Hidden Crowns: Coronavirus and the Tabernacle

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei presents the instructions for the creation of the Tabernacle. Bezalel son of Uri and Ahaliav son of Achisemech are appointed as architects. Out of all the works necessary for the creation of the Tabernacle, only the Ark is created by Bezalel: “And Bezalel made the ark of acacia-wood: two cubits and a half was the length of it, and a cubit and a half the breadth of it, and a cubit and a half the height of it. And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold to it round about.”

Midrash Tanchuma suggests that Bezalel supervised the work on the Tabernacle vessels. However, the Ark was the only part of the Tabernacle that Bezalel created with his own hands. What is the special significance of the Ark?

When Moses appoints Bezalel as the chief architect of the Tabernacle, Bezalel asks, what is the purpose of the Tabernacle? When Moses replies that the Tabernacle would be the site of God’s presence, a place in which the Children of Israel will learn Torah, Bezalel asks, where would the Torah reside? When Moses replied that the Ark would be created right after the Tabernacle, Bezalel points out that it is more appropriate to create the Ark first, to honor the Torah, and that is why Bezalel is named as the craftsman of the Ark (Shemot Rabbah).

Shimon ben Yochai suggests that there are three crowns: the crown of royalty, the crown of priesthood and the crown of Torah that is more excellent of them all (Shemot Rabbah). While the work of the priests in the Tabernacle entails restrictions, degrees of holiness and ranks of priests; and royalty stems from degrees of honor, social classes, and ranks of importance, the Torah is open to everyone who wishes to learn. Like the sun that generously gives it’s light and warmth to all, the Torah is given to anyone who seeks wisdom and enlightenment.

The Sages ask why does Bezalel create a crown for the Ark? Rabbi Shimon suggests “there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of royalty and another crown, the crown of good reputation that rises above them all” (Mishna Avot).

The Torah is open to all who wish to learn, but even within Torah studies there are ranks and degrees of importance between the scholars and the lay people. The three crowns: Torah, Royalty and Priesthood, are statuses a person can use and abuse. That is why they are restricted by a crown that weighs upon the person’s head and reminds him of his human flaws and limitations. Only the crown of good reputation is not restricted. That is because an individual’s good name and good reputation is given to him by his fellow men, and depends upon the individual’s good deeds. When it comes to good deeds, there is no limit on doing good for the benefit of others, and therefore the crown of a good reputation rises above all crowns.

Hidden Crowns

The coronavirus COVID-19 that frightens us all looks like a crown when it is observed under the microscope. Beyond health risks and forced isolation, the coronavirus has created an outburst of good will and volunteer spirit, a crown of good deeds we can all proudly wear. In her poem “Pandemic,” Lynn Ungar points out the interdependence that connects us all, and suggests “Reach out your heart… Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.” When I wrote to Lynn to ask for her permission to translate her poem to Hebrew, she responded: “How lovely! So much nicer to think of poetry spreading around the globe than COVID19.”

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

~Pandemic, by Lynn Ungar

Feature photo by Noah Buscher

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