Sunday, November 6, 2016

The light of the commandments in your tevah - a protected place for God

Are we but dark vessels seeking to follow the light of God so that we may have meaning and value in this life? Or do we have a way to capture that light in us? Should we be seekers of truth which no one has agreed on, or should we seek to become the vessels of truth and let it shine forth from us?

Is our search for God like meeting a stranger because we know little about his nature? We know little about a person on the street when we first meet, getting clues from dress, manner, diction, and values. There's little to confirm a relationship in those moments.

But if we connect to this stranger, by the grace of God, through what life he has put in us, then it is God who brings us closer together. So that relationship of us through God binds us together and blesses each other.

A dark soul

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a tormented Romantic Unitarian academic, wrote about our lonely plight.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
So we go to and from Longfellow's isolated place if we silence the voice of the one who has created us. It is darkness when we don't talk of HaShem in this world. It's a place that has no destination or even a port to dock in. But when there is a ray of enlightenment that allows us to see the direction to the ways of righteousness, we must never fail to follow. By taking that path, we create a meaningful and joyous life.

The commandments from God are those rays of light that allow us to know more of his kingdom. His mitzvot, which joins us to him and each other, are what brings him in to our lives instead of just a chance meeting which may introduce us, but fails to bring us closer to him. So many mystics have had encounters but have little motivation to follow believing that their knowledge is enough. It is our following and seeking His ways and in rejecting the world through repentance that cleanses us. And as we are cleansed, God comes closer to us.

The seal of protection

We need to seal in those words of unity so we never forget them. We must always remember how God has blessed us. We protect the commandments and the memories of our blessings by keeping the world from entering in and polluting them. The assimilation of any unholy way will dilute the richness of His words where they dwell and this taint on the purity of HaShem who is without fault, will cause him to withdraw. We need to seal in those words with a thick coating of pitch, a barrier of willpower strengthened by an understanding of God's instruction found in the Torah, to keep all the worldly water outside our ship from seeping in.

Even though we float on the unpredictable surface of the world, we are potentially protected by the words that God has spoken to us through the prophets. Through our trust of the truth of these words, God provides a place of refuge where as the worldly waters roil and rage, we can find the peace of an eternal promise that will keep us safe within our pitch-coated vessel. The torrential sin of the world will try to leak in through any little crack and seep in to our inner calm displacing the truth that God has shown us. But we are not removed from this world, just separated from it. We are often warned to maintain that layer of pitch to protect the Law in our lives while we are yet not fully in His kingdom.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh 1:8)
The waters we navigate through is as uncharted as the events in our lives. Chaos exists in both elements. We certainly try to erase all the risk associated with sailing but winds and currents are never going to announce their intentions the same way that God hides his activities. So as the waves crash in on our vessels, we have to fasten our eyes on the ways of our Lord God and seal out the temptation that pushes in on our willpower.

The tevah and the special place

There are many uses of a Hebrew word that indicate a vessel that seals out the outside world. In general, the word ark is used to translate the Hebrew word tevah (תבה). The word occurs in the Torah to describe the little vessel that carried Moses down the river covered in tar and pitch (Exodus 2:3).

The other instance of tevah occurs in the more famous ark of Noah, God instructed Noah to seal out the world with a generous coating of pitch on both the inside and outside (Gen 6:14). I like that picture. It's necessary to put up defenses against the world by both an internal fight to keep thoughts at bay capable of defiling the organized man. It's also necessary to create external processes and redefine traditions to keep you on track. You then teach others the habits of these good works to help bring families and friends closer to our Lord God.

It is the commandments of the Lord that bring us through the vast chaos of life, floating in a sea of iniquity, we still survive by God's mercy. The commandments deserve a special place in a special container internally in us. To symbolize this externally, we put them in a container that can be called an tevah. This is the Ark of the Covenant. This is the Holy Ark where Torah Scrolls are kept in the front of the synagogue. This is the holiest place where we seal out the world and let God reign. This is in us also. And it is in the one who takes his place on the bimah where the Torah is read. Even in Sephardic synagogues, the reader's stand is called a tevah and the origin of that tradition is mixed but surrounded with ship metaphors.

The final imprint

We await the time when those commandments will be sealed permanently in our minds and hearts as the world presses inward. Pitch is very viscous but still liquid which causes our vessel to leak eventually. In that day of the coming kingdom, God will transform Jews from people stepping up to the bimah to guide others to people continually getting true direction leading to a full life and success. It is the unbreakable promise of the Lord of Israel that the law will be affixed to each Jew in a covenant of God.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jer 31:33-34)
Lord God of the holy places, where the Law reigns in perfect light, shine in to our inner vessel, to bring the commandments of life to our hearts and minds. And let us learn how to seal them in and to do all that is written in these laws so that we can follow your ways that have kept the universe in perfect order. Bless you Lord God of the pitch and the tar for keeping us from straying too far, having unrighteous ways, and staying in your eternal safety.
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