I had a great time the other evening! My wife and I spent five hours in deep conversation with a friend and rabbinic colleague whom I hadn’t seen since speaking in his synagogue a few years back.
One time his family was away visiting relatives for a week. It also happened that he had no synagogue obligations during that period. He decided to have a week-long growth experience by doing something out of his comfort zone. Enlisting a friend to purchase an airline ticket to any city in the United States, he committed to show up at the airport without knowing his destination.
My friend, carrying nothing but the clothes on his back, his I.D., and a backpack with his prayer book, talit (prayer shawl), and tefilin (Deuteronomy 6:8) met his confederate at the airport. He discovered that his destination was a city he’d never visited, about six hundred miles from home.
He challenged himself to survive for the week with no money or credit cards and without identifying himself to any local Jewish community along the way that might have assisted him.
He lived some astounding experiences including sleeping in a homeless shelter and seeking dish-washing jobs in order to buy food and warmer clothing than the tee-shirt in which he set out. And he made it home having felt God’s hand more forcefully than he usually did during his day-to-day life.
Thinking about the wonderful adventures he related to me, I realized that Scripture provides us with a model that is useful even to those of us less likely to hitchhike and camp in city parks.
If you were ever thrilled by Harrison Ford’s daring escapades in Spielberg’s 1981 classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ll remember the Ark of the Covenant. Shortly after giving the Ten Commandments, God instructed Moses to build various parts of the Tabernacle including the Ark.
Containing the Two Tablets, the Ark accompanied the Jews into the Promised Land and encircled the walls of Jericho. Years later, the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem by David (2 Samuel 6) and finally placed in the Temple by King Solomon (1 Kings 8).
After the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, the whereabouts of the Ark became a mystery. I believe that it is either in a tunnel deep below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or securely deposited far beneath the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that it must remain hidden until God restores His house.
The Tabernacle had many parts and vessels. During the desert journey, all of these were carried from one campsite to the next. The altar, the menorah, and other furnishings had their carrying staves removed during periods of encampment. However, the Ark was unique. Its carrying rods always remained attached. Even when stationary, the Ark remained in ‘travel-mode’.
The Ark holding the Ten Commandments was the heart of the Tabernacle. What a powerful message this is for us! The core of our spiritual identity is never attached to any physical location—it is always ready to travel wherever we must go. As long as we really know who we are and what we ultimately stand for, we will feel secure in every circumstance. With our personal Ark of the Covenant in our hearts, we will never feel fear wherever we wander.
My friend felt a strange calm during the bizarre circumstances of his week in exile. In his regular life, he tended to organize every hour of his day. During this week he invited God to direct his feet. He was never afraid because he had his Ark with him.
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America’s Real War
In America’s Real War, Rabbi Daniel Lapin argues that the real chasm in American culture is not between blacks and whites, rich and poor, men and women, or Jews and Christians.
The real divide is between those Americans who believe that Judeo-Christian Bible-based values are vital for our nation’s survival and those Americans who believe that these timeless truths obstruct progress.