Parashat Pekudei

Approaching G-d

This week’s portion is one of the most profound we can have, an ‎almighty, eternal and utterly ‘other’ G-d, of pure Spirit and ‎normally invisible, comes, visibly and tangibly to fill the ‎completed Mishkan. The G-d who created everything material, ‎yet who is Himself not material, dwells, exists in time and space ‎in the heart of this construction. We get used to this idea and ‎think it’s fine ‘G-d can do that’, yet in play here we have issues of ‎transcendence and immanence the we simply can’t ignore. ‎Maimonides tells us that G-d has no form, and drawn from his ‎own inherited Aristotelian ideas this may make sense (to him), ‎yet passages like this from the Torah undermine his ‎conclusions. Modern Judaism (following in the patterns set down ‎in earlier times, but not reaching back as far as the first century) ‎may not like the idea of any anthropomorphic descriptions of the ‎One true G-d, of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, but Torah ‎says the opposite. The pillar of cloud and fire are external, ‎physical forms taken by G-d to demonstrate His actual normally ‎invisible presence with us, right at the very heart of our faith ‎system and worship structure. If G-d is not at the heart of ‎Judaism, however He chooses to reveal Himself and in ‎whatever form He chooses, then our faith walk as Jews will ‎always only ever be tangential to our real calling and purpose.‎

But from this encounter with the divine presence made ‎physically manifest, taking a form that was visible and real, we ‎also learn another very important concept: Israel’s calling ‎nationally and individually was not to be a people with ‘lofty or ‎high ideals’, nor even a nation of sophistication or cultured ‎nuance, nor a people of ‘higher consciousness’. No, our calling ‎was simply this: we should demonstrate the living G-d of Israel’s ‎presence amongst us as alive and all powerful. We Jews don’t ‎have a philosophy to follow, no ‘self-help’ manual to propagate ‎‎(Judaism is not about life-style choices..), our function is to show ‎the awesome of G-d of Israel’s presence. As we are reminded, it ‎is the Greeks (gentiles) who seek wisdom and knowledge, we ‎Jews seek a sign…‎

And the ‘sign’ is that we carry the presence of G-d with us as a ‎nation, a people called and chosen by the One true G-d. As G-d ‎took residence in the completed Mishkan, with the Mercy Seat ‎as His footstool, the presence of G-d was so strong that Moshe ‎and the priests were not even able to perform the services. ‎They, yes even they who were clean, holy and had a walk with ‎G-d we might only dream of, even they couldn’t stand in His ‎awesome presence! We read here that it was the glory, or kavod ‎in Hebrew, of G-d that filled the Mishkan. The kavod of someone ‎is their inner quality made externally manifest, it is their glory, ‎and the inner beauty and qualities of G-d are made manifest ‎before us here. The visible presence of G-d in His glory that ‎filled the place was, as the word also suggests, a heaviness and ‎weight that brought people, here Moshe and the priests (just as ‎later in the Temple when the Shechinah presence filled it too) to ‎a standstill. They were almost unable to function before the ‎strength of G-d’s presence, the power of His awesome quality ‎and glory. As sinful human beings that we are, this should not ‎surprise us.‎

But despite the later tendencies of more modern forms of (non-‎Messianic) Judaism to hide the fact, the point remains that one ‎of, if not THE key point of us as Israel, the nation, is to ‎demonstrate the living presence of G-d. We should expect to ‎see it, feel it and know it. If it was expected by Moshe in his day, ‎then we should expect it in ours today too.‎