By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ‘07
Metaphors and words count. Is the devil in the details or is God is in the details? While many use these phrases, we don’t know their origins. What we do know is the concept of detail. When we “detail” a car, we painstakingly go over the inside and the outside to clean it up, to make it new. When designers “detail” their creations, they are painstakingly adding the pieces that make their dresses stand out above others. In these two parashot, God gives us every conceivable detail to add to both the Mishkan, the tabernacle that houses the ark of the covenant as well as the priestly clothing. We are asked to create beauty for both the place that God will dwell and for the priests who will visit God there.
The parshah begins with Moses gathering the whole community together to re-iterate that Shabbat is a day of complete rest, holy to God. Then, we get the instructions on how to create the Mishkan and in the next parshah, the summary and how to set it up. But also, while were wandering in the desert, we learned the details for how to encounter God in our homes – for in these descriptions we have allusions to how to celebrate Shabbat.
Our Shabbat table becomes the symbolic representation of the Mishkan in our home. We light Shabbat candles; symbolic of the sacred lamp, the menorah. We say kiddush over wine, symbolic of the sanctification of the meal, taken from the sacrifices made. We have two challahs symbolic of the shew-bread. We sprinkle salt on the challah before we eat it, symbolic of the destruction of the Temple modeled after the Mishkan. The cutting of the challah with the knife is symbolic of our sacrificing the animals brought to the altar. Some substitute the use of the knife by pulling apart the Challah as a way of demonstrating that violence is not condoned and that Shabbat is a time of peace. Before we say the Motzi, the blessing over bread before we eat, we wash our hands, symbolic of the priest’s using the laver. While we are washing our hands, we are purifying our souls. We are silent before the Motzi blessing, to make sure that that purity is sustained into the first bit of our Shabbat meal and beyond.
Our Shabbat clothing is special like the clothing described for the priest. We don’t come to the Shabbat table in torn jeans and a T-shirt. Even if we are at camp, on Friday night, the dress code is often clean white shirt and our best jeans. We are dressed for a special experience, a special encounter with the divine and our clothing signals that we are out of our ordinary realm. Moreover, we rush home or rush out of the kitchen preparations to change into our clothes before we go to minyan or greet our guests or family. We have “bells on our clothes” to greet the Shabbat bride!
Thus, we see that God is indeed in the details. Within the kabbalistic system, our mystical understanding, we encounter the mystery of the Mishkan at our table and all it entails. Shabbat descends upon us with Chesed and Hod, loving-kindness and glory, with our community or family, in celebration of God’s grace among us. We call in the Sabbath bride who brings together Malchut, our earthly kingdom, with Tiferet, the harmony and beauty of God’s presence.
God dwells in the details of the Mishkan. The priests visit God there. God made each of us a priest and a holy vessel, so that we too can encounter God. May we all be blessed with the beauty of God’s dwelling at the Mishkan of our homes, our Shabbat tables.