Terumah–The Veils

You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns,  and of fine twisted linen; it shall have a design of cherubim  woven into it.  You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with  gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of  silver.  You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant in there, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most  holy.  Exod. 26:31-33

The mishkan is divided into three areas: the enclosure (i.e., courtyard), the holy place, and the holy of holies.   Each is separated by a screen or curtain, made of fine materials as befits a sanctuary.  The degree of sanctity increases as one moves further in, and the material and design for the curtains becomes even finer (as witnessed by the silver bases and the woven cherubim in the curtain for the Holy of Holies).  The curtains demarcate the space; the arrangement creates a boundary, an awareness of other-ness, but at the same time invites entry.  We are drawn in towards the innermost chamber.

In similarly designed Temples in the Ancient Near East, there would be a statue of the deity in this innermost chamber.  But here, there is no image of the deity, and God dwells in darkness.  We are aware of power and beauty as we are drawn in, but at the heart, a mystery.

I am reminded of this teaching (which I first read decades ago in Nahum Glatzer’s wonderful Jewish Reader: In Time and Eternity)  ascribed to the Baal Shem Tov: “The end-all of knowledge is to know that we cannot know anything. But there are two sorts of not-knowing. The one is the immediate not knowing when a man does not even begin to examine and try to know because it is impossible to know. Another, however, examines and seeks, until he comes to know that one cannot know. And the difference between these two – to whom may we compare them? To two men who wish to see the King. The one enters all the chambers belonging to the king. He rejoices in the kings treasure rooms and splendid halls, and then he discovers that he cannot get to know the king. The other tells himself: “since it is not possible to get to know the king, we will not bother to enter, but put up with not knowing.”

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