3/4 Apr: Tzav :Shabbat comes in 7:22 pm, ends 8:27 pm
Building Holy Spaces – Parashat Tzav
Has it been a year already? Parashat Tzav of 5779 (2019) was the Torah portion of my interview weekend, when I was interviewing for the roles of Rabbi at Hatch End Masorti Synagogue and New London Synagogue. I’ve been reflecting on this time as several of my friends have been gearing up for their own interviews and ordination ceremonies, which will look quite different in the age of Covid-19.
This time last year, I taught about holy spaces. Parashat Tzav is, after all, a parashah about a holy space: the mishkan (the tabernacle, which was later replaced with the Temple). Last year, I suggested that Parashat Tzav and the surrounding Torah portions are about the keva (fixedness, structure) of holy space, which exists in order to hold the kavanah (spiritual intention) of holiness. I compared this to the primary holy ‘space’ of Jewish life in a post-Temple world: prayer. The words on the pages are akin to the beams and posts of the Temple. They are the structures that hold something for us, something that is non-quantifiable, that cannot be pointed to. The keva is there to give us a space in which to work on that non-quantifiable sense of spiritual connection and intention.
I’m thinking about that again this year, as our concepts of holy space are once again shifting. There is a keva (structure) in the building of the synagogue, too: the beams, the bimah, even the bodies of other people occupying the same room. That rug has been pulled out from under us in a way that I could not have imagined just a year ago. We are no longer able to congregate in the holy spaces of our synagogue buildings. We are no longer allowed to congregate anywhere, at least on a physical level. We now have to learn what it means to build the keva of holy spaces without the material that we are used to having at our disposal.
The good news is that the 21st Century has given us new materials for building holy spaces through technological developments. They are not the same. It’s okay to miss our buildings and miss being together – God knows that I do. But they do allow us to build new spaces to fill with intention, consciousness, and holiness. And one of the rare blessings of this challenging time is the knowledge that we can still be spiritually close, even when we are physically distant.
Shabbat shalom Rabbi Natasha
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman