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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

You deserve to enter the sanctuary

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What can possibly be the message from the outdated (and repeated, but that’s another matter) information about the construction of the Divine Sanctuary in the desert over 3000 years ago?

Here’s the deal - your life (like my life and like the life of everyone else you know) is filled with  extensive responsibilities, numerous expectations, demanding priorities and pressuring deadlines. With the advent of social media and smartphones this ongoing pressure continues unabated at all hours of the day and night. It’s no wonder that in recent years there has been a sharp rise in anxiety and depression…

The key to the solution can be found by examining the juxtaposition of two seemingly different ideas in this week’s Torah portion. At first glance, the fact that the instruction to build the Sanctuary in the desert is taught in tandem with the laws of Shabbat seems incongruous: What’s the connection between the two?

The classic answer to this question is that there is a link in the observance of the two - construction of the Sanctuary cannot violate the laws of Shabbat and we learn the 39 categories of Shabbat-prohibited activities from the types of work required in the Sanctuary's construction.

But there’s more to it. 

You see, our experience of the universe is defined by time and space; we exist in a certain time and take up a certain space. Time and space are both limiting and defining dimensions that each have their set of pressure that comes along with the experience. We’re limited by time and space - we can only accomplish so much in a certain amount of time and we can only be in one place at once.

To help relieve us of this limitation and to help us redirect our focus back to our primary purpose, the Torah provides for a unique sanctuary that we can enter and rejuvenate ourselves. In the dimension of time this is Shabbat and in the dimension of space this is the Sanctuary.

Shabbat enables us to maintain our equilibrium and not get completely swamped and overwhelmed by the external forces in our lives. It creates the space for us to recalibrate our existence and remain in control of our life. This provides us the ability to reconnect to the most important things in our life (hint: it’s not your iPhone) and the strength to face the week ahead.

In space too, we must have a sanctuary that we can retreat into. Back in the day this was the Holy Temple; today however we must create such a G-dly sanctuary in our homes. When we have a secure space that is our sanctuary we can then turn and engage with the world around us.

But there is one more obvious dimension and that is included in the living experience: our very selves. 

Within ourselves there is a built-in sanctuary to which we each have a personal, 24/7, all-access pass. That’s right, the soul is our personal sanctuary. It’s disengaged from the headaches of modern life and it’s not damaged by its encounter with the world. In order to remain healthy and productive human beings, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the pressures of life, we have to reconnect with our soul.

These three dimensions that encompass the human experience; time, space and soul each have a sanctuary built into it. This week’s Torah portion reminds us to stop what we’re doing, extricate ourselves from the pressure around us and step into the sanctuary. In every dimension.  

Constructive stubbornness

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I think stubbornness is given a bad rap. Is it all that bad to be stubborn? 

We generally think of stubbornness as a negative trait - and it certainly could be misplaced and harmful. But if your stubbornness is leading you to make the right choice - even when you’re feeling uninspired, perhaps it’s not all that bad?

When dealing with others, it’s important to be flexible. We need to take their concerns into account and ensure that they are sincerely valued and appreciated. 

However, when it comes to upholding our Jewish values and principles, some irrational and unwavering stubbornness is the secret to success. 

In fact, the Torah describes the Jewish people as “stiff-necked”; basically the biblical way of saying “stubborn”. And despite being shared in a somewhat negative context, it’s not all that bad. In fact, it’s what has sustained us as a people all these years.

You’ve got to be a little “stiff-necked” to survive persecution by the Philistines, the Babylonians and the Persians. To be tormented by the Greeks and the Romans. You would need more than a little stubbornness to rebuild after the horrific devastation of the various Crusades and inquisitions. And there’s certainly fierce determination embedded in the DNA of our parents and grandparents who rebuilt after the Holocaust.

Yes, our stubbornness has served us well over the generations. Every single person born Jewish today owes that fact to multiple ancestors who refused to waver under any circumstances.  

Sometimes a little opposition calls out our determination; we have to learn to summon our inner positive stubbornness in less confronting circumstances too. Stick to what’s right no matter the fallout.

While it may take even more effort than resisting hostile opposition, it’s well worth the effort. Because without any hyperbole or exaggeration - it’s the key to Jewish continuity.

 

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