The Lair Of The Lion
“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me.” (25:8)
A while ago, a well-know Israeli daily newspaper, not known for its sympathy to religion, published a cartoon. In the cartoon, a man was having a dream. Out of his head, came the statutory “think-bubbles”. The bubbles got larger and larger until the following scene unraveled. The man saw himself ‘Upstairs’ being questioned by angels with wings wearing what looked suspiciously like black hats: “But why didn’t you keep Shabbat?” they asked. “You knew there was a thing called Shabbat, didn’t you? What about Kashrut? You knew there was something called Kashrut?”
In the following bubble, the man wakes up in a cold sweat. Then a close-up on his face. “Maybe they’re right!” He says.
Some time ago, a baby-food company recalled tens of thousands of its products because some lunatic had put glass in some of them. Was there anyone who thought “Well, the chances of getting the one with the glass is so minuscule – thousands and thousands to one. I’ll just go right ahead and feed this apple puree to my little six-month old baby?!”
If there were five hundred bottles of cola on a table in front of you and you knew one of them was poisoned, would you drink any of them? Is there anyone in the world who would pause, way up the statistical probabilities, and say ‘Well, it’s such a small chance...”
When faced with even the smallest possibility of an enormous danger, not even the longest odds in the world encourage us to take a chance.
So why isn’t everyone religious?
Why don’t people think like this: “What if those religious fanatics are right? After all, even if they’re wrong, so at least I’ll have had a wonderfully rich and fulfilling life, a faithful wife and a lovely family, etc. etc. But what if they’re right and I’m wrong? I’m going to lose out on something eternal. I’m going to get to the next world and I won’t have the price of admission. I won’t be able to get even a cheap seat! I’ll be out in the middle of a cosmic ocean with no direction home. Maybe they’re right! Maybe it’s all true. Maybe there is a World-to-Come. Maybe I will have to give an account in front of the real ‘Supreme Court’. So you know what? I’ll be religious just in case! Better safe than sorry!”
Why don’t people think like this? What's the difference between a bottle of baby food and Judaism?
In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah starts a lengthy description of the Mishkan. The sheer volume of this account outweighs almost every subject in the Torah. What was the Mishkan and why was it so special that it merits such voluminous expanse in the Book where nothing is merely descriptive and there is no place for sheer literary embellishment?
The word Mishkancomes from the word ‘to dwell’. It was the place that G-d ‘dwelled’ in this lower world. But if G-d is the place of the world - the world is within Him - how can a mere building house He whose glory fills the universe? How can the Omnipresent have a ‘house’?
There is a difference between existence and presence. G-d exists equally everywhere. He is no more in one place than another, because there can be no place where He is not. He is the place of the world. Anywhere where He is not cannot exist, by definition. Rather, the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash (HolyTemple) were places where the presence of G-d was palpable. You could see He was there.
Imagine sitting at a computer. You are typing away, lost in the great American/British/Israeli novel. Unbeknownst to you, a lion enters your room. It’s a very quiet, well-behaved lion, and you carry on typing in blissful ignorance.
The existence of the lion is unaltered by whether you carry on typing or you turn around and give yourself a bit of a surprise. However, the presence of the lion has everything to do with whether you turn around or not.
The Mishkan allowed one to see and fear the lion, as it were. G-d’s presence there was palpable.
The word for ‘sight’ in Hebrew is from the same root as ‘fear’ - yirah. What is the connection between seeing and fearing? A person only fears what he can see. Intellectual concepts don’t frighten us. The biggest proof is that we don’t fear G-d. Even if we’re religious and we know that there is a World-to-Come, a cosmic day of reckoning, even though we know these things clearly, we can’t see them, and so we don’t really fear. Fear comes only from seeing the Lion. Going into the Mishkan was like going into the lion’s lair.