What could be

Today’s Torah reading covers the last of Exodus, which focuses on God’s instructions for the tabernacle tent. I’m surprised at how detailed they are: according to Moses, God has outlined the exact components for every part of the structure, including their precise dimensions and even what material from which each thing should be built.

God has also made it clear that everyone who is able to contribute, resources and skills, must do so. The people are eager to comply. Carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers—everyone chips in. Even the “working women” give up their precious scraps of metal for the cause. During an informal question and answer portion of the service, the rabbi acknowledges that this may be a reference to prostitutes surrendering the small reflective surfaces they used as mirrors. This small detail, he explains, indicates how even those with very little were willing to sacrifice items essential to their livelihoods.

Once the people understand what the tabernacle is for, they dedicate themselves fully to its construction. They seemed to be soothed by the specificity of the instructions, the lack of ambiguity.

Just as the history of being enslaved helped them grasp how time can be used to draw closer to the sacred, being homeless had made them keenly aware of how a shelter can be used for that same purpose. Experience may have heightened their gratitude for both, but it also made it clear that freedom is the essential ingredient—without it, one cannot organize time in such a way that a Sabbath is possible, just as putting up a structure like a tabernacle isn’t allowed if the land belongs to a person who doesn’t permit it.

With all this focus on homelessness and tents, I can’t help but think about the young people who I found camped on the synagogue steps when I first arrived this morning. Freedom is the ability to say “no,” whether it’s “I won’t work this day” or “I won’t vacate this space until I’m ready.” It’s why the “Occupy” movement is so powerful—people are refusing to leave an area that technically does not belong to them. With their tarps and tents and bed rolls, they are designating a space where everyday rules no longer apply. It’s not all that different from what the Jews did as they trekked across the desert thousands of years ago. The parallels are not lost on the rabbi. At the end of the service, he explains the events of the morning to the members of the congregation, most of whom showed up after the porch was cleared. I don’t know what he could have done differently, but he obviously feels that kicking the occupiers off the porch wasn’t the best choice. “We must ask God for forgiveness,” he says. “We have to right this wrong.” He doesn’t elaborate on what restitution might entail—whether something impersonal like cutting a check to a homeless shelter or more intimate like opening the synagogue’s basement as a shelter on stormy nights—but it reminds me once again what I admire about religion. It doesn’t automatically make you do the right thing, but it helps you imagine that there might be a right thing, lighting the way from what is to what could be.

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15 thoughts on “What could be

  1. Corinna……if you never write another word about this subject, and if you never try another ‘flavor’ or religion, your last sentence has said it all. All. “it helps you imagine that there might be a right thing, lighting the way from what is to what could be.”

    Amen and amen.
    Yours in Christ

  2. Amen to Patti’s Amen! So many cultures and so many faith traditions hold the same basic belief; that not only is there a “right thing”, but that we have a duty to strive to bring it into this world through our actions. It may come in many flavors, as Patti said, but ultimately it comes down to that “right thing, lighting the way…”

  3. Corinna, I am so enjoying your journey at this point. Since I know so little about how Judaism functions in day to day practice, these posts have been a real eye-opener. Thanks.
    We got back Sunday p.m. (almost Monday a.m.) and had to get up at 5 to get ready for work. But I enjoyed my time with my combat brothers. Now, I’ve just almost caught up and am getting back to your posts, though I haven’t read all the comments. Looking forward to it. 🙂

  4. “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
    ― Robert F. Kennedy

  5. I too have loved this segment of Corinna’s journey. And, I have missed you, Walt. So welcome back! Corinna I agree with Patti, your last sentence says it all. This post reminds me that religion is not just a building because it travels with us wherever we go. So those of us who believe should be not just inside worshiping, but also outside the building reaching out to others and lighting the way. I was thinking this morning as I read the posts from Snapshot that many people seem to have had problems with the church in their past. That was not the case for me. My mother began taking us to church when I was four because she wanted us to learn to be civil and moral(!). She and my dad had not been church goers to that point and he did not go with us until I was a teen. Later I went to Young Life camp and became a believer for myself. Later, as a young adult in a troubled marriage, I returned to the church. I’ve always felt loved there; found love there I should say. I was raised Presbyterian, went to a charismatic church in NY (Long Island) as well as became involved with a Messianic Jewish group, then landed in a couple of more fundamental churches for 4-5 years. Decided I wanted my kids to be raised in more of a mainstream, historical faith so when we moved, found a really great Presbyterian church. I don’t feel judgmental of the more conservative churches. A lot of you have hard feelings about the church. Church people have walked through my hard times with me, no matter whether they were conservative or less than conservative – a bad marriage, abandonment when I was pregnant, divorce, remarriage, stepchildren, cancer, bad bosses. But, the church really isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about preserving itself, but giving itself.

    • Thanks for giving us some much-needed perspective, Ginger. Maybe its human nature to think the grass is always greener elsewhere, and that’s why so many of us tend to dwell on negative personal experiences in churches. For every misdeed, there have been 1,000 good acts by people motivated by faith. I think too often we mistake the institution for the people, as well. Institutions can stick to pointless, outmoded rules, but people can change them for the better. I’ve been reading the comments from the new Pope, and I must say they give me hope. I can’t see myself ever returning to the Roman Church, but it is heartening to see a leader who concerns himself with his flock more than the organization.

  6. I love the insights you’ve been sharing, Corinna, into the Exodus story — like the working women contributing along with everyone else. When you talked about how specific the instructions were for the tabernacle, my thoughts were that God was showing care for his people again, by meeting them at their level. It doesn’t seem that asking them to trust blindly that Moses would be back from the mountain worked very well — maybe the instructions were too vague? So maybe God decided to try being real specific and see how that worked. In the course of my life again and again, I have experienced God meeting me at my level, showing care for what’s important to me, even tho what’s important to me at the time, I’ve learned later, isn’t the most mature choice.

    “Doing the next right thing” is my #1 guiding principle in life, so what you said about religion helping us imagine that there is a right thing, rang a bell for me. Although I actually learned to do the next right thing, not from religion, but from 12-Step programs. Which are spiritually based. I guess I’m just saying that it’s not ONLY religion that helps us toward civility and morality.

    Ginger, I just want to say that I appreciate hearing how the church has been there for you in hard times. And I also appreciate your gentle ways of speaking and sharing your faith.

    • Hi Shelley, Thank you. And, of course, the practice of “trying to do the next right thing” happens every day no matter where we are. It seems like it’s in the small, everyday acts (like upholding commitments to family, friends, ourselves…) where we get to really practice all this spirituality stuff.

      • Nice comment, Corrina. Like Paul said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”.

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