Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 5th Portion, Exodus 29:19-37, February 18, 2016

“For seven days you shall perform atonement upon the altar and sanctify it. Henceforth, the altar shall be a holy of holies. Whatever touches the altar will be holy.” (Exodus 29:37)
Rabbi Kerry Baker today, in discussing a passage in Leviticus that used the term “fixed times which you shall proclaim as sacred,” explained that work in Judaism has a different meaning than how we generally use the term.

Work is a sacred activity as is the sabbath. The Israelites worked to build the Tabernacle. Because of the amount of detail, they not only had to be mindful that they did it right, but in the process they created a community of 36 different professionals (and many more assistants). But this was just the beginning. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:2, “...there is a time to plant and a time to harvest.”

We see in the Torah portion the beginning of the time to harvest, sanctifying the altar. When you are done making a piece of pottery, the sabbath is your using the pottery. Work, explained Rabbi Baker, was, as Erich Fromm put it, “changing the world.” It is not less important than the sabbath. Our work is punctuated with time for prayer, and even the work itself, in the way that it binds us, is prayer (my words, not Rabbi Baker’s.)

In Bali, and probably many other places, after a new building is made, space clearing with the ringing of bells takes place. (I once took a workshop with Karen Kingston who does this work.) The cost of space clearing is figured into the cost of the building. This portion is about that space clearing, making the altar the holy of holies.

The Tabernacle doesn’t get that status just by knocking together some materials. It needs more to take it from just a pot pourri of pretty materials to a place where connections can be made with the Eternal. This takes seven days, as long as it took to create the heaven and the earth. It is no easy task. 

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