Avoiding Chaos - Mishkan Part 2

As I wrote in a previous piece, I believe that the Mishkan represents a constantly deconstructed and reconstructed story, approach, framing of a situation, or narrative about one's life. It is an apt metaphor for the way in which a person's life can coalesce around a particular theme, or issue, or relationship, or trait, or heuristic, for a certain period of time, and then at some point (often unexpectedly) that theme, or issue, or relationship or trait no longer sufficiently frames or explains that person's life. It is, all of a sudden, a story built of empty words. At such a time, a person could continue to insist that that theme, or issue, or relationship continues to explain what's going on, and that person could double down and try to force it to retain its relevance. This can be compared to someone who insists on worshiping Hashem in the place where the Mishkan used to be, though it has since moved on.

Instead of fixating, there is a skill in learning how to allow that story to unravel, to lose its cohesion, for the sake of a greater cohesion.

But that period in-between, before the next story takes hold, is risky – so risky that, for some people, the possibility of rebirth, rejuvenation, reinvigoration, a new and inspired sense of direction, an updated sense of self, etc. are simply not worth the risk. Outside of the old story is chaotic and unknown, and therefore order is worth clinging to, regardless of how stale or self-defeating it might be.

So, to truly open up into a new story is first to open up into chaos and the unknown. Though we will discuss later how we can preemptively scaffold an experience with a story in order to give it form and direction, that is but one among several approaches to this process. What I want to discuss here is the high-level skill of joyfully and courageously engaging with the chaos/unknown with the intention of allowing an unanticipated new story to emerge and take hold.

Shaul's story stands as a fantastic example of the lack of this ability. From the end of the story, we know the beginning – Shaul was unable or unwilling to stand his ground in the face of the desires of his people. Certainly that character flaw existed from the beginning, and we see intimations of that throughout the story (Shmuel 1 10:27; 13:11; 14:45, etc.) We can easily say, looking back, that Shaul was probably operating within the story of “I have to be kingly the way the people want me to be kingly” and he should have been working within the story of “I have to be kingly the way God wants me to be kingly.” If only he'd known that, he could have engaged with the very scary, chaotic question of how to be king like God wants.


Well, actually he did know. Shmuel told him, way back at the beginning. In Shmuel 1 13:14, after Shaul caved to the needs of the people and prematurely brought an offering that Shmuel had told him to wait on, Shmuel then tells him:

וְעַתָּה מַמְלַכְתְּךָ לֹא תָקוּם בִּקֵּשׁ יְדֹוָד לוֹ אִישׁ כִּלְבָבוֹ וַיְצַוֵּהוּ יְדֹוָד לְנָגִיד עַל עַמּוֹ כִּי לֹא שָׁמַרְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְדֹוָד:

And now, your kingship will not last. God has sought a man after His own heart, and God has commanded him as a leader of His people, for you have not kept what God commanded you.

Like Shaul, we are rarely without clues. Looking back, we can see that we've fixated on certain stories the whole time, and herculean efforts to get our attention to some other story we should be focusing on, some other way of looking at things, we have simply plowed ahead, and ignored those clues.

And of course we ignore them! It is dangerous not to! After all, we may ask ourselves “Who would I be if I wasn't playing x part in y story!” And the answer to that question is just too scary.

So, we harp: “I haven't gotten married yet because I just haven't met enough people” instead of “I haven't really figured out what I'm looking for in a partner yet, and I am sure that is coming through when I go out with people.” “This job isn't working out because I'm not good enough at it,” instead of “I have to stop being afraid of looking for a new job.”

We, of course, are afforded the choice of remaining fixed on those stories. My suggestion is that no such choice was afforded with the Mishkan. Its constant deconstruction and reconstruction of the Mishkan brought with it an automatic collapse of whatever story we had going on at the time, whatever way we had of explaining what was happening to us and why, or what its all about. All of that would be taken apart as the Mishkan was taken apart, and then we'd be in that liminal space between stories until the cloud stopped and started to slowly build the new story again.