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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Building a Mishkan

(The following is lesson taught at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synaggue on Shabbat Terumah, when the Torah reading treats the building of the Mishkah (Tabernacle, Dwelling Place) in the wilderness.)

The Mishkan was the place where the congregation of Israel with God during their wilderness wanderings. It was a place they built, which God inhabited, and where they could meet with Him and honor Him.

Today I want us to think together of each of us building a mishkan--a space in the midst of our lives especially prepared to meet with God and honor him.

It is mistake to imagine we can know God in terms of colossal generalities. If that were so, God never would have instructed the children of Israel to build him a Tabernacle, a Mishkan for Him to dwell in. Knowing that God is the Lord of the Universe is nice, but you can't wrap your arms around that. It is too general and "way out there." When God directed the Israelites to construct the Mishkan, the Holy One knew that we need to encounter God within the confines of predetermined circumstances if we are to come to know him deeply and honor Him specifically.

We neither experience God in generalities nor honor Him in generalities: we meet Him and honor Him in the specifics, the details of life.

To know God deeply is to know Him in the details. To only encounter God in the universe-sized generalities is to know about Him but not to know Him.

Today we are going to look at three questions: What clues does the Bible give to this process? What does it mean to clear a space and build a structure in our lives where we can meet with Him and grow in our relationship with Him? and, What help is offered for this process by the Jewish tradition, which is community across time.

How did people encounter God in the Bible and grow in their relationship with Him? Among the practices we discover are the followiing:

•Public worship
•Regular Prayer
•Situational Prayer
•Reading Scripture, Study
•In- breaking visions, intuitive ways of learning
•Following the tradition
•The counsel and prayer of trusted elders
•Learning from the experience and counsel of one's forbears
•Intensification practices - such as fasting

What does it mean to clear a space and build a structure in our lives where we can meet with Him and grow in our relationship with Him?

1. It means recognizing that there is a need to do so
2. It means recognizing that this will take effort and sacrifice.
3. It means taking steps to insure sustaining the effort--often through enlisting the aid of others.
4. It is helpful to have a blueprint.
5. It means choosing the right materials and an approach that will achieve the desired ends
6. It means taking steps to make sure that one is not being deluded--there is need for linking with community and with tradition.

What help is offered for this process by the Jewish tradition, which is community across time?

In his excellent book, "On Being A Jew" [Baltimore:Johns Hopkins Press, 1990], James Kugel reminds us "The cliché about Judaism is still true: it is not so much a religion as a way of life. And the way to ‘walk through the door’ is to begin to adopt that way of life, to keep the Sabbath and our festivals and say the fixed prayers every day, to observe our laws of pure food and of proper behavior, and in all ways to try and act like a Jew" [32 ff].

This quotation again underscores the learning by doing aspect of Jewish spirituality as contrasted to the "learn first and then maybe do" model prevalent in American culture.

For Kugel, and for Judaism, the way we build our mishkan is by employing the blueprint of practices provided in the Jewish tradition--community across time. Seeing Jewish life as a "blueprint" is an apt metaphor. Imagine passing a beautiful home in Beverly Hills, and deciding, "I'm going to build me one of those!" You then invest the money, get the site and start building. Of course you cannot build such a home from the outward appearance! You must have the blueprint or you will never get the results you admire. Similarly, we need a blueprint for our Mishkan--and Jewish tradition provides that blueprint. And there is perhaps nothing in life more specific than a blueprint: everything is specified and measured to the "nth" degree.

Kugel points out how we will learn the satisfactions of this kind of Mishkan building only by doing so just as children are brought into Jewish life through patterned practices, before they have any explanations offered them. "Long before they can properly understand, in fact, almost before they can talk, they are taught the difference between the Sabbath and the rest of the week, that certain things are done only in the one and not the other; and shortly after they speak their first words they begin to learn the words of blessing that we say before eating this or that kind of food or washing our hands before a meal. The understanding of God, if any, that may accompany these acts is, of course perfectly childish, but what does that matter? Because a place for understanding is opened up inside the children by their first doing these things, and that place will be filled with greater and greater insight as they go on" [32]. This accords precisely with the insights of Robert Wuthnow in "Faith of our Fathers." Wuthnow, America's premier sociologist of religion, demonstrates that spiritual identity is formed in children and transmitted inter-generationally through a pattern of ingrained practices, rather than through formal education and catechizing. The formal education and catechizing assures the children that, should they need explanations, these explanations are available when needed. It reminds us too, that our understanding will grow only as we build and inhabit our Mishkan of Jewish practice. It as we first do that we come to understand.

In last week's Torah reading, when G-d called our people into the Jewish way of life, their response was "na’ase v’nishmah" " we will do and we will understand" connoting, "let us do and let us [then] understand." Kugel reminds us "And this is true whether one is a child or an adult. . . One must begin by doing" [33].

You cannot build and inhabit this kind of Mishkan simply by attending shabbat services. Kugel rightly points out the "dailyness" of Jewish life, the sanctification of the mundane and the habitual [35-36ff]. The everyday, life-permeating ritual responsibilities and responses of the Jew living in community, at home, at business, in daily life, all of these become occasions for growing in awareness of God and for honoring him in the details of life. Remember: a relationship with God grows in the details, not in generalities.

Kugel reminds us. "It is not so much a matter of time: The time is there to be taken. But this way of living consists not only of those minutes of the day or week that are specifically given over to one duty or another, but also of the rest of the time, which is changed because of them" [36]. For example, when we make Jewish prayer part of our daily routine, the time between the prayer times is also transformed. All of life is transformed, just as the holiness of the Mishkan in the midst of the encampment of Israel radiated out to the entire encampment and indeed the entire land. Someday the Mishkan of God in the midst of His people will be so great, that all the world will be made holy by His radiating presence.

Building this kind of Mishkan is of course a metaphor for the need to adopt and adapt the biblically grounded Jewish blueprint/way of life as a means of creating a meeting place with God—as a means of creating the possibility of encountering God in new ways [36-27ff]. Kugel says ". . . this is the most basic principle of our way, to open up such a space in our lives and in our hearts. Then such a space will have the capacity to radiate outward. So the holiness of the mishkan radiated out to fill the whole camp of the Israelites during their wanderings, and the camp itself became changed as a result. And it was quite proper that the people be the ones to build God’s dwelling, because this is the way it always must be: the people create the space and then God can fill it.. . . . It is . . . very much a structure, a pattern of actions, that keeps open the heart in some fashion" [36-37].

Finally, Kugel reminds us "The space is made by human beings and can me made quickly or slowly. But when G-d fills the space it is always quick and never gradual" [38].

On a corporate and individual level, Messianic Judaism needs to build and inhabit a Jewish Mishkan, along the blueprint furnished by our holy texts and holy tradition. It is true that we we will modify the blueprint somewhat in keeping with the insights and experiences we share as those who know the face of the High Priest, people who honor Yeshua our Messiah . But by all means, may we build the space and meet the Holy One there. "Hashivenu Adonai elecha, v'nashuvah. Chadesh yamenu k'kedem--Turn us back to you Hashem, and we shall return: renew our days as of old."

At 2/25/2005 11:55 AM, Blogger Chesty said...

I was just sitting here in Mirtle Beach, reading your blog and thought I'd say Hey.



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