Sunday, December 1, 2013
Preparation and Inner Strength . . .
Chanukah 2013, aka Thanksgivukah, brought us together to learn on a Sunday afternoon followed by an evening of latkes, candles, and deep sharing.
I Kings I, 7:21 “Jachin . . . and Boaz”
Solomon appointed a master coppersmith, Hiram, to work on the temple ornaments and utensils. Hiram was to Solomon and the building of the temple as Bezalel was to Moses and the building of the Tabernacle, a master craftsman embued with Hochmah, Binah, and Da’at – the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that could translate the primordial Divine thought into physical manifestation of art and beauty. He built 2 massive columns of copper over 30 ft high (18 cubits to be exact), with ornate tops or capitals, copper meshwork, and designed with images of pomegranates and flowers. In architectural history, columns were a major invention, and the Egyptians were the first to use them and use flower motifs to adorn them. This implied connection to Egypt in the Temple architecture is interesting, as we had of course come out of Egypt almost 5 centuries earlier, and Solomon’s first wife was the daughter of the current Pharoah of Egypt.
Hiram named the 2 pillars. The one on the right, to the South, the side of the Menorah, he named “Jachin”, meaning establishment or preparation, from the root of the word Kavannah, intention. The pillar on the left, North, the side of the Bread Table, He named Boaz, meaning “strength is in it”. Thus, in entering the sanctuary, the part of the Temple just outside the Holy of Holies, one passed through this portal of intention and inner strength, perhaps homiletically acknowledging that establishing and maintaining the intention to Divine connection brings an inner strength, to the individual and to the people who carry that intention.
I Kings, 7:25. “It (the Sea) stood on 12 oxen, 3 facing north, 3 facing west, 3 facing south, and 3 facing east”
Hiram next built a huge, round copper “sea”, 10 cubits (~20 feet) in diameter, one handbreath thick, supported on the backs of 12 copper oxen. This sea of Mayim Chayim would be used for the Cohanim to wash and purify themselves for sacred service (Avodah). The structure replicates the directions occupied by the 12 tribes during the journey through Sinai, suggesting the waters are only held aloft for their sacred purpose when the entire community is involved. And the ox, or water buffalo, is the totem of the tribe of Joseph (as well as the tribe of Ephraim, once Joseph split into the tribes of Ephraim and Menasheh, whose totem was the oryx). The Buffalo in general holds the direction of the West in Hebraic indigenous cosmology, based on Ezekiel’s mystical vision of the Chariot (Ezekiel, Chapter 1), as well as Ephraim/Joseph’s position in the wilderness. This suggests the healing role of the water being held in the Sea, as West is the direction of healing, the place of Raphael (“healer of God”). And calling this structure “sea” brings to mind the crossing of the Red Sea 840 years earlier, that healing moment in the life of the Hebrew people when we stepped out of the narrow limitations of physical oppression and towards the path of Spirit. Copper is an element of passion in our tradition, thus these waters in the copper sea were embued with the passion for life, for relationship to Spirit, that would cleanse and heal those who would wash in it.
It is noteworthy that the text describes the positions of the oxen in the counterclockwise direction, starting in the North, the place of mystery; moving to the west, the place of blending, merging, and healing; then to the South – place of clarity; and finally to the East – place of new beginnings. This counterclockwise movement can also be seen as the unfolding path of our life journey: receiving some new influx of mystery from Spirit (North), blending it into ones being (West), clarifying the meaning of the new piece one has received (South), leading to a new integration, a new beginning, a new way of being in the world (East), only then to begin another cycle of the journey with a new piece of mystery unfolding from the North (see Winkler, “Magic of the Ordinary”, pg 55). Perhaps then, the Cohanim approached the Sea each time to wash knowing they were about to do ceremony with the kavannah of bringing the people closer in connection to their Divine wholeness.
I Kings I, 7:27: “He made 10 copper stands . . . ”
Having made the Sea, Hiram next constructed 10 ornate copper stands to carry 10 lavers, smaller water-containing vessels. These stands are clearly physical manifestations of the images of the Chariot, seen by Ezekiel in his vision over 300 years later, with images of lions, oxen, and embracing human figures. The latter are described cryptically in the Hebrew, and imply the embrace of lovers, alluding to either intense human love, the archetypal unification of Masculine and Feminine, or the d’vey’kut (intense connection) of the Divine with Israel. All of these themes are expressed in Solomon’s opus, the Song of Songs, and were manifested in this instance in the passionate copper of the 10 laver stands. Why 10 stands? No doubt a desire to include within the physicality of the Temple the 10 Sefirot, Divine Emanations, described in Sefer Yetzirah and much later by the Kabbalists of the Middle Ages.
It is awesome to read these passages and experience directly the power of the sacred symbology of the Hebrew people, manifested from our very inception, grounded in indigenous wisdom, transmitting through the ages the energies of Spirit in the forms of animal beings, plant beings, human beings, minerals, water, earth. We are therefore the beneficiaries, those who can receive these transmissions from our ancient ancestors, and gain an understanding of their connection to Spirit, how they understood YHVH from before a time when our people were physically removed from our land, displaced, oppressed and disconnected from our roots. These symbols of Divine relationship have survived in our texts, hidden in our prayers, offering a path to reconnect to the energies of our ancient ancestors and prophets, a way to reclaim our indigenous, original connection, a Great D’vey’kut, to the Holy One.
