The Cover Up
Can you keep a secret? The combination for the safety box, ATM pin#, Grandma's secret chicken soup recipe, nuclear codes - some secrets are meant to be kept discreet, often but not always for good reason. Exposure to what’s hidden can be harmful - and sometimes cost a life or start a war. What’s the Book of Wilderness telling us about the use of veils in a world that is increasingly under surveillance. Chapter 4 details the tasks of technicians of the sacred, Cohens and Levites - down to the list of who folds what. The Kehat family, one of the three Levite family entrusted with maintenance and mobility of the Tabernacle, are in charge of the holiest of objects - but only after each item is carefully covered up by the higher up’s in charge - Aaron and sons. Why?
וְלֹא־יָבֹ֧אוּ לִרְא֛וֹת כְּבַלַּ֥ע אֶת־הַקֹּ֖דֶשׁ וָמֵֽתוּ׃
“The sons of Kehat may never enter and witness the sanctuary being swallowed up - lest they die.” (Ba 4:20)
“Swallowed up” is an odd translation for the Hebrew word “Ka’bela” that indicates a literal cover up. Each of the items in the holy shrine, including the ark in the holy of holies has specific veils, covers and poles to enable its safe protection and removal as they move to their next destination. The brief moment in which the sacred stuff is handled as mere furniture is off limits for all but the innermost circle of attendants. Is this because of fear of sacrilegious sight - the holy ark suddenly seen not as the mysterious seat of presence but just golden furniture covered up with goatskin blankets? They may die if exposed to this vision - unclear exactly how. What’s at stake here?
The simple reason is the importance of keeping up the theatrics of ritual. Iconic places and people are presented in ways that defy too much familiarity. Celebrities, for instance. The media, that is, us, routinely peeks beyond the veil, getting behind the scenes evidence of every celeb caught off guard and acting, well, human.
Is Moses trying to keep appearances in the Tabernacle and, like Broadway, leave backstage to the few - maintaining magic for the masses?
And maybe this warning isn’t just about optics. Others offered more complex reasons for why the sacred objects that serve as the container for divine energy may not be viewed by just anybody’s naked eye. Nachmanides, the medieval mystic writing in Spain, adds a cryptic comment at the end of his gloss of this warning: “This expression of ‘covering’ is to be understood in its literal sense. The student learned in the mysteries of the mystical will understand.”
Curious? I imagine the Levites, close to the mystery but without the security clearance to get the full picture, were curious as well. Perhaps some of us, like us, followed the advice and became students of mysteries. However we deal with privacy in our lives, perhaps this is a reminder to leave some inner room in our inner lives for mystery that defies the mundane, and may not have a password. It’s humbling to know there's more to learn and know, perhaps answers to big questions about life and death, and meanwhile keep patiently playing with veils.
Reminder: Want to learn more, discuss your thoughts and feelings about Va’Yikra and Below the Bible Belt? Join me on Monday July 25th 2022, 1pm ET for our first hour long Zoom Study Session. Link here:
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/89433380921 Meeting ID: 894 3338 0921
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