A Thousand Little Sanctuaries

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 17, 2023 / 24 Adar 5783

Tomorrow on Shabbat, we will offer a special blessing for all our congregants who are heading to Israel on the community Federation trip. We want to wish you all wonderful, safe travels and adventures. Please join us for the Torah service, then feel free to leave if you still have packing to finish. N’siyah tova!

As a reminder, after Kiddush lunch tomorrow, our Shevet Jewish Meditation gathering will occur. Everyone is invited, regardless of one’s background in meditation.

Summary: This week, I review how our Sages tried to preserve the purpose of the ancient Sanctuary by converting our dining tables into altars.

Reading Time: Four minutes

This week, congregations around the globe will complete the Book of Exodus as we read from the final two parshiot of Vayakhel-Pekudei. The latter half of Exodus concerns itself with the plans for building the Mishkan, our ancient Tabernacle where communal offerings were brought.

Much ink has been spilt describing the Tabernacle and its role in early Israelite religion. Of importance to us as contemporary Jews is the relationship it has to our homes, for within its precincts were found a table and a light; in its innermost sanctum the Torah was placed. Our homes also have tables and lights; if we have been mindful, we have also brought the teachings of the Torah into our homes, along with its lessons in shalom bayit, a peaceful, loving place. While this is a bit metaphorical, our Sages extended the connections in profound ways. Our Shabbat table is designed to replicate both the ancient Tent of Meeting as well as the Temple. Our challah is the replacement for the shewbreads that were displayed in the Temple; our candles are a reminder of the menorah. Even the salt that many of us dip or sprinkle our challah with duplicates the use of salt in the age of sacrifices. The kohanim, our venerable priests, would wash their hands before serving in the Mikdash, our first sanctuary. We wash our hands before beginning a meal. There is even a corollary between the blessings we say before eating and the korbanot, or sacrifices, of old. In an early stage of Jewish religion, meat-eating was restricted to the holy precincts of the Temple. Our tradition understands that all belongs to God, especially our lives and the lives of animals. By only eating meat that had been sanctified (made kodshin), we effectively were being given permission to enjoy what only God owns. In the same vein, the recitation of a blessing permits us to take enjoyment in a loaf of bread, a glass of wine, or a bit of stew.

There are other, more esoteric connections between the Shabbat table and the Mishkan. In effect, our Sages wanted us to transform a necessity of life from solely a material need into a spiritual opportunity just as they wanted us to transform a synagogue or a home into a mikdash ma’at, literally a small sanctuary. This effort to reproduce the Sanctuary was a profound religious revolution. Our ancestors literally understood that the mishkan was the place where God entered the world. Because of medieval philosophy and theology, we have all been educated to believe that God is everywhere, yet as beautiful sounding as that concept is, I suspect most of us go through our days without necessarily encountering God. God may indeed be everywhere, but unless we are primed to experience that reality, it doesn’t match many people’s daily experience. Transforming our tables into a sanctuary was a symbolic argument that God really is everywhere. Apparently, when the great Kotsker Rebbe was a boy, he was asked where God is located. His answer? Wherever we let God in. In other words, God may be available everywhere, but if we want that to have meaning in our lives, we must make ourselves available to God. By practicing this at home, we were more likely to open ourselves to moments of awe and transcendence when we shut the front door behind us.

My AI Hacked My Brain

Last week, I wrote about my experiments with Chabad’s AI rabbi. What occurred when I wrote about it, though, was a perfect example of one of the dangers AI poses to our lazy and suggestible minds. Some of you may recall that when small GPS units first came to market, drivers would follow the directions so blindly that there were reports of people driving off cliffs and into walls. They started to trust the authority of the machine more than their own smarts.

While I never careened into a wall, I figuratively drove off a cliff last when I asked the AI rabbi to share something meaningful about that week’s Torah readings. While the AI did share a beautiful teaching, it did so for a completely different parshah than Ki Tissah. I, meanwhile, was so busy rushing to get everything finished that I didn’t pay sufficient attention to the fact that the AI completely messed up the Torah reading. Like those early drivers who became overly-dependent on those GPS devices, I did the same and wrote about the wrong week’s Torah sedra. Boy, was I embarrassed! Simultaneously, I am grateful that it happened, for the incident serves as a powerful cautionary tale about how easily AI will hack our minds and cause us to make mistakes even on matters about which we know better. This is an important reminder that we will need to be especially alert as we come to increasingly rely on this new tool.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. Has your Shabbat table ever felt like a sanctuary in which you experienced God’s presence? If so, what led to that outcome?
  2. How might you utilize your Shabbat table to better provide you opportunities to experience awe, wonder, and a sense of God?

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