Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Parshat Naso - What's the Point of It All?

"All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting 48 numbered 8,580."
~ Numbers 4:47-48

"Mishkan" - "The Tent of Meeting."  We've been reading about it for weeks and weeks now, the structure that hosted the Presence of G-d in the Israelites' camps while they journeyed through the wilderness. I guess that in my mind's eye the tent looked like, well, a tent.  Obviously it was made out of precious metals and fabrics and the finest woods, but structurally, I always imagined it to be similar to a really nice camping tent. 

Then we read this little section at the very beginning of this week's portion, Naso, that reminds us that, altogether, it took 8,580 men to schlep and service the mishkan.  Eight thousand five hundred and eighty. That doesn't include the young kids who scampered behind them, picking up stray pegs and scraps of fabric. And that doesn't count the women at home who cooked their meals, washed their clothing, and cared for the babies.  That means that, all told, over half the Israelite community's existence was entirely focused on this one task.  Pack up the mishkan. Move forward. Set up the mishkan. Rest. Repeat.

I got to thinking about that guy who carried the same pole or bolt of fabric week after week, year after year, and the woman or child at home that repaired the fabric on his shirt that it repeatedly wore away. Did he get it?  Did he understand how important his task was?  Perhaps he knew the concept - that this was how G-d would stay with his community, his family. When his feet ached, when his muscles burned, when his wife collapsed from the exhaustion of managing everything else all day, her own contribution, did he even think about that?  Did he care? After all, how could he have known that their work was contributing to one of the hugest spiritual concepts to develop in the last two thousand years?

 Though we don't have the same challenges as the Israelites, of course, I think we face the same thing.  Endless laundry and dishes at the Kopans bayit, children who wake too early and go to sleep too late, leave destruction and mess in their every path, and constantly pick at one another and whine. For those who work out of the house, annoyances with co-workers, pointless paperwork, people driving like idiots on the commute, and then still having to get dinner on the table and fold the laundry.  I remember being a student and feeling so frustrated that I really, truly had to take four general science classes, and pay attention and get decent grades in them. For everyone, it's the same - go through the grind, rest a little, repeat.  Carry the mishkan and still find time to play with your kids, eat dinner, and relax with friends. What's the point?

I see glimpses of it, sometimes.  I just had to leave the computer to un-wedge a plastic triceratops from the inside of a jack-in-the-box toy. When I turned to stalk balk out of the room, completely annoyed, my middle one threw his arms around my neck, gave me a hug and kiss, and yelled, "Thank you!" Sometimes I can see the holiness, catch a glimpse of the larger purpose.  Sometimes I get the rush that I'm doing a good job, that my work matters.  This is my golden pole, this is my two-by-four, this is my bolt of fabric.

Anyone else?  What's your daily grind, and what's the point?

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