May 17, 2013 - Parashat Naso
By Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
The wilderness travels in the book of Bemidbar begin with the description of the Israelite’s camp, its orientation to the four directions: the Tabernacle at the center and the identifying banners of the twelve tribes flying at the front of each tribal camp. This is a traveling camp. It will dismantle itself and reassemble countless times over the next forty years. It will move in circles, never arriving at its hoped for destination, while days and years will pass. A lifetime will pass for these people as they journey forward and back, right and left, but they will always maintain a focus on the ‘holy’, the Tabernacle, at the center. The ‘holy’ will travel with them and as such, it must be dismantled and reassembled many times over, at each pause on the journey.
Our parashah tells us that each Levite clan, the Gershonite, Merrarite and Kohathite, has the appointed task of disassembling and carrying the pieces of the Tabernacle when it is time for travel. Some carry only cloths or cords and others only planks or poles. As pieces, they are ordinary objects, but when reassembled each contributes to manifesting a complete and holy sacred space, a world within a world, a place for the Divine Presence to dwell.
We are travelers, each of us, charting a course whose destination we cannot see. Sometimes we move in circles, sometimes forward, two steps to the left or right, straight ahead and right back where we started. For the Israelites, the Tabernacle at the center of the camp and the center of their lives gave tether and grounding to the wilderness journey. With a tether to the sacred source of life, one can navigate through the unknown twists and turns that inevitably arise on any journey.
And yet, there were times when the Tabernacle itself needed to be dismantled. There were times when the Cloud of Glory would lift, and the people heeded the call to move forward. At such times, the sacred whole needed to be taken apart for the sake of the journey. The Levites were charged with guarding and protecting the parts which made up the whole and carrying them until the next encampment when they would reassemble the sacred space. This was sacred work and an honor for the Levites.
There are indeed times when breaking down and taking apart something that was a sacred whole is an absolutely necessary step in being able to move forward. There are times when the Divine Source calls to us that we must move from the place we have been to an unknown destination. These can be challenging and painful times. We recognize these moments in our individual stories but also in our collective story as a people and in our greater collective as one humanity.
Yet, while we may need to dismantle something that once was whole, we must also remember to guard and protect the pieces that contributed their essence to that sacred whole, so that reassembling a new sacred center remains possible. Perhaps these pieces are fragile relationships that have shifted or tender parts of ourselves. Perhaps they are gifts from our ancestors, or longings, dreams, or our hearts open to love. Protecting and carrying these precious pieces along the wilderness journey becomes a necessary and holy task.
May we find the faith to listen to the Divine call when we hear it, the courage and endurance to move patiently forward, and the commitment to bring all of our sacred pieces along with us.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman is the Founder and Director of Rimon: Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality in Great Barrington, MA www.rimonberkshires.org. She is also a Co-Founder and Co-Leader of The Berkshire Minyan, a trad/egal minyan that meets every Shabbat morning in Great Barrington.