07 February 2010


The seventeenth of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.


Be pleased, Eternal our God, with your people Israel and with their prayers. Restore the service to the inner sanctuary of your Temple, and receive in love and with favor both the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayers. May the worship of your people Israel always be acceptable to you. And let our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are you, Eternal, who restores his divine presence to Zion.

This whole notion of restoring God's service to the inner sanctuary of God's Temple represents for me, as a daily prayer, THE moment when I hold the siddur in my hands with great love and promise myself that often what I say is in the language of metaphor. Reality intervenes with this prayer. "The inner sanctuary of God's Temple?" You mean, where the Dome of the Rock now stands? Am I praying for World War Three?

One time, in 1985, I rented a car with some friends and drove from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then on to Hebron. We stopped at Rachel's Tomb on the way as well. Touring the holy spots of ancient Judaism, I remember being struck by a shocking amount of anger and hatred coming from the Jews of Hebron and a painfully difficult amount of silence and hatred coming from the Muslims as well. It felt like a bad place where no one was fated to be happy. We toured the Tomb of the Patriarchs, walked in and out of the mosque, and then were asked, by a Settler with a gun strapped over shoulder, to help make a minyan for someone who need to say Kaddish at the afternoon prayers.

We didn't hesitate to say "yes" to perform the mitzvah. And as we faced toward Jerusalem, I knew that for some of them with their rifles (and not too long into the future Baruch Goldstein, on Purim, would use his rifle to murder praying Muslims) taking the Temple Mount violently to "restore" it to Jewish religious hands, was what they prayed for when they asked God to "restore the service to the inner sanctuary of your Temple." But for me, that restoration was metaphorical. It was about believing that there was something "original" that needed to be put back into place, a purity of service, a clear-eyed motivation, an unadulterated expression of connection to God that was clearly in line with God's call to Abraham, God's struggled with Jacob, God's redemption from Egypt, and God's fulfilled redemption of bringing his children into the Land of Israel.

That I knew we shared and it seemed--and still seems--to be an essential idea of Judaism, without which, all is lost. So I prayed with them because one mourner remembering his dead, and therefore his link back across the generations to the very promise we've cited, was far more important to the God I believed in than whether or not that God was going to be worshiped in a Temple "restored." Gained in blood so that sacrifices of blood could be offered? No. If we have evolved through the forces of history to learn to pray and serve God without a Temple, that was, in the final analysis, a good thing. And our God led us there. Wants us to be there.

Inner sanctuary. Temple. Fire-offerings. This was not an easy argument to win. Metaphor was battling, and continues to battle, literalism.

I believe in God. I believe in history. I believe in metaphor.

May the fire of animal sacrifice never return. May the fire of the Jewish heart and soul and imagination always burn.

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