Thursday, February 07, 2008

Parashat Terumah: The Burden of Priestly Power

By Michelle Weiss
Verse Per Verse

Such a pity. I can barely see the beautiful embossings made of pure gold, as they are covered in years of blood from our ritual sacrifices. I remember my father describing to me what each carving is, its fine detail, and legends of the tremendous care that was taken in creating each piece in the Holy of Holies. But I've never really seen it. As long as I can remember, as long as I've been the High Priest, as long as anyone's been the High Priest, this room has been a place of holy duty, for our eyes only; a place of precise work and worship, not appreciation of art, even in the service of Hashem.

Exodus 25:2-7 '2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering. 3 And this is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold, and silver, and brass; 4 and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair; 5 and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia-wood; 6 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense; 7 onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate.'

I can only imagine what this looked like hundreds of years ago, before it was touched by sacrifice. Each carving so specific, made by the hands of devoted Jews, newly rescued from slavery, giving what was valued as wealth before we had the true wealth of freedom. The people were asked to give freely – whatever their hearts moved them to give would be accepted. A person could enjoy beautiful gold, copper and silver, the acacia wood, fine linens, the blues, purple and crimson strands and precious stones, but what is really a treasure is to be in control of one's own life. The sparkling jewels, reflective metals and woods, linens, and their time to create such wonders. It is a testament to the passion and gratitude they must have felt for being truly free.

Sometimes when I am preparing to enter the Kodesh Ha Kodesh, I think about the people making this place – our ancestors. I think about people working together, sharing tools, intently creating the most beautiful of designs to hold our most precious objects. They must have felt such joy in undertaking this holy work. Sometimes, I think they had more joy in making it than I take in seeing it. I can imagine them standing together looking at it when it was complete – fathers and sons, neighbors and friends, seeing their faces reflected in the sides of the ark, showing their humble pride at what they had wrought.

Exodus 25: 23-29 23 And thou shalt make a table of acacia-wood: two cubits shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. 24 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about. 25 And thou shalt make unto it a border of a handbreadth round about, and thou shalt make a golden crown to the border thereof round about. 26 And thou shalt make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that are on the four feet thereof. 27 Close by the border shall the rings be, for places for the staves to bear the table. 28 And thou shalt make the staves of acacia-wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be borne with them. 29 And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and the pans thereof, and the jars thereof, and the bowls thereof, wherewith to pour out; of pure gold shalt thou make them

I admit it – I get angry sometimes. Why am I so special that only I can make these sacrifices to Hashem, covering such beauty with blood? I don't even get to enjoy the craftsmanship, as I am so overcome by the stench of dead carcasses. I enter the holiest place, and I am terrified for my life before the presence of the Almighty, terrified to make a single misstep and suffer the consequences. The weight of this is too much for one man.

Sometimes, I even wish the Babylonians would just get it over with already. This is a loosing fight, and I don't even know that I want to win. I know, isn't that terrible?

But if the Babylonians fight us, maybe things will change. Maybe if the Babylonians fight us, we will stop sacrificing animals. We'll have seen enough blood that we will know Hashem doesn't need any more spilt for honor. The air will become sweet again, and everyone could see the terrifying beauty of the cherubim. Everyone could see the menorot, so beautiful with their almond blossoms and cups and spheres, making me think of a warm day in the shade with a cup of wine, when there is no stress, and your mind can float to the clouds. Everyone would be able to tremble before God and account for themselves. And everyone would see their face reflected in the pure gold, and know that Hashem is within them, too.

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