From the Rabbi – Parashat Ki Tisa (Shabbat Para)

Full with Emptiness

Over the past few weeks, our Torah readings have amplified the problem of human longing. Just as we are wont to do, the People of Israel looked to the tangible to fill their emptiness, re-forming their personal treasures into a single golden mass. They danced around it, setting it as a solid center occupying their communal heart.

Some say the Golden Calf was an idol. Let’s just say it was too concrete, and in its tangible clunky-ness it fell flat as an embodiment of our prismatic imaginings of all that we need and all we desire to feel complete. Some say the Golden Calf was not an idol, rather, a throne, not dissimilar from other animal-form thrones for other Near Eastern deities of the time, and as such it was an invitation to YHWH to reside among the People. But even so, the gesture was coarse, as if we can capture what is ineffable and circumscribe the fluidity and fluctuation of our spiritual needs.

God said No: I can’t be held fast. I am, in fact, best described by longing. If you fill yourselves solid, you will leave no space for me. If you could know me, I would not be a mystery and we would not be engaged in this dynamic relationship of beloveds, me knocking on the door of your heart, and you cracking my heart open with your poignant human-ness.

So, our sacred myth offers a different embodiment of a home for God in our midst, a counter-offer to the idol/throne that was the Golden Calf, an embodiment of absence rather than presence, an empty space in which to engage in relationship rather than the fullness of space occupied by a golden form. God says: Build me a tabernacle, a shell of great beauty, with an emptiness at its center, and I will visit you there.

We have long since internalized the Tabernacle, knowing that our temples reside within. The message for us becomes: don’t fill up to feel ok. In great measure, the fulfillment of our spiritual lives is the yearning itself, the attenuated reach of our emptiness toward a greatness we intermittently see, or hear, or touch.

May we have the courage to create and embellish internal sanctuaries that frame absence, holding space for our imaginations to complete our unions with whatever it is we call God.

– Rabbi Hannah

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