I Kings, 8:3 “All the elders of Israel came, and the Cohanim carried the Ark . ”
Once the building of the Temple was completed, after 7 years of construction, in the month of Eitanim (“the mighty ones” – the month of Tishrei), there was a great procession and inauguration of the Temple. This was held just before Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival, so many people from all over the land were no doubt there on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival. This was the Sukkot of Sukkots, as Solomon sought to harvest all that he had been spiritually planting for the past 7 years. All the leaders of the people were there: “the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral familes.” All the sacred implements from the Tabernacle were brought into the Temple – the Ark, the utensils, the sacred vessels – and there were offerings made “too abundant to be numbered”. Like father like son, this procession of Solomon is reminiscent of the procession that occurred when David first brought the Ark into Zion (2 Samuel 6:12-19). The Ark is placed in the Holy of Holies, under the “wings of the C’ruvim”, the 10 cubit wingspan between the 2 golden Cherubim Solomon had built. It is quite something to close your eyes and imagine yourself back in that Jerusalem, experiencing the joy and expectations of being in that procession, witnessing that momentous event.
I Kings, 8:10-11: “the cloud/glory of YHVH filled the house of YHVH ”
The Shechinah, the Feminine, intimate, in-relationship manifestation of Spirit, described here as a “cloud” in one verse, and as the glory of YHVH in the next, fills the Holy of Holies. The Cohanim had to flee the space, not able to be present as the Cloud entered and dwelt there. She’hech’eh’yanu - Solomon has completed his preparations for just this moment. All the building in the past 7 years, all the preparation, the use of the best materials, the best artisans, the best and most intentional building methods, have been for this moment. And even up to the procession and the bringing of the Ark and implements to the Temple – one wonders what Solomon was thinking about. Could he be sure it would all be acceptable to Spirit? Hadn’t David stumbled in his first attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, resulting in human deaths? Hadn’t Nadav and Abihu, the well-meaning, priestly sons of Aaron, stumbled in their over-eagerness to offer incense to YHVH resulting in their deaths? Hadn’t even as spiritually evolved a person as Moses misconstrued the way God wanted him to make His/Her Spirit present by striking the rock, and thereby lost the honor of entering the Land? It is not a trivial thing to make a home for Spirit, to make a proper offering, to be truly pure in your intention. There are many places where ego, arrogance, narcissism can trickle in and mess things up. Solomon, Hiram, the Cohanim, and all those involved in this procession must have been quite pure in their Kavannah. Offering a home, a Bayit, for Shechinah to dwell, offering it in the right way, in the right relationship, She comes in as a mist. And the Temple from that point on becomes a focal place for the Hebrew people, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel unified as one kingdom under Solomon, to come and be in relationship with Spirit.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Each Under His Fig Tree . . .
Kings I, 4:1 “So King Solomon was king over all Israel”
The next several verses name Solomon’s advisors, cabinet, military leaders, and priests. This seems to be a new stage of development of the Jewish people, as they consolidate into a unified, national government rather than as the confederation of independent tribes or relatively loose structures characterized under the rule of Saul and David. The people were taxed to support the centralized government which required a lot of wealth to run the affairs of state (detailed in Chap 5:2). The country was divided into 12 federations, not aligned or affiliated with the previous divisions of 12 tribes, each of which provided crops and funds to fund the national government for one of the 12 months of the year. This represented an economically-based social structure of sharing, crop rotation, and division of labor for the sake of the whole.
Kings I, 4:20. “Judah and Israel were numerous . . . eating, drinking, and rejoicing.”
Kings I, 5:5: Judah and Israel dwelt in tranquility, each man under his grapevine and under his fig tree, from Dan to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.”
Freed of other demands by the sharing of responsibility, with a sense of security provided by Solomon’s truces with neighboring peoples, the people had time to party. These were the “good old days” of the Hebrew empire, the golden years, with visions of fulfillment, a beautiful visual, after all the previous wars and battles and strife of David’s period of rule.
Kings I, 5:1: “Solomon was ruler over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines”
The Hebrew used for “ruler” is the word “Moshel” rather than “Melech” (king). We sense this has to do with ruling an empire, from a distance, like a chairman of the board. This was how Solomon ruled his vast empire. This contrasts with the Melech, the king, who takes the knowledge from above (Mem), teaching through himself (Lamed), to ground it in Earth for the sake of his subjects (final Chaf). There is a sense of a bit more intimacy and familiarity, or at least proximity, of the Melech to his subjects, versus the distant administrator represented by the Moshel.
Kings I, 5:9 “God gave wisdom and great understanding, and an expanded heart . . . ”
This is the manifestation of the “listening heart”, Lev shomeah, that Solomon had asked from HaShem in his prior dream. So Solomon is gifted with a heart that perfectly balances wisdom, Chochmah, the formless influx of wisdom from Spirit, and understanding, the structure of Binah, that gives that formless wisdom the structure it needs to move further into the world. Solomon is thus the model of a leader with a brilliant mind, one that balances both left and right brain. This was the wisdom that “spoke 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs” (verse 5:12), giving us the wisdom teaching books of Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).
Kings I, 5:15: “for Hiram was beloved by David . . . ”
Solomon begins the building of the Temple, asking King Hiram of Lebanon to provide the cedar trees that would be needed for building material. Hiram was on great terms with David, and extends the alliance to David’s son. Although he had wanted to build the temple, David was not able to. He was a man always at war, probably had few preserved resources, and was spiritually not the one to build the temple. Solomon on the other hand had consolidated the kingdom, brought peace and plenty, and had the spiritual wisdom needed to transfer the nation’s place of worship from the desert-built Tabernacle to the more permanent structure that would be the Beit HaMikdash.