The Perfect Congress

Friday, 8 March, 2024 - 7:07 am

These days even the suggestion that Congress can get it right might seem ludicrous to many.  The squabbling over procedure and the seemingly endless delays suggest we are in need of a major overhaul. We wonder why the buck seems to always be passed.

I will leave it for the pundits to determine what the real goal is and whether our legislature can indeed get it right.

For Jews we have been looking to perfect congress for many centuries.

And in this week’s Torah portion of Vayakhel we are given the Divine recipe for getting it right. What we are searching for is not the legal code of Congress, but rather a congress (assembly) with our Creator.  We often struggle with the challenge of merging with an infinite G-d. How can we have a meaningful, penetrating, and tangible relationship with an invisible G-d?

There are two commandments of G-d that the Torah purposefully places alongside each other. One is the observance of Shabbat, the other is the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.  The Talmud teaches the significance of this pairing: The Torah is informing us to build the Mishkan every day except for Shabbat, the day of rest. (That’s where all the details of the don’t dos of Shabbat stem from – we must abstain from work that was performed in the Mishkan, and from the labor necessary for its construction).

So Shabbat and the Mishkan are opposites. That which is associated with the Mishkan is forbidden on Shabbat. Funny that they are grouped together, but only to highlight the disparity. Can there be a deeper reason they are bound together? Is there a commonality between them?

Upon further reflection, both really seek and accomplish the same goal, albeit in contrasting techniques.  The Mishkan, the mystics explain, was the divine resting place because it revealed the embodiment of G-d within the finite, material world. The gold, hides, and wood were sanctified by serving as a dwelling place for G-d. In this space the infinite and the finite merged.  The physical became holy. It was a place of holiness.

Shabbat serves as an island in the sea of weekly turbulence. A moment of sanctity when we rise above the chaos of the mundane week.  It is a sacred spot in time, when we connect with Hashem, community, family, and our rich tradition.  Shabbat is a time of holiness.

The methods are very different, but both serve to connect the finite with our infinite Creator.  During the week we connect to G-d by making the mundane meaningful, transforming the earthly endeavors of commerce, education, sports, food and more into purposeful conduits for sacred energy.  On Shabbat we absolve from the mundane and enter a zone where sanctity is all that exists. We sanctify time itself.

Whether by giving tzedakah during the week or making Kiddush on Shabbat, our congress with G-d is in our own hands.

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