In his jealous madness, King Saul has many Priests killed and is stripped of the kingship. King David commits adultery and though punished, retains the kingship. The spies who distrust God and bring bad reports of the land of Israel perish in a plague, but more dramatically and severely, Korach and his band are swallowed up by the earth. Why the difference?
Love is not solely a feeling, but an enacted emotion. We have to act out our love for it to be real, and yet we rarely ascribe our actions to good feelings. “I hit him because I was hurt,” is a commonplace; or, “I lied because I was scared.” But how often do we say, “I gave because I was grateful” or, “I helped out because I felt joyous?”
We were a wandering people but with a direction — headed toward a place. In his brilliant book, “Sinai and Zion,” biblical scholar Jon Levenson contrasts the legacy of the two mountains. Sinai is the peak of the wilderness, the time of desert wandering. It was a miraculous time — plagues and revelations, splitting seas and early discoveries of God.
There is a poignant story of a rabbi who learned the meaning of life from children building sand castles. As he watched the intensity with which they built, he could not help but realize that in a few hours, everything they created would be washed away. Yet it did not diminish their focus or joy.
A symbolon was a means of identification in the ancient world. If I send someone I know off to another city to meet up with another person I know, I give each of them half of a plate or bowl or stone. When they meet each can identify the other by fitting the pieces together.
The tragedies of the past week remind us why religious community matters:
1. In the face of death, religion maintains that life is meaningful. Not only because of the belief that human beings never fully disappear, but because it teaches that this pageant, with all its pain and anguish, need never resolve into despair. Life still matters; we always matter.
2. A religious community provides comfort and help. Long after others have forgotten, the congregation will be there, with everything from meals to a shoulder to a prayer.