. In either case, we are talking about the construction of an extraordinary and important place, a place whose assembly requires rare and expensive materials to be contributed by the Israelites. Somehow, this itinerant group of former slaves comes up with gemstones that aren’t indigenous to their environs, large quantities of gold, silver, bronze and copper, fine textiles, dyes, aromatic resins and oils, and an impressive supply of milled lumber. Suspension of disbelief? You betcha!
At last the building is risen and appointed, and it’s time for Moses to enter.
“The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and The Mystery’s weight filled the Mishkan. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the clouds rested on it and Divine energy filled the Mishkan. When the cloud would lift from upon the Mishkan, the Israelites would embark on all their journeys. If the cloud did not rise up, they would not embark, until the day it rose up.” (Exodus 40:34-37)
As human beings, we know how easy it is to get trapped in the trappings—whether material or spiritual. We all know what happens when a shul becomes a fashion runway. The ease with which we substitute fancy clothes, jewelry, trendy cars, cosmetics, business cards, status markers, and ego for tradition, spirit and service.
But what happens when the sanctuary is so full of “God” that we can’t actually get in? That’s called a “Spiritual Bypass”* and it happens when we leave our messy, damaged, scarred up, and stinging humanity at the door of the sanctuary. It’s the mistaken notion that the sanctuary is filled solely with bliss, where we will somehow be able to override our pain with ecstasy, rather than learn how to allow serenity and joy to live intertwined with our pain and fear.
The Mishkan is described as a place that we fragile and funky humans build— where God can dwell within and among us. A contained place, where we show up to be seen not for what we wear on the outside, but for who we are at our core; a safe space where we can explore our relationship to the Mystery; where we feel we are an integral part of something greater than ourselves. Along with fleeting moments of bliss, consider the bone-deep spiritual relief afforded to us by a community that accepts us as we are! Let us dance, and sit in shock, and throatily sing praises, and cry deeply. Let us feel numb and amazed, lost and powerful. Let us be generous and needy, and together let us celebrate the gifts of compassion and care, hard work and resilience, passion and patience that are found in a House of God that welcomes it all.
We become partners with God when we greet each other, welcome the stranger, introduce ourselves, ask for a name. We honor the Divine when we make room for each other. We build a house where God can dwell within and between us when we show up, resplendent in our humanness, ready to give and receive a helpful word, a kind smile, a hand to hold, and bounded honesty. And when that cloud lifts, we move forward, and together.
As we look to the future of this, our spiritual home, may we gather, build, and strengthen our community.
* a term coined in Buddhist circles in the 1980s to describe avoidance or denial of pain or discomfort.