Let’s face it- people can be annoying. People annoy us and we annoy them.
A few days ago I was in a workshop at a retreat center. I was in a room full of people, listening to the teacher speak to the class. Next to me there was this guy who happened to be standing on an area of floor that emitted a really loud squeak whenever someone stepped on it. So what did this guy do? He stood on that spot and rocked his body back and forth, making a terribly annoying and loud squeak, over and over again. He appeared to be totally unconscious of what he was doing. I was amazed that he either couldn’t hear the loud noise he was making or he just didn’t care.
Sometimes people go beyond mere annoyance, doing things that are downright enraging. And sometimes, the offending party is one we love deeply- maybe even our most beloved. Have you ever been enraged by someone you love? Have you ever lashed out in anger against your beloved? If you have, than perhaps you know the pain of separation it causes- the sour flavor that permeates life in the wake of such encounters. What is the remedy? How can the sundered fabric of relationship be healed and closeness be restored?
There is a word in Hebrew for “holy” or “sacred”- kadosh. Kadosh actually means “separate”, but not in the ordinary sense. In the case of a wounded relationship, the word “separate” connotes distance, disconnectedness, alienation. But the word kadosh actually means the opposite. In a Jewish wedding ceremony we hear the words- “…at meKUDESHet li- you are holy to me”. Your partner or spouse becomes “separate” because they are your most intimate, and therefore separate from all other less intimate relationships. So, the separateness of kadosh points not to something that is distant, but most central. It points not to alienation, but to the deepest connection.
This week’s reading begins the Divine instructions for building the Mishkan- the portable temple for the wandering Israelites:
“V'asu li Mikdash v’shakhanti mitokham- And make for me a Mikdash- a Sanctuary- and I will dwell within you”.
The word Mikdash has the same root as holy- kadosh. In the Torah, the Mikdash is the place that the Divine Presence manifests and communes with the Israelites. The other word for the Sanctuary, Mishkan, implies the Divine Presence- the Shekhina. And what is the main function of this communing with the sacred? The Israelites sought out the Divine to heal their wounds of separation. They brought their fruit, their grain and their animals to be offered on the fiery altar in order to free themselves from the alienation caused by their own transgressions. The word for a sacrificial offering is “korban”, which means not sacrifice, but nearness, intimacy.
Where was this Mikdash erected? Was it separate from the camp, off at a distance, so that you would have to hike out to it? No- it was in the center of the camp! And within the Mikdash was a special place considered the most holy- the kadosh kadoshim- the “holy of holies”. This most sacred space was the innermost room in the Mikdash- the center of the center.
This representation of the sacred in space and architecture is not mere ritual magic from the past. It is a pointer to the true sanctuary of Presence within your own life. There can only be one center of your life, and that center is the one place that life is actually being lived- this moment. You are never separate from this moment, and yet- are you truly dwelling within it?
“...V'asu li Mikdash v’shakhanit mitokham…”
There is a Divine call, in a sense. It calls to us equally in pain and in joy, in excitement and in boredom. It says, “Come to the center. Build me a sanctuary.” How do you build it? The essence of the sanctuary is not the structure, but the space within the structure. The structure is already there as your body, your mind, your heart. They become a sanctuary the moment you allow there to be a space. The space completes the structure.
Come into that space- come into your body, come into this moment. Bring your korban to the altar. Is there pain? Is there fear? Is there regret? Is there embarrassment? Bring it all. Let the fire on the altar of the present moment burn away the separation. Let it hurt- the pain is temporary.
From within the space of allowing yourself to feel whatever needs to be felt, there is a transmutation that takes place. The energy of separation and pain becomes the energy of love. And from this love there is the possibility of external healing as well- the healing that happens between people through deeds of love.
The sages taught that it is for the sake of this love that the universe has come into being*, that when we commit acts of Hesed, of loving kindness toward one another, we make the world itself into a sanctuary, into a home for the Divine. As we learn to inhabit the temple of our bodies in the present, may the great love that arises from this Presence find sanctuary in our deeds, and may our deeds be ones of loving kindness and wisdom.
Shabbat Shalom, Hodesh Tov- Happy New Month!
*The Jewish concept that G-d created the world in order to bestow goodness is stated in many places, notably in the works of eighteenth century Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Etz Chaim, Shaar HaKlalim 1; Mesilat Yesharim 1; Derech Hashem 1:2:1).