MISHKAN

Speak intensely to your children

We learn a great deal, in the first Rashi of the book of Vayikra, about the nature of the ‘call’ that went out to Moshe before Hashem spoke to him. 

ויקרא אל משה - לכל דברות ולכל אמירות ולכל צוויים קדמה קריאה לשון חבה (יומא ד' ויקרא ר') לשון שמלאכי השרת משתמשים בו שנא' (ישעיה ו) וקרא זה אל זה

And he called to Moshe - for all of the speakings and all of the utterances and all the commandments there was a calling beforehand, which implies affection, language that the ministering angels use, as is written, “And they call to one another.” 

Rashi, from the Gemarra and Midrash, explains that this calling happened every time, regardless of the type of speech that was about to be used. It is interesting, then, to consider, in the opposite direction, what was additional element might have been operative when Moshe spoke to the people. As Rav Kook explains, Moshe had to not only convey a specific message, he had to do so in a way that would have an inspiring effect on the listener.

וידבר ד' אל משה לאמר, צו את אהרן ואת בניו לאמר. כשם שה"לאמר" הראשון הוא מיוסד להגיד, שכח ההשפעה המקורית של הדבור אל משה הופיע ג"כ בהאמירה שלו, למסור דבריו למי שנצטוה להגיד לו את דבר ד', כמו-כן ביסוד   הצואה של אהרן ובניו, שיש בה משום זירוז מיד ולדורות, יעמד כח החיים של דבר ד' הראשון כאשר יצא מפי רועה נאמן לראשית קדושת הכהונה,בישראל, לאהרן ובניו. כמו שהיה מיד, כן יהיה לדורות, באותו רשם הקדש, בעוצם חיותו ועומק קליטתו באמונת אומן נשגבה. והרשם הזה פועל להגן נגד כל התרשלות, האפשרית לבא במקום שיש חסרון כיס, ופועל להקיש את רשם הדורות אל הרשם של מיד. "אין צו אלא זירוז מיד ולדורות. אמר ר"ש ביותר שיש חסרון כיס" (ספרא). 

The first 'to say' is there to communicate that the original effective power of the speech to Moshe was in force when he spoke to convey the word of God to those to whom he was commanded to speak. And the life-force of the original word of Hashem, as communicated by the faithful shepherd at the moment of the original sanctification of the Priesthood, continued to be in force toward Aharon and his sons in order to motivate them, immediately and for all generations. As it was at that first moment, so shall it be for future generations, with this very same impression of the Holy, in its intense alive-ness, and its deep capacity to absorb people into its great faith. And this impression acts to protect against all sorts of weakening which are likely to come when an endeavor is costly, and it also acts to position the impression on future generations as relate to the impression of the original moment. “The word tzav always implies urging, immediately and for future generations. Rabbi Shimon added that this is even more necessary when the act is costly.”

This particular lesson has enormous implications in the realm of pedagogy: It is of  essential importance that we invest our teaching - be it in the classroom or at the seder, or anywhere - with enthusiasm. That is what comes through, in the end. And this can help open up at least one portion of the Hagaddah.

As I have attempted to articulate elsewhere, in light of a teaching from Erica Brown, the Hagaddah is less the story of the Exodus, and more a series of stories about people talking about the Exodus.

Ostensibly, each one of these stories - the Bnei Berak Seder, the 4 sons, the person delivering 1st fruits to Jerusalem, and many others - represents a sort of Exodus in itself. In each, there is some Mitzrayim, and some Exodus, at least in potential. The Four Sons, for example, may represent a family and the need for that family to escape certain patterns that keep that family from the generational healing that Eliyahu the prophet is supposed to bring through the Seder. The bearer of the 1st fruits may be stuck in thinking it is someone else’s story, and he needs to make it his own. 

But what of the Bnei Berak Seder? What’s astounding about this story is that we have no record of what they said (outside of sporadic mention in other parts of the Hagaddah of the five men who were there that could, theoretically, be pinned to that Seder). Rather, we have the simple assertion that these five men, who knew SO much Torah, still enthusiastically engaged with the telling, to the point where they needed to be stopped. 

