By Ally Resnik, HUC-JIR Student in Israel
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, gives us a description of the details of the mishkan (tabernacle) and the beautiful materials that the Israelites must procure in order to create it. One of the many elements of the mishkan is a special curtain, known as a parochet, which sections off the Kodesh haKodashim, “Holy of Holies,” from the rest of the mishkan. In Exodus 26: 33 we read, “V’hivdilah haparochet lachem bein kodesh u’vein Kodesh haKodashim”—And this curtain shall divide for them between the holy and the Holy of Holies (also translated as “most holy”). This distinction between holy and most holy was so sacred that only the kohen gadol had permission to go past this curtain, and he could only do so once per year on Yom Kippur. Instead of focusing on the literal “Holy of Holies,” I want to focus on the concept of holiness and the obstacles that impede our ability to access it.
As an individual, I search for holiness among the mundane. I am always on the look out for nisim b’chol yom—daily miracles, and I try to be mindful of my relationship with God and that mindfulness can imbue my life with holiness. Nonetheless, when I think of holiness, I immediately think of a kehilah kedoshah—a holy community. I am fortunate to participate in many holy communities: my learning community at Hebrew Union College, my synagogue community at my home in America, and of course, Nashot haKotel here in Israel. However, I would not give any of these holy communities the elite status of being the Kodesh haKodashim of communities. They are on the simply kodesh side of the dividing parochet. Unlike the parochet described in Terumah, which is made of woven blue, purple, and scarlet linen, the metaphorical parochet keeping these communities from reaching their highest potential holiness is not so beautiful. This parochet, which separates us from utmost holiness, is made of ignorance, intolerance, and politics/arguments—not the kind l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven). Fortunately, this parochet does not characterize the communities themselves, but it is always hanging next to them—keeping out utmost holiness. Kodesh haKodashim remains just out of reach.
What is a parochet but merely a thin veil? It is thin, moveable, and perhaps even translucent. This gives us the opportunity to peek behind it from time to time. We can glimpse this utmost holiness by combating ignorance with education, intolerance with acceptance, and politics with peace. Rosh Chodesh with Nashot haKotel this morning was a glimpse behind the veil. There was minimal police presence and there were very few people trying to disrupt our prayer. Instead, the experience was dominated by beautiful voices raised in song and prayer. Kodesh haKodashim was not out of reach. This week we read, “V’asu li mikdash, vashachanti b’tocham”—And let them build me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them (Exodus 27:8). May all of our holy communities be a Kodesh haKodashim—a most holy place where the Divine Presence dwells.