Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Tabernacle? Well, in our parasha, the Israelites certainly are. With good reason.
It wasn't enough that Korach, Dathan, Abiram and their followers were either swallowed by the earth or burnt to a crisp for their prideful sin in challenging the authority of Moshe (and by inference, G"d's authority.) The very next day, they run complaining to Moshe and Aharon (17:6) that they had brought death upon them all. At this point, G"d is ready to wipe them all out, save Moshe and Aharon. A great plague erupts among the people, and another 14,700 people die, despite Aharon's attempts, as Moshe's bidding, to make expiation for the people. When the plague ends, Moshe demands that the staffs of all the chieftains be brought to the Tent of Meeting inside the Mishkan, and lo and behold, the next day, only Aharon's staff has sprouted leaves. G"d instructs Moshe to place Aharon's staff near the Ark of the Covenant to serve as an eternal reminder to the people to not rebel against G"d (and by implication, G"d's chosen leaders - in this case, Moshe and his older brother Aharon. Let's keep it all in the family.)
It's no wonder that immediately following these events, we read (17:27) the lament of the Israelites - a three fold lament - Oy, we perish. Oy, any of us that come anywhere near the Tabernacle die. Oy, we are doomed, doomed to be wiped out.
And so the people are afraid to go near the Mishkan. Afraid to bring their sacrifices. So, to allay their fears, we next learn that the Aharonic priests and their helpers the Levites will be the only ones to actually come near the sacred precincts. We commoners need not trouble ourselves, or be frightened.
Well, thank you very much - NOT! Whether born of original textual intent, or the work of a priestly redactor, we're left with this separation between ourselves and the place where we might come closest to encountering G"d.
Despite almost 2000 years of rabbinic Judaism, designed to replace the sacrificial system, we're still afraid. The synagogue became (one) place where we could each encounter G"d. Yet few of us are willing to approach that closely, to come near or stand within the boundaries of whatever we each define in modern analogy as the sacred precincts once represented by the Mishkan and later by the inner sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem. Of what are we afraid? Do we fear coming close to the place where G"d encounters humanity because we're sure we've screwed up and are likely to be killed? Whatever the reason, many of us do seem to find ways to avoid coming too close.
Some of us avoid it physically. People still avoid sitting in the front rows at services, don't they? Some of us avoid it mentally, in a thousand different ways. Distraction. Narrow focus. Multi-tasking. Some of us avoid it emotionally by locking up our hearts and souls and allowing nothing to enter or escape from them.
It is time for us to reclaim our ability, our right, to come within the sacred precincts and offer our sacrifices, or praise, our thanks, our questions, our complaints. We must seek to remove this artificial barrier between us and the Divine. Even those among us who doubt G"d, or wonder if there even is a G"d, and I suspect that is probably most of us ought to find ways to remove the barrier. Doubting G"d's existence, yet still maintaining a distance between oneself and those places where supposedly we can meet or encounter G"d seems a bit ironic, no? We'd rather live with the doubt?
Now, there's no guarantee for any of us that allowing ourselves to enter into those places where we might encounter G"d that we will encounter G"d. There are no guarantees that we won't get zotzed or toasted or fried or otherwise perish. So we play it safe. Well, as they say, no beitzim, no tinokim - no balls, no babies. Or as better put by a great sage: all the world is a narrow bridge and the most important thing is to not be afraid.
Take back your right to enter the sacred precinct. You may find the answers to the your questions. Or you may find more questions. Or you may find everything you were seeking. Or you may find nothing. You won't know until you try. Now sing with me:
I'm not afraid of the big, bad, tabernacle;
big, bad, tabernacle
big, bad, tabernacle;
I'm not afraid of the big, bad, tabernacle;
©2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Korach 5766 - Investment
Korah 5765 - Stones and Pitchers and Glass Houses
Korach 5764-B'tzelem Anashim
Korach 5758/62-Camp Rebellion
Korach 5761-Loose Ends
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