Good Shabbos to all dear readers, and welcome back!
May this week’s parsha-post be a zechus for a speedy and blessed refuah sheleimah for Raizel Sarah bas Liba Shaina
Surprisingly, we are living the last days of the waning Sefiras haOmer period– the week of Malchus. The Sefirah or Divine Attribute of Malchus, represented by kingship and leadership, is the culmination of all the upper powers and ’emotions’ of G-d. It is the receptacle of all the Sefiros, for that is what king/leadership is… the fusion of all strengths, to guide others in the most ideal way possible. Malchus, Kabbalah teaches, is also the power of the Shechina (G-d’s Divine Presence). The Shechina, as Malchus, receives all blessing and powers from above, and we, the Jewish People are blessed with it’s constant presence above us. It is what transfers the G-dly sustenance, from the greatest and most holy heights, to our world, if we make ourselves meritorious.
Hashem’s Shechina was ever-present over the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) in the Mishkan, making it radiant with such glory and power, that it became vital for laws to be firmly established and enforced to protect the holy receptacle from profanation.
At the end of this week’s parsha, Bamidbar (Can you believe how we’re flying through the year? Hopefully we are making each day count to the utmost!:), the Torah outlines the process of disassembling the Mishkan, how the keilim (vessels) were draped and protected for travel, and who delegated, and received, the responsibilities of transporting the keilim.
“Al tachrisu et-shevet mish’p’chot ha’khasi mitoch ha’Levi’im. V’zot asu lahem v’chayu v’lo yamusu b’gishtam et-kodesh hakadashim Aharon u’vanav yavo’u v’samu otam ish ish al-avodaso v’el-masa’o. V’lo yavo’u liros k’vala et-hakodesh vamaysu. – Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites. Do this with them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects: Let Aharon and his sons go in and assign each of them to his duties and to his porterage. But do not let (the Kohathites) go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary, lest they die.”
We learn from here that the Kohathites were the valued bearers of the holy vessels of the Mishkan… and are made aware of the boundaries set down for them during the performance of their task, or they would end up facing rather serious consequences.
They are a clan of the shevet of Levi’im, an upstanding and elevated group… so why the strict rules?
R’ Shimshon Refoel Hirsch enlightens us (and, once more, I paraphrase slightly):
It would be inappropriate for the Kohathites to observe the covering of the keilim. But why? It was an especially serious obligation for the Levi’im, to plumb the profundity of the vessels, to truly understand the kedusha (holiness) they bore, and recognize them as so much more than their beautifully crafted exteriors. The Kohathites (and in general the Levi’im) had to invest great care to integrate the significance of the avoda (service) that they were utilized for. Continuous gazing, which could potentially lead to pleasure in exclusive focus on the material aspect of the items, would be a desecration to their honor, and therefore G-d’s. So restrictions were enacted, assuring only the greatest consideration for the holy objects, and zeal during their consecrated use.
This law is emphasized in an earlier verse, pasuk 15: “V’chilu Aharon u’vanav l’kasos et-hakodesh vet-kol-k’lai hakodesh binsoa hamachaneh v’acahrei kain yavo’u b’nei-Kahas lasais v’lo-yigu el-hakodesh vamaysu… – When Aharon and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and all the furnishings of the sacred objects at the breaking of camp, only then shall the Kohathites come and lift them, so that they do not come in contact with the sacred objects and die…” Those who were permitted by Hashem, Aharon haKohein and his sons, took the job of enrobing the objects, before anyone else who wasn’t permitted, could watch or help out.
This ‘guaranteed coverage’ is more than a highly esteemed concept in Judaism. It is relevant to us today in so many ways, permeating so much of our lives, and this power is known as “tzniyus”, almost always translated as “modesty”. Women and men both are charged with modesty, in both character and dress, together ensuring the sanctity and respectful atmosphere we strive to achieve. For example, women are obligated to cover their elbows, knees, and clavicle. But this is not a sign of oppression, not in the least! It brings the individual an aura of majesty, earns her the seriousness and respect of her peers, and also brings her inner light, strengths, and talents to the forefront of her being! Because she masks what is not as vital, the superficial, she concentrates focus on what really makes her special.
However, the body is very important. Without it, how could we exist in this world? How could we accomplish and reach true fulfillment? If we work to make it so, our body can be a chariot for Hashem in this world. So it is also invested with great holiness… This is another reason why we ‘cover up’. Since it is something to guard and value, it isn’t right to reveal it to everyone. It is not intended for the world’s spectators (in contrast to what, unfortunately, a large percentage of our world’s society deems acceptable), since it is reserved for special purposes.
Think about it… Even more similar to the case of the Kohanim draping the holy objects before their bearers began moving ahead, to prevent any temptations, or dulling of the spiritual radiance of the keilim… is how we drape the Torah scrolls in our shuls!
Do we ‘hide’ it, because it is something to be ashamed of? Do we hide it because it presents something, G-d forbid, destructive to us? Absolutely not! Envision the love, tenderness, and kavod that is accorded to the ritual, as the Torah is carefully held, secured snugly with a belt, enrobed by a traditional cover, and adorned with a shining silver crown or plate, as we lead it in a procession to… another place of protection and honor, the Aron Kodesh of our shul! We mirror our ancestors in the wilderness of so long ago…
Even our souls and soul-powers… To discover them, and fulfill them to their greatest potential, we have to dig deep.
We ‘cover up’, and take tzniyus so seriously, because precious things are concealed, reserved without exception for their treasured purposes. So, we must sometimes establish boundaries and disciplines, to uphold these sacred traditions.
When we have homes and communities endowed with tzniyus, and work to spread it to the entire world, we’ll open our lives and worlds as a hospitable residence for Hashem’s Kingship, and His Shechina in all it’s glory, and may we merit the ultimate Geulah right now!
The Messenger Bird
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