Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            Everybody likes brand new things.  Kids get excited about new toys.  Many women love a new article of clothing.  Guys just salivate over that new car smell.  This phenomenon is enshrined in Jewish law as well.  We say the blessing Shehechiyanu (thanking God for reaching this moment) over major new purchases.  On the other side, the tradition is that mourners don't buy new things.  The Temple was no exception.  When Shlomo Hamelech dedicated the first Temple in Jerusalem, they celebrated with a two week party.  So, we can understand the situation at the beginning of this week's Torah reading.  The Jews have just completed the Mishkan, the desert's portable Temple.  There is joy and awe at the realization of the nation's first building project.  Every member of the Jewish people donated to this endeavor, and, according to the Midrash, they actually participated in its construction.  The Midrash compares the unity achieved that day to the unity they experienced at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  Every great event has that one instant which encapsulates the entire experience.  In a battle, it's that moment the flag is raised.  In sports it's when the winning points or runs are scored.  I'd like to nominate my candidate for critical happening at this great event.

            First of all, I have to go back a few days in the story.  Remember this great celebration is the eighth day of the episode.  That's why it's called Shmini or eighth even though the date was the first of Nissan, first month of the Hebrew year.  For seven days Moshe had worked very hard to make sure everything was ready for the grand day.  He has drilled the Levi'im in the job of erecting and dismantling the holy site.  This reminds of the old days of circuses.  The whole circus community would arrive early in the morning, and a small army of skilled, muscular men would have an empty field transformed into a small city ready for a throng of amazed spectators by night fall.  At the center was the majestic palace of the big top.  Often this massive tent was the largest building in town for the week or so it sat there.  I'm sure the wonder of those locals was surpassed by the awe of the Jews in the desert, when this holy shrine was assembled before their eyes.

            Moshe also spent this week consecrated all the building parts, furnishings and utensils for the Mishkan.  This was done with proper solemnity.  Then Aharon and his family were sanctified.  This last project required them to immerse in a mikvah, be sprinkled with oil, and finally Moshe put some blood of a sacrifice on them.  This blood was placed on ears, thumbs and big toes.  The practice during this week included bringing offerings of animals and grain, and again all done by Moshe.  Moshe, with the family of Aharon, spend the entire seven days in the Temple precinct. 

            Finally the preparations are completed and the inaugural day arrived.  The entire nation is gathered before the new Tent of Holy Convocation.  If we could see the highlight reel of that extraordinary day, I believe that the first of the top ten web gems would be the following moment:  And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people (Leviticus 9:23).  Allow me to add: And the crowd went bananas.  This is the special moment.  This was the changing of the guard.  I don't know if it was as impressive as at Buckingham Palace, but it was more significant.  The people saw Moshe handing over the reins of Temple worship to his beloved brother, and there was overwhelming approval.

            That instant was so momentous because it recognized a crucial reality within Judaism.  The week of preparations under the tutelage of Moshe was like the experiment done in the laboratory under pristine conditions.  Aharon taking over is like taking the lab trials out into the world to make them work under real life conditions.  Sort of like the test drive on a track as opposed to taking the keys for a spin on the streets and highways.  Moshe is the professorial type working on the theoretical.  His expectations demand perfection, and he had certain severity that goes along with those circumstances. He is the man of truth. Aharon, on the other hand, is the touchy feely guy who has to deal with the masses and all the messiness that entails.  He's calm, cool and collected, and the people appreciated this wonderfully laid back personality.  Sort of like a character from the sixties without the artificial augmentation.  He's the man of benevolence and kindness, which entails the kinds of compromises which Moshe wasn't required to abide by. 

            So, with the Mishkan coming on line, we have a week of consecration.  This entails a sanctification which is unsullied and pure, without the messiness of the masses trampling through the facility.  Moshe could handle that.  Then comes one day of dedication, when the new structure was opened for business.  Aharon was perfectly qualified to be the new proprietor of the venture.  Moshe was in charge for the seven day period, which represented the unspoiled natural world as in the seven days of Creation.  Then Aharon took over on the eighth day, because eight represents things beyond nature when humanity works hard to put its mark on the natural realm.   

            The significance of this joint inauguration of the Mishkan was pointed out by Reb Menachem Mendal Shneerson (1902-1994), the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  He asked if Judaism can allow the coexistence of truth and benevolence.  Truth demands resolute objectivity.  Benevolence insists on subjectivity and compromise.  Can they reside side by side?  Aharon and Moshe proved that the answer is yes, and they did it over a forty year period.   In Judaism we have room for the theoretician and the pragmatist.  The instant we proved that point was that shining moment when Aharon and Moshe appeared together emerging from the holiness of the Temple to proclaim that we can all live in peace.  We must maintain that moment for ever.                                     

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