Parashat Sh’mini opens with an account of the investiture of Aaron the High Priest. Aaron instructs the people to bring sacrifices “for this day the Eternal will appear to you.” And Moses instructs Aaron, “This is what you must do that kavod adonai, the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” In this week’s portion Aaron seems quite sure that he can accurately predict the arrival time of the Most High. Moses is confident that he knows the conditions required to make that divine manifestation come to be.
Forty-some years into my profession and the one thing I know for sure is that I have possessed neither of these Biblical talents. It might have boosted my synagogue’s attendance if I had.
Again and again, Leviticus 9 speaks of kavod adonai, variously translated as the presence of God, the glory of God or just plain God. While an exact translation of kavod adonai is not possible, I think it safe to say that we all pretty much know what the Hebrew is referring to. Because, I believe, at least at some point in every life, we have all had at least one encounter with kavod adonai.
Some have chosen to ignore that encounter. Some to exalt it. Some to rationalize it out of their conscious awareness. Some have a better recollection of the moment than others or perhaps have chosen to make the moment more central to their being. Some talk about the encounter openly and for most others, I suspect, it remains the most private, personal and hidden-away of experiences.
In the Torah, kavod adonaiis usually experienced and accompanied by major Biblical pyrotechnics. Fire flashing forth from the ark. Shouting. People falling on their faces. But it need not be so. When the Prophet Elijah journeys to Mount Sinai, he encounters God not in the earthquake, or the fire or in the thunder but rather in the still small voice, the Hebrew translated also as ‘a voice of gentle stillness.’ I like to think of kavod adonai in sweeter, quieter, calmer ways. My KA moments have certainly been in that idiom.
And to those who are envious or insist, as many have to me, that they have never had such a moment of meeting, perhaps this will be a reassuring or very sobering thought. As the casket is lowered into the earth, the rabbi recites:
Go thy way for the Lord has called thee
Go thy way and may the Lord be with thee
May thy righteousness go before thee
V’kavod adonai ya-asfechah
and the Glory of the Lord receive thee. Amen.