The profane din of this political moment is seemingly inescapable. But as this week’s Torah portion (Ex 27:20 – 30:10) suggests, the creation of sacred space is never simple, never without an intentional setting apart, never without concentrated effort. The Torah, of course, describes a specifically Jewish sacred space, but its resonance need not be limited.
The Parasha describes the consecration ceremony for Aaron and his sons. They are to become the Israelite’s priestly clan. The narrative begins with a command: “You shall bring forward your brother Aaron with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests.” The main characters have been summoned and the plot is initiated. God has selected Aaron and his sons for a symbolic transformation; they are to be set apart from the rest of the Israelites who are then enlisted in the consecration; once consecrated the Priests will stand between God and the people as intermediaries. But the consecration itself is a process; it is initiated not completed by their having been chosen.
The details of the ordination are clearly meant to dazzle: Aaron and his sons are bejeweled with exotic stones, laden with symbols, and enrobed in luxurious materials enlivened with vibrant colors. Every vestimentary detail is specified and elaborated. It’s meant to be a riveting display, enthralling the Israelites in a spectacular world of appearances.
And then things get messy. Rams and a bull are brought on the scene and the blood flows: a narrative of dismemberment, of guts and fat, of smells and tastes, of dashing, smearing, burning and eating. We transition from outward appearance to a literal extroversion of flesh.
Dazzled by appearances and enthralled by bloody rites, we are immersed in the plot, but the theme is drowned out by the sensuous cacophony. Where are we and why? Suddenly, quietly a previously submerged melodic line comes to the surface and reminds us. We are…
“…at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the Lord, where I shall meet with you to speak to you…And I shall abide in the midst of the Israelites and I shall be God to them. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God Who brought them out from the land of Egypt for Me to abide in their midst. I am the Lord their God.” 29:42-46*
We’re in the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, of encounter, where “Adonai may dwell among them,” a sacred space for divine presence. The Priests are set apart for a reason: to mediate flesh & spirit, to effect a transubstantiation of the holy from outward to inward, profane to sacred, distance to intimacy.
*Robert Alter translation