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October 2, 2006

Yom Kippur

I remain fascinated by this scene:

On only one day of the year, the Day of Atonement, the Jews' chief priest entered the Holy of Holies at the very heart of the Jewish temple. What he saw was an empty room.

Perhaps the priest filled it with his reverence and devotion to Yahweh. Perhaps he gloried in the absence of cheap, too-tangible statues or idols.

But might this priest also have noted the absence of the Ark of the Covenant, which was supposed to be kept in this room but had "somehow," as always ends up being the case, disappeared? Might he have felt the Wizard-of-Oz-like smallness of Yahweh's wispy presence? Might he have experienced in that room a nagging absence of meaning or purpose? Might he have seen the Holy of Holies as filled with hebel -- vapor -- as in Ecclesiastes? Might some sense of the absence of God have contributed to that emptiness?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 2, 2006 1:37 PM


Since I have absolutely no idea what the presence of God feels like, does that mean I have full knowledge of what the absence of God is? Of course not.

The presents or absence of something unreal only differs by the internal emotional construction involved.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 2, 2006 2:29 PM

Oh, and by the way, I feel the need to atone for the fact that I am often mistakenly assumed to be Jewish because of my last name, Saul, and I often do not correct that assumption and in so doing besmerch the reputations of real Jews. Sorry.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 2, 2006 2:33 PM

Jay, you're forgiven.
As for the Holy of Holies, while the Ark disappeared (to Ethiopia?), it doesn't necessarily mean that it had never existed. It would not be unheard of for a conquering army (Babylon in this case) to plunder the valuables of a city nor for a people about to be conquered to flee with some valuable, sacred object in tow (to Ethiopia?). As the ark was ostensibly encased in gold, it definitely would have been valuable. Surely, this would be the same as the Romans carrying the menorah back to Rome and parading it through the streets as a sign of their victory. (FYI, a menorah is technically the seven branched candlestick. At Channukah, we light the channukiyah.)
As for what the priest felt there, we can only imagine, but I can say from experience (my own and that of others) that neither spiritual uplift nor the feeling of G-d's presence require the presence of some object. Nor does the emptiness of the room take away from our sense of its purpose or meaning. Even when an object/place has changed, it may still "feel" the same because of the purpose/meaning we ascribe to it.
For Christians, for instance, an empty tomb has more meaning than any other place on earth. Is the tomb described as the Holy Sepulchre actually the burial place of Jesus? The answer is irrelevant. All that matters is that Christians BELIEVE it is just as Jews BELIEVE that the Holy of Holies is the place where G-d is immediately present in a very unique and special way.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 5, 2006 11:35 AM

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