Notes for a Sunday Morning
Things are not always what they seem …
Remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and troupe finally arrived in Oz demanding to see The Wizard?
And when finally the empathic Captain of the Palace Guard had heard enough, he brought them to the Wizard, this enormous, swollen-headed tyrant who promised he would grant their wishes for a heart, a brain, courage and a chance to go home if they would but bring back to him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
(Fast forward to their return to the Wizard with broomstick in hand.)
“Come back tomorrow!” the same gaseous brute bellowed.
And while Dorothy and troupe hurled invective at the evil promise breaker, “Toto” (Dorothy’s dog) had the “presence of mind” to pull the curtain away from a man who was manipulating all sorts of levers while shouting into a microphone.
“Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!” But it was too late; the charade was over.
Have you ever seen the backside of an Ark (Aron Kodesh)?
Few probably have because the backside of most Arks is inaccessible, pushed up flat against the eastern wall of the synagogue, leaving about as much space as suffer many kvitelach (prayers written on scraps of paper) when hopeful penitents jam them into what few crevices remain in the Kotel HaMa’aravi (The Western Wall).
Two years ago, when workers from a Wisconsin-based company arrived to disassemble and transport my synagogue’s ark to their shop for refinishing, they began by pulling it away from the wall. “Here’s my chance,” I thought, curious to see what its backside looked like.
“Awe-inspiring” and quite a few “Wows” had always been among the more popular reactions from visitors upon seeing the front side of the ark for the first time, but I could do nothing to prevent memory scenes from Mr. Martin’s 1968 high school wood shop class from leaping into my conscious mind.
Most remarkable overall was the general slovenliness of the woodwork.The wooden strips and supports used to support the board on which the Scrolls of The Law rested looked like they had been rescued from the scrap heap. Now I will not deny that I took an exciting historical interest in this raw, unprocessed history, even if it’s about nothing more than woodworking techniques. Still I felt disappointed.
Happily, there was some “good” which came of this.
Experiencing an “awakening” when I realized that the value of the contents far exceeds that of its container, a truism whether the ark be of wood and nails-no matter how beautiful its public expression may be or of the finest gold.
Consider if you will what an ark is other than a box, a cabinet that holds (a copy of) The Torah.
I’m not suggesting we minimize its obvious importance; on the contrary, it serves as a link to those who came before us, many of whom reached a religious zenith through acts of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the name of G-d) that little distance remained separating them from the portals of heaven.
It is an experience of fascination to realize the text of the written Torah in 5773 (2013) is exactly what our ancestors saw hundreds of years before when looking at the same parasha.
The sustainability of l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) is dependent upon this: that however much the front of an ark brings forth feelings of awe and the backside irrepressible memories of Mr. Martin’s high school wood shop class, we the Jews of 5773 and beyond must never allow the aron kedosh (holy ark) of our generation to become a casket.