August 7, 2018

The dangers of deconstruction (Bemidbar)

Parshat Bemidbar contains a detailed census of Bnei Yisrael, as well as instructions about how the Mishkan (Tabernacle) should be transported as Bnei Yisrael journey through the desert.

However, even though the tribe of the Kehati family was responsible for transporting each part of the Mishkan, we are told that they were prohibited from observing the covering and the packing of each of the items of the Mishkan (see Bemidbar 4:20 with Rashi). Instead, this was to be done by the Kohanim, afterwhich the Kehatites would then enter and transport each item. But what is the reason for such a prohibition? Why couldn’t the Kehatites be involved in the seemingly easy job of wrapping and packing the items of the Mishkan?

According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (in his ‘Talks on the Parasha’), the reason for this prohibition is due to the danger inherent in dismantling the sacred. While the Mishkan stood in one place it was a place of holiness and divine connection, but when it needed to be transported from one place to another, it was highly likely that its deconstruction could diminish the way in which it was perceived by some. Only the Kohanim – who were most attuned to the holiness of the Miskhan – were allowed to enter the Sanctuary and cover the sacred, and only after this occurred were the Kehatites allowed to come near and carry these separate parts of the Mishkan to the next destination.

In an age that delights in deconstructing ideas and personalities, I believe that this insight has considerable application. Though there are some who are able to tolerate dismantling the sacred, others find it too hard to bear. Though it is a truism that ‘seeing is believing’, it is no less true that seeing certain things can also dent our beliefs. The challenge for Jews who live in the modern world is how to maintain our sense of wonder in a world of diminishing boundaries.

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