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The Beauty of the Lord

WEEKLY SCRIPTURE READING

Torah Portion: Parashat Terumah (“Contribution”)

Shabbat: Feb. 11, 2023 / Shevat 20, 5783

Torah: Exod. 25:1-27:19

Prophets: 1 Ki. 5:26-6:13

New Covenant: 2 Cor. 9:1-15 ; Matt. 5:33-37


TODAY’S PRAYER OF AGREEMENT

Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

 

The nature of beauty has been an enduring mystery to artists and philosophers over the millennia, and various attempts have been made to define it. For example, some have defined beauty as an order, arrangement, and harmony of some kind (understood either as objective qualities inherent in something beautiful, or as a subjective sentiment of a person experiencing something that is esteemed as beautiful, and most often as a combination of both). In other words, something is regarded as beautiful because it possesses a certain arrangement of qualities that evoke pleasure or satisfaction in the mind or heart of a person. The Scriptures teach us, however, that beauty is part of the very composition of things; the design and form of whatever exists, and that the revelation of beauty attests to the glory of God. Beauty is not simply "in the mind of the beholder," but is objectively real, as part of the very structure of reality. Consider, for example, the flower that blooms, the bird that sings, the star that shines, and the sunset that suffuses the evening skies. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork; day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2). The beauty of the natural world is grounded in mind of God, since God actively created and designed creation for his purposes and pleasure (see Gen. 1:1, 31; Rev. 4:11). The creation bears witness to the brilliance of the Creator, and the imprint of God's handiwork is evident in the concinnity, order, and marvels of the natural world itself. This is particularly evident in the case of man, who is endowed with a conscience, or an intuitive "moral compass" that discerns the demands of justice and understands right and wrong. The conscience serves as an inner witness that speaks peace, harmony, and goodness when the moral law is observed, and unhappiness, disorder, and evil when it is disregarded or suppressed. As I've mentioned before, the ancient Greek mindset regarded what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebrew mindset regarded what is good as what is beautiful. The difference is one of orientation. Doing our duty before God, obeying "the moral law within," is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating symmetry, order, harmony, and so on. Beauty is a type of the good, in other words, and justice expresses the truth of the good in relation to oneself and others. Beauty is also a type of truth, since what is truly beautiful expresses and reveals truth, whereas what is not truly beautiful expresses what is false. The spirit of man attests to the reality of the Creator and realizes its ontological indebtedness to God (Rom. 1:20). Theologically, the "beauty of the LORD" (נעם־יהוה) can be understood as the effulgence of God's manifold perfections, everything about his heart and character that evokes ecstatic wonder, solemn awe, and irresistible attraction in his conscious creatures. It is the brightness and loveliness of God, the "charm of his unsurpassed excellence," his perfect justice and infinite compassion for his creation. The LORD is "the Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deut. 32:4). The beauty of the LORD is likened to the purity of Divine Light, the radiance and splendor that is incomprehensibly mysterious and good. The New Testament says "For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Yeshua is the Divine Light; the Radiance and Beauty of God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). "He is the radiance of the glory of God (הוּא זהַר כְּבוֹדוֹ) and the exact imprint of his nature, who upholds the universe by the word of his power" (נוֹשֵׂא כל בִּדְבַר גְּבוּרָתוֹ; Heb. 1:3). "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3). So how do we wake up to the beauty of the LORD? How do we come to "see the invisible blessing" that pervades all things? How may we encounter the truth that "the whole world is filled with the irrepressible glory of the LORD" (Isa. 6:3)? Frederick Buechner once described a "holy hush" that came over a boisterous crowd of people when they first encountered the giant redwood trees at Redwood National Park. As the people began to take in their surroundings, everything seemed to change - the loud chatter faded; the light, the atmosphere, and especially the awe of being in the presence of these enormous and ancient trees (some of which had been standing since the time of Jesus), induced a sense of smallness and humility before the glory that surrounded them. You may have experienced this sort of awe also, perhaps while observing the starry night sky, or while watching the sun set over the mountains or upon the rim of the Grand Canyon, or when witnessing the birth of a baby, or when listening to music that touched your heart and brought tears to your eyes, and so on. Such experiences are sometimes called "self-transcendent," since they move us outside of our ordinary consciousness in an encounter with something great, breathtaking, wonderful, and sublime... Encountering the glory of the LORD evokes conflicting emotions within the heart, a powerful combination of fear and attraction that is sometimes called the "numinous." The LORD our God is beautiful beyond anything we can imagine, yet were we to directly encounter him we would be so overwhelmed that we would "fall to the ground as one dead" (Rev. 1:17); nonetheless he puts his hand upon us and says, "Don't be afraid; for I am with you." By his gracious touch, then, we are able to look upon the radiance of his presence, to receive the vision of his majesty and transcendent beauty and loveliness. And the amazing thing is that this is what he wants; this is the very desire of his heart, after all, the prayer to the Father that we should behold his glory (see John 17:22-24). And this, I believe, is part of what is meant when it is said that we are made temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). " You yourselves are like living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah (1 Pet. 2:5). This topic relates to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Terumah. As we are drawn by God's grace to love the Lord and to understand how truly beautiful and wonderful and kind he is to us, we will be willing to worship him and celebrate his loving glory. To be alive before God is to be alive to his beauty. Your heart will flutter in joyful excitement to sing: "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; bow down to the LORD in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2). We sanctify the LORD God within us by affirming his superlative beauty, his infinite goodness, the greatness of his power, the perfections of his justice and truth, his unfathomable kindness, and his unsurpassing and everlasting love. The recognition of the beauty of the LORD is the awareness of his holiness, wherein our heart will esteem his sacred glory as our most precious and extraordinary gift. The beauty of the LORD our God is the heart of love and life and wisdom and truth, the Supreme Being of which no greater can be conceived, for ever and ever. Yehi Shem Adonai Mevorakh. Amen.


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