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Drash on Bamidbar 2024

Rabbi Dean Shapiro

Beth Shalom

A Tibetan Buddhist monk once gave a foreigner a tour of his monastery, or so I’ve been told. The visitor recognized a vase, sitting empty and ignored in a corner, as being some eight centuries old, and priceless. “Oh this?” asked the monk, as he picked it up and smashed it to bits. “It is just a thing.”

As the Book of Numbers opens, God gives directions for the packing and transportation of the sacred objects (“klei kodesh”) of the Tabernacle. “Over the table of display they shall spread a blue cloth; they shall place upon it the bowls, the ladles, the jars, and the libation jugs; and the regular bread shall rest upon it. They shall spread over these a crimson cloth which they shall cover with a covering of dolphin skin; and they shall put the poles in place” (Numbers 4:7-8).

The monk might read the passage and say “How odd. How can things be sacred?” And surely he has a point – so many of us enslave ourselves to acquiring and maintaining objects that are destined to break and dissolve. Some people engage in idolatry, investing objects with exceptional meaning and power. Some objects are prized above life. Surely this is sacrilegious and wrong.

Nonetheless, Judaism certainly believes that objects can be holy. Objects can connect us with our past.  Objects can remind us of our obligations. Objects can elevate our spirits and actions. Objects can be tools of learning. Objects can save lives.

I have a pair of candlesticks that my great, great grandparents used.  They are beautiful, and their grace inspires me to slow down as Shabbat arrives. They remind me of my ancestors, including the brave woman for whom I am named, and the loving grandmother who made sure I was the one to inherit them, and my commitment to raise our son in a Jewish home. The flames dance and delight as we share Shabbat with Jacob. Those candlesticks are sacred to me.

What objects, if any, are holy to you?

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