What do you see when you see God? In chapter 24, Moshe, Aharon, his sons, and the elders “see God”, but the Torah’s mysterious description only speaks of what lies at His feet. “Under His feet, like the work of livnat hasapir.”
If “the earth is His footstool”, perhaps the Torah is suggesting that what is most significant and relevant about the ultimate religious experience (and thus about every lesser religious experience) is not what it tells us about God, but how it lets us see our world.
There is much disagreement concerning the identity of the ‘sapir.’ According to Rabbi Meir, it was something similar to the sea, and to the sky. It’s reminiscent of James McBride’s beautiful phrase, “God is the color of water.” But it’s not entirely true that, as he continues, “water has no color.” When seen up close, in small quantities, water appears colorless, as does the sky. But when seen as a whole, both appear a brilliant azure. Azure in Hebrew is techelet, related to the word tachlit, meaning ultimate purpose. When seen up close, detail after detail, our lives can seem colorless, drab, meaningless. A religious experience should allow a person a wider, heavenly perspective which sees a whole more brilliant than the sum of its parts. For everyone now experiencing the many complicated and challenging details of the Pesach holiday, this is an especially important message to keep in mind, because our religious experiences are not only handed to us. We create and shape them ourselves.
But there is also a danger to an overly holistic perspective, that a grand ideology makes us lose sight of the individual. The Midrash offers a radically different interpretation that serves as complement and corrective. Creatively reading “livnat” not as a color, but as “leveina”, the bricks the Jews prepared in slavery, and “sapir” as “shfir”, a fetus, the Midrash weaves the story of a pregnant Jewish slave in forced labor collecting straw for bricks amongst thorns and bristles, whose infant falls into the mixture of blood and mud. The mother’s anguished cries rise to the Heavenly throne, and the angel Michael descends to carry the fetus to lay at God’s feet. A religious experience can’t be so grand and idealistic that we ignore the cry of the child. Just the opposite, it must raise our consciousness to the brokenness and pain of reality.
Which perspective is correct? As usual, the answer is yes.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. Chapter 24 was last Wednesday, so I added another 100 words to make up for the tardiness… I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il