This week in the Torah we receive the final instruction to install the intricate menorah which is at the heart of our portable sacred space. And by install I mean simultaneously mount and kindle the light. This is both practical and utterly symbolic. Light is one of our core Jewish metaphors. Torah is light. Human beings are light. God is light.
The instructions [see Ex. 37:17-24] are complicated and opaque. Branches, calyxes and petals in the shape of almond blossoms, all somehow made of one piece of hammered gold.
It turns out that Moses was indeed confused by the details of this building project. A midrash [from Midrash Tanhuma, Bhaalotcha 3] has him returning to God not once, not twice, but three times – completely baffled by how he was supposed to construct the intricate gold lampstand. Each time God explains and each time Moses returns and says, “I still don’t get it.” Finally, God says give me your hand, and draws the blueprint on Moshe’s finger.
And Moshe still doesn’t get it.
There is no "Aha!" moment for Moses in the midrash. No moment in which he finally gets it and can carry out the instructions that God has given. The midrash ends instead with a sacred act of letting go. God tells Moses to throw the block of gold into the fire, and the menorah emerges fully formed – in the shape of a blossoming almond tree.
The midrash evokes for me the words of Kazanzakis: “I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God.' And the almond tree blossomed.”
To what degree is our understanding of the divine cognitive or experiential?
Does logic interfere with our ability to experience the divine?
Is revelation or insight always born out of chaos?
What if God is the force of transformation in your life?
What are you letting go of?
Who knows what might blossom if you have the courage to do so!
This email is hardly a blueprint for kindling a relationship with the divine. I offer you some of my own questions as fodder for your quest. Perhaps you can write one on the palm of your hand and allow it to guide you through shabbat.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.