Thursday, February 7, 2008

Some light on this week's haftorah

The variety of ner tamid that hang in synagogues throughout the world is overwhelming. Some look like chandeliers that got lost on the way to the dining room, others look like they may have wandered out of the shtetl. Arnold Schwarzbart has created ner tamid which appear related, but each are obviously so unique. Sort of like Jews!

In this week's portion, the Torah recounts the details of the Tabernacle which the children of Israel were to build, a place for God's spirit to dwell. And over the course of the next many generations, from the desert to the conquest, through the period of the Judges, and finally to the early monarchy, God's dwelling-place in Israel would remain portable, impermanent. But this condition would come to an end--so the Haftarah tells us--as Solomon would call upon his great wealth and manpower to build a fixed structure for God's presence in Jerusalem. This project would consume seven years and millions of man-hours--a vast cost, to be sure--but the product would be the magnificent Temple of Solomon.

Was this permanent structure necessary? Was it worth the immense investment described in the biblical text? In the short term, the answer to these questions must be yes. More even than God needed a dwelling-place did Israel need evidence of God's presence. The Temple was testimony to God's relationship with Israel, to God's concern for and protection of this period. At this early stage of their peoplehood, Israel could not have survived without such a monument to her God.

But, in the long term, the Temple was unnecessary. Nay, its very destruction was necessary to make room for a "new" religion, one centered not on Temple and sacrifice but on Torah. When the "permanent" monument to God's presence had outlived its purpose, it was replaced by a far more important monument to God's love of Israel, that is, the revelation of God's word. With this portable testimony to God's presence and concern (again, like the Tabernacle!), Israel could survive her many wanderings, bringing God's good teachings to the many peoples of the Earth. (from David Kraemer at CLAL.)

No comments: