As I listened to the Torah reading this morning and tried to imagine Abraham's life as he journeyed to an unknown place, I envisioned a vast, arid desert landscape interrupted by the quick trail of a little animal burrowing beneath the dunes. Sometimes it comes up for air, tiny dark eyes blinking in the unfamiliar light as it tries to comprehend life above millions of grains of sand. Mostly it concentrates on advancing from one place of safety to the next, a small, moving bump of earth the only marker of its existence.
We are that animal, I think, although I don't mean to suggest that survival is a constant struggle. Those few moments in the sun are more than just occasions to emerge and breathe--they herald the light and understanding that mark the best parts of our story. At other times, though, we stay buried in the sand, the lesser bits of life threatening to drown us if we don't have energy to push them away. At services today my mind wandered to the d'var Torah I'm writing for Parashat Tetzaveh, the week before Purim. (Members of the congregation are invited to write a one-page "word of Torah," thoughts based on the weekly portion, for distribution to the entire community. I've never done one of these before.) I chose this parasha because it's right before my mother's yahrzeit; had I given it more thought, I might have picked a section further from the eye-glazing sacrifice/genealogy/skin disease category. OK, no skin diseases in Tetzaveh. But the copious details about priestly vestments and dimensions of the altar might as well be grains of sand, obscuring the story line and blinding me to the meaning hidden behind all those words.
I've started to read discussions of this portion, most of which focus on the high priest's breastplate, the ner tamid (the "eternal light" above the Ark), or the symbolism of incense. But I think I'll write about how we're so often unable to see the bigger picture, the truth of a situation, because of the all the little distracting details that intrude and send us burrowing down false paths. I fall into this trap quite often. Sometimes I hate that I'm most comfortable with the smaller parts of a thing, the punctuation and individual notes (which is why I'm a graphic designer and, yes, a chanter of Torah), over which I can obsess so much that I'll ignore the melody. Tetzaveh is also read during the week before Purim, a holiday about hiding and revealing. (I've already found one commentary that makes this connection--I'm sure there are many more.)
I'm looking forward to letting these ideas simmer until sometime in February, when I'll no doubt wait until the last possible minute before the deadline to write them down.