Thursday, April 30, 2020

Preserving the Sacred Space

As society is itching to return to a normal life, it is worth asking what, if any, lessons we have learned from the pandemic. Everybody will draw their conclusions and expect the fingerpointing in the political arena to descend to a new low. From a spiritual perspective, it behooves us to ask ourselves what we have learned from this most unusual period. Indeed, there is no one correct answer to this, but I would like to share one angle in light of a startling passage in this weeks Parsha.

The Parsha begins by G-d instructing Moshe that one may not come to the holiest area of the Temple at any time. In fact, not only would the entrance to the Holy of Holies be permitted once a year, it was only sanctioned for the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) to enter this sacred space. For everyone else, it was forever off-limits. The notion of the holiest area in Judaism being off-limits to everyone besides the Kohein Gadol on one day a year sounds counter-intuitive. One would like to think, the more sacred the location, the more times we should frequent the area. In contemporary times, I like to think of the Kotel and how we are encouraged to visit as frequently as possible and yet in ancient times in the era of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), the entrance tot he holiest area was prohibited!

The Rabbis teach us a compelling lesson, and that is the danger of losing one’s sensitivity to the sacredness of the area that may occur with one feeling too comfortable by frequenting the sanctuary. That is why the holiest place in Judaism was off-limits to everyone but the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). This lesson is something that has been gnawing at me since we were compelled to shut the doors of our shul in the face of COVID-19. The gift of individuals coming together to connect as a community in prayer has been temporarily removed from us. G-d willing, we will be able to resume our prayers in shul in the not too distant future. At that point, will we have internalized the preciousness of the Beis Haknesses/Sanctuary? Will our attitude be one of seriousness, or will a nonchalant, casual attitude reappear? If there is one thing that this uncertain period has taught us, it is to take nothing for granted. Let us remember the unique gift of praying in shul, and let is never treat it with anything than the highest respect it deserves.

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