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Written by Rabbi Andrew Savage

At the beginning of this weeks double parsha, Hashem places a serious restraint on Aarons’ access to the innermost and by definition most spiritually intense, point of the Mishkan. The reason given for this restraining order of sorts is that Hashems’ Presence will reside permanently at this innermost point and it is, therefore, imperative that access to this area be limited[1]. This is however somewhat troubling; the whole purpose of the Mishkan (and Mikdash) was to create a point of fusion between spirituality and physicality thereby allowing G-d’s Presence to be felt in a very tangible way. Aaron had been chosen above everyone else, including his revered brother and teacher Moshe, as the person most suitable to represent the Jewish people and experience the Divine Presence at the centre point of the Mishkan. With this is mind, what rationale can possibly explain G-d limiting Aarons’ access to the Mishkan specifically because His Presence was to be experienced there permanently. This seems totally counter-intuitive?! When the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) was standing there was a mysterious halacha governing peoples’ visits during Festivals; it was forbiddento both enter and exit the Temple courtyard through the same gate. Anyone who entered from the Northern gate would be forced to exit through the Southern one, and vice versa, thereby ensuring a frustratingly circuitous journey home. What was the point of this? In both cases – that of Aaron’s limited access to the Mishkan and the forced inconvenience of leaving the Temple through a different gate than that through which one entered – the Torah is ensuring that neither Aaron nor the entire Jewish people became overly familiar with experiencing the spiritual highs of the Mishkan/Mikdash[2].
The danger of such spiritual experiences becoming the ‘norm’ and losing their newness and freshness was so great that it justified limiting Aaron’s (and by extension the Jewish people he represented) ability to relate to G-d in the most tangible and meaningful way[3].
This challenge – to retain a sense of newness and therefore excitement towards life in general and our connection to spirituality expressed through mitzvos – is one of the most important and difficult challenges we face[4]. How can prayer continue to be a meaningful exercise when at the same times every day we say the same words? Every mitzvah is supposed to represent a unique opportunity to connect to a life of spirituality and meaning. But how can one avoid these acts simply becoming a rote exercise devoid of inner content?
It is certainly true that a Torah observant lifestyle is a highly stable and structured one. The stability and continuity provided ensures a framework within which we can develop and grow as individuals and as part of a community. The Jewish yearly cycle necessarily follows a very natural order; this order never changes. Rosh Hashana necessarily precedes Yom Kippur. Succos expresses themes that must naturally follow on from Yom Kippur etc… The Hebrew word for ‘year’ expresses this element of repetition and continuity – Shana means ‘to repeat’ (leShaNeH).
Yet at the same time, a life of repetition alone is a life devoid of creativity, excitement and meaning. No two moments of prayer can or should ever be the same. This Shabbos is unique and different from last Shabbos. The challenge is to find new levels of meaning and personal expression within the very act which, artificially, appears to be a repetition of a previous one. This synthesis – between living in a world of structured order and the need for constant renewal – is expressed by the Hebrew word for ‘month’, Chodesh, which means ‘new’ (ChaDaSH).
The externally repetitive structure of the year is actually the framework within which to constantly experience and express new and unique moments of connection. The key to achieving this sense of newness is to appreciate that each and every moment really is a unique one never to be repeated. Each day brings its own challenges and opportunities that will never again exist in exactly the same way. If this message is truly internalised it is possible, and actually natural, to live with a genuine sense of excitement and freshness which ensures that life and our relationship to Torah never becomes dull, repetitious and devoid of meaning.
[1] See 16.2 with Rashi 2 See R’ Chaim Shmulevitz, Sichos Mussar, p.282 3 It is also clear from here that the negative impact of familiarity and the staleness it can bring are a very natural phenomenon. Aaron was one of the most spiritually attuned human beings in history and, even so, was likely to be affected by this reality (albeit in an extremely subtle and minimal way) to the extent that this restriction was deemed necessary. 4 This challenge is no less relevant to all human relationships, and specifically that of marriage. The whole Jewish approach to the physical and emotional relationship between husband and wife provides a mechanism for successfully maintaining a healthy freshness and excitement in a relationship which otherwise can easily become stale and unexciting (as the divorce rate in every Western culture unfortunately attests to.)
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