Keeper of the Covenant and the Lovingkindness
Saturday, January 4, 2014
Keeper of the Covenant and the Lovingkindness . . .
Check-ins brought us very present with our stories of crime, illness, job loss, and other events that have transpired since the last time we sat together.
I Kings I, 8:1 “Solomon gathered together the Elders of Israel – the heads of the tribes, the carriers of the ancestors”
At first glance it is unclear who Solomon is gathering. Are these 3 different categories of leaders among the people – elders, tribal heads, ancestor-carriers? However, close look at the Hebrew shows no letter vav between these 3 descriptors, suggesting that the latter 2 are defining characteristics of an Elder of Israel. Thus, those who can be called “Elder” are the leaders in their tribes who carry the ancestral legacy. Thus, an Elder is one who carries the ancestral traditions, offering the gift of that knowledge to the community. We may consider ways to manifest this at our PV gathering this year – perhaps in the section of the 4 Questions? Or the 4 Children?
I Kings, 8:5. “. . . offerings too abundant to be numbered or counted”
It is clear what physical offerings to Spirit were made back in the ancient times. The offering of animals was a standard practice, and at this dedication of the new Temple, the offerings were astounding in number, unable to be counted. This was how we communicated with Spirit. While the animal sacrificial rites were predominantly transformed into prayer during subsequent centuries of Jewish history, we wonder what still may remain in the Hebrew tradition in the form of physical offerings, and what their role may be in these modern times? Native Americans offer tobacco, or cornmeal in many personal ceremonies as a way to seek relation with Spirit. Is there still a role, or similar physical ritual, that persists in the Jewish tradition that plays the same role? Is such a physical offering necessary, when we have such rich prayerful ways to approach the Divine? Does use of prayer alone keep us separated from our earth-based connection, aspects of God that are all around us at all times?
I Kings, 8:13 “ I have surely built a house of habitation for You . . . ”
The Cloud of the Shechinah rolls into the Beit YHVH (translated into English as “temple”), and the Cohanim have had to leave, unable to stay and serve in the Presence. It is a bit unclear: did the Cloud fill only the Holy of Holies, or did it roll out of the Holy to fill the entire Temple? Solomon uses here the feminine form of the pronoun “You”, a fact of considerable import that is lost in the English translation, as it is clear the Cloud is Shechinah, Divine Feminine, intimate dwelling Presence. The Hebrew also indicates in its grammatical way, without bold font or underlines, that Solomon is emphasizing his accomplishment in building the Temple. Hard to know his mindset, 3000 years later, but is there a hint of youthful arrogance present in this statement? Solomon was only 16 years old when the building of the Temple began, and the construction took 7 years, so he is now a man in his early-mid twenties.
A more mundane explanation for the cloud: the smoke from all the burning sacrifices filled the Temple and the Cohanim had to leave because they couldn’t breathe or see!
I Kings, 8:23 “ . . . there is none like You . . . guardian of the convenant and the the lovingkindness . . . ”
Solomon raises his palms toward the Fire-Water Place (Shamayim – typically translated as “heaven”) and addresses YHVH directly and profoundly on behalf of all the people. He opens with this acknowledgment of YHVH, God of Israel, as the keeper of the covenant (The B’rit) and love (The Hesed). But what is The Covenant, and what is The Love? There have been a number of covenants God has made with the Hebrew people and their predecessors: that which was made with Noah to never again destroy the earth; with Abraham, that his descendants would inhabit the Land and be as numerous as the sands on the edge of the sea; with each individual male child at the age of 8days; and most recently with David – that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Judah. So, which of these is being referred to? Or is there something much more personal being referred to here? A possible explanation: the covenant is that which Creator makes with each individual Neshamah that comes to this physical plane and embodies in order to do the work for the completion of creation on this level. Is the lovingkindness then that which follows as necessary, and what is so profoundly present, to allow us some space for our human flaws, errors, and distractions that keep us from fulfilling that Covenant? When we say the Ahl Chets on Yom Kippur, are we not appealing to that Hesed, for that reason – acknowledging that we have really not kept up our part of the bargain. And YHVH in the role of great gentle loving One, accepts our prayers like a parent consoles a teenager who has just stupidly totaled the family car, and allows us to get back on the bicycle and keep trying. Perhaps this is the covenant and the love that Solomon is acknowledging.
