C’mon. C’MON! Mishkan, the place of dwelling. Such a thing should be anathema to an omni-present G”d. If G”d truly is everywhere, what is the need for this Mishkan, and inside of it this holy Ark, all of them designed to be portable and travel around, yet intended to be a place where G”d might dwell among the Israelites.
OK, so where is G”d when the tribes are on the road, and the Mishkan is all packed up? On vacation? Taking a nap? Is G”d with the people on their way, or just when they stop and set up the Mishkan?
I’m sorry, but having altars of any kind, shrines of any kind, to a G”d that is not manifest, is sort of silly. Twice as silly if you make them portable.
When the Israelites were praying, and sacrifices were being offered by the priests, were they all really thinking about this incorporeal G”d, or were their thoughts really focused on the physical representation via the various parts of the Mishkan. Did the Ark itself come to represent G”d? Does that not make it an idol?
We’ve all heard the apologetics-that the mishkan (and ultimately the Temple) were not for G”d’s sake but for human beings, who weren’t quite ready to make the leap to the sort of understanding most seem to have about G”d these days.
Given the prevalence of asherot and other idols found among the Israelites all the way through the destruction of the Second Temple, it’s clear that through a thousand years or so, they still hadn’t made the switch to the idea of a G”d that is truly incorporeal. Add in that which became Christianity and things get even further muddled, for, to this day, their belief encompasses that of a G”d that took human form, however briefly.
Sure, the prophets spoke bravely about sacrifices of our lips and hearts being more suitable than bulls, but then again, were the prophets heeded (even to this day?) What is the need of offering a physical sacrifice to a G”d that is invisible? Is it a precaution? A hangover for existing practice? Like G”d really needed the Israelites to build a Weber? (Well, it wasn’t really a Weber, especially since it was made of wood. The sacrificial altar that is. Had to be. Covered with copper-or bronze if you prefer-so it wouldn’t self-consume every time it was used. If it were stone or all metal, it would have been too heavy to move around–or maybe not. Ask yourself this? Why didn’t G”d tell the Israelites to put wheels on the Ark? Or the Altar? Or the Show Table? That had to be easier than carrying them! Was G”d trying to make the work harder?)
Abraham, the first monotheist. Hardly. Moses, a monotheist? Possibly. We’ve really only the midrash to tell us that he though idols were meaningless pieces of stone. After all, even Moses himself built altars. For my money, altars are effectively idols anyway.
And what of the Ark itself. G”d says that G”d will speak to the people, from a literal physical location above the Ark between the two cherubim. If that doesn’t serve to raise the status of the Ark to that of a representative idol in the minds of the Israelites, I don’t know what would. Couldn’t G”d just be a disembodied voice? Was this charade truly necessary? Seems to me that, rather than ease the transition from idolatry to true incorporeal G”d, having the Mishkan, and later the Temple, became impediments to our spiritual evolution. It is from the ashes of the Temple (both first and second) that were born true Judaism. Just think what the world might be like if we had been forced to make the transition at the very beginning of the Israelite religion to accepting the sort of understandings we have about G”d in our own time.
Yes, I’ve tried to mine this and the coming parashiyot for meaning, and have found some. Yet, in the end, it’s all hypocrisy. It’s all apologetics. It’s all about finessing the continuing idolatry that was still at the heart of the Israelite religion.
Today, we still have our apologetics, and our idols. There may be no altars in our temples, but we’re bowing and kissing a sheepskin scroll on a regular basis. We’re still insisting that worship is more efficacious when done as a community in an organized institution like a synagogue. Will we ever truly outgrow our need for a mishkan, a Temple, an edifice on (or in) which to focus our spiritual energies? There are signs all around us that we may be entering a new era of Judaism. Just as the destruction of the two Temples led to what would ultimately be considered great improvements in Judaism, we may be at such a junction now, as old institutions give way to something new, and, hopefully, more evolved.
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester