On Shabat mornings, I take a half-hour walk from campus, through bustling downtown Madison, New Jersey, to the Madison Masonic Lodge. There, every week, an eccentric assortment of Jews, all of them multiple decades my senior, meet for study and prayer and, of course, food. We’re called Chavurat Lamdeinu. It is a remarkable group.
The Torah portion this Shabat, Terumah, got me thinking deeply for the first time about our ark.
First, let’s all just take a moment to admire the above picture and how pretty this ark is. It’s very nice. And it’s portable. Every week, we arrive, build this ark, daven, take it apart, put it in a closet, and go home.
This ark is composed of several interconnecting pieces of copper pipe, a few gorgeous pieces of quilted fabric that Velcro around the pipes, and a wooden bottom piece that keeps the sifrei Torah in place.
Here’s a closer look at the beatiful craftsmanship involved in this structure.
And a look at the Torah inside. Even when you’re looking at the Torah in real life (as in not in a very flash-obscured picture), it is hard to make out what the breast plate says. It says “ללמוד וללמד,” “lilmod ul’lamed,” a reference, of course, to the group’s name, Chavurat Lamdeinu.
Here’s the meat of what I’ve been thinking about: a problem, and a beauty. When I say a problem, by they way, I don’t really mean that. As we all know, I am zocher, rather than shomer Shabat. In other words, I’m not the most stringent of Shabat observers out there. I do observe it though. But what if someone came to Chavurat Lamdeinu who did consider themselves shomer Shabat? They would be unable to assist in the weekly creation of our own little Mishkan.
Shabat is, on one of its many levels, a remembrance of the fact that on the seventh day, after creating the world, God rested. Rest in the case meant a cessation of creation. No new things would be built for the day. And so when we recall this on Shabat, the most stringent of Shabat observers among us refrain from acts of creation. No writing, no building, no constructing.
This is especially connected to this week’s portion, in which the construction of the Mishkan is going on. The Rabbis of the Talmud built their list of actions prohibited on Shabat based on their understanding of the actions that would’ve gone into constructing the Mishkan, the original ark. And so what do we do here in Madison? We build a damn Mishkan ever week.
So that’s the problem, if you can call it a problem. And what’s the beauty I refered to?
Here I am, wandering through this desert called college. And every Shabat, I get to help build the Mishkan.