I Kings, 8:28 “ . . . prayer, supplication, and cry . . . ”
Solomon uses three different words for prayer, suggesting 3 different ways to pray, 3 deepening levels of prayer. Tefillah – the standard text of the prayer; T’chinah – a supplication, special plea, perhaps one that one has no merit to justify; Rinah – a cry out, from either joy or pain. Are we aware of the difference in these modes of prayer? Are we familiar with their uses and the feelings behind them in ourselves as we use them? How does our connection with YHVH differ when we use these 3 forms of prayer?
Final Discussion: Losing My Religion?
The idea was expressed that this event, the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem, may mark the beginning of the end of Earth-based Judaism. What was once a tribal people living in intimate connection with earth, with the knowledge that God could be found in the stones and trees around them, that God could be wrestled with on the edge of a river in the dead of night, would no longer be the same. This was the actualization of the warning from Samuel: that if you have a king, you will become like other nations and will stop being individually close to HaShem. So now, the personal altars are outlawed, and the connection to the Divine is through a single structure in a single place determined by a single individual. The Temple of stone, unmovable, a place you must go to for worship, perhaps too grandiose in its use of precious metals and other precious materials, compared to the simplicity of the fabric-covered and enclosed Tabernacle that could move amongst the tribes, reminding us that God really doesn’t need such fancy digs. Whose idea was this Temple anyway? Apparently David had the initiative, but God held him back from building it. Was this a delaying tactic that didn’t quite work out, just as Aaron had tried to pacify the rebel crowd by allowing the Golden Calf to be built in the hope that Moses would return from the mountain before the line of idolatry had been crossed? Could the building of the Temple by Solomon, rather than representing the crowning achievement of a people dedicated to service of Spirit, instead actually represent a Cheyt, a missing of the mark, a break from the covenant between Soul and Creator that was actually intended?
Feelings were strong, as we discussed these ideas - anger. resentment. alienation. Does the Jewish focus on the Temple, even to this day, border on idolatry? Is it not a movement away from the idea that the Presence is everywhere? In today’s temples and synagogues, do we rely too much on our rabbis and cantors, no matter how knowledgable and respected they may be, to be our interlocuters rather than maintain the stance of the mystic – to have that individual relationship with the Holy One? Do we rely too much on buildings of concrete and steel, ornaments and stained glass, rather than on a simple path by the creek, or a small altar of stones? Can attention to earth-based, elemental practices bring us back to the covenant and the lovingkindness that was initially intended?
Another way to consider the issues: Perhaps the timing of switching to a more institutional form of Judaism was intentional by Divine calculations or necessary in order to establish and/or maintain a certain State of the Emerging Culture, that was not ready with David and was then appropriate under Solomon. Though there is definitely a loss to mourn with no longer having a close and personal and creative connection with haShem and ritual design, perhaps there would have been unwanted developments. Change is rapid in those early personal stages. Perhaps something essential had to be captured and passed on to coming generations before it evaporated or became distorted. When change is again needed we "Return" to earth based ways as the Baal Shem Tov did with Hasidism, allowing a direct connection with the divine that did not require stuffy education, and the poor had access, nature was important. But then they became static too. It is a cycle to be recognized throughout our history, or perhaps an expanding spiral, change followed by rich practice, then rigidity, then realization of what's missing and rebellion for revitalizing change. We may be now on the cutting edge of current Return and the beginning of a new, beautiful cycle. Our mourning is an occasion for celebration, as it marks the recognition and reconnection with our soul needs as a people.
Next Meeting: Saturday, February 1 – location TBA.