So what becomes remarkable about the story is not the content, not what they said to each other. Rather, we are left to wonder at the fact that, somehow, there was just so much to talk about. How? Wasn’t the material finite? Sure. but that’s just in one dimension. In this other dimension, driven by passion, enthusiasm, intensity - those things open up so much in the text. So we have an Exodus from the sense of the text, the story, the symbols, the possibilities as finite.

 

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.

 

 

The story of the Mishkan - Mishkan Part 1

I have written in the past about Shaul and his stories. Shaul is somehow so convinced that he has fulfilled Gd's command concerning the annihilation of Amalek that he simply refuses to compute the reality that he has not.

(יג) וַיָּבֹא שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ שָׁאוּל בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה לַידֹוָד הֲקִימֹתִי אֶת דְּבַר יְדֹוָד: (יד) וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל וּמֶה קוֹל הַצֹּאן הַזֶּה בְּאָזְנָי וְקוֹל הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ:

And Shmuel came to Shaul and Shaul said to him: “Blessed are you to God! I have fulfilled the word of God!” And Shmuel said to him, “And what is that sound of sheep that is in my ears? And that sound of cattle that I hear?”

And:

(יח) וַיִּשְׁלָחֲךָ יְדֹוָד בְּדָרֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לֵךְ וְהַחֲרַמְתָּה אֶת הַחַטָּאִים אֶת עֲמָלֵק וְנִלְחַמְתָּ בוֹ עַד כַּלּוֹתָם אֹתָם: (יט) וְלָמָּה לֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְדֹוָד וַתַּעַט אֶל הַשָּׁלָל וַתַּעַשׂ הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְדֹוָד: (כ) וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתִּי בְּקוֹל יְדֹוָד וָאֵלֵךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחַנִי יְדֹוָד וָאָבִיא אֶת אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ עֲמָלֵק וְאֶת עֲמָלֵק הֶחֱרַמְתִּי:

And God sent you on the way and He said to you, 'And you shall destroy those sinners, Amalek, and you shall battle with him until they are utterly decimated.' And why did you not listen to the voice of God, and you inclined toward the spoils, and did evil in the eyes of God?” And Shaul said to Shmuel, “I have in fact listened to the voice of God, and I walked in the way that God sent me, and I have brought Agag the King of Amalek, and I have vanquished Amalek.”

I wouldn't say that Shaul is an anomaly here. I think that we all get caught up in the stories we tell about our lives. The diffrence would be whether we can let go of those stories when they prove to be false, or incomplete, or inadequate. At such times, we should let the old story fall away to whatever extent possible, and then reconstruct a better story that holds more truth, promises more connection, gives us the greatest amount of impetus and room to grow, etc.

I equate the deconstruction and reconstrution of a story with the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Mishkan in the wilderness. When the Mishkan was in its state of construction, the people could engage in worship and sacrifice. The relationship to the Divine became localized and, to an extent, concretized. Based upon ideas we will explore later, each location in which the Mishkan was reconstructed was a place in which the people – as a whole, or as individuals, or both – had to navigate through some issue. In that sense, God, as the backdrop of that work, was accessed and accessible in a specific way. When the Mishkan was in its state of deconstruction, that accessibility and localization and specificity was elusive. At such times, one might have been expected to digest the inspiration and information of the last iteration, free it of its specific trappings, and consider its wider implications. It would have to become more conceptual or abstract in order to be useful in another iterations

Maybe it ended when it got too literal, when people felt they had control of the narrative. The infinite had become finite. The story-within-a-story had become the entirety. There was no more meta. Everything was immanent. Perhaps there is some correlation between when that happened and when the cloud lifted, the Mishkan was dissembled, the story was deconstructed, and the process would begin again, informed by the last iteration but not defined by it.

Shaul got stuck in his story. There was no other iteration, no next chapter in his life. No teshuva, no reflection. It is not surprising that he spend so much of the remainder of his life trying to eliminate David, as if David was to blame for the breakdown of his process of growth.