Behind the Scenes: keva & kevana

While the Jews were traveling with the mishkan in the desert, the Levites took care of the holy utensils, and carrying all the trappings and decorations while the rest of the Jews wandered around the desert. For such a holy assignment, every once in a while it must still have felt like schlepping. And someone had the honored and undesirable task of scraping the altar after a burnt offering. How confounding it must be to want to complain about the inconvenience of cleaning the most spiritual corner of our physical universe.

Our beloved bus requires frequent maintenance. As long as we, the Bus Crew, can ride comfortably in the back, the Bus can look like however we want, with bins open and stuff on couches. While we wander, our space is our space. But as soon as we begin the sacred activity of programs at camps, the bus needs to be spotless. Showing off the bus is always gratifying. Holding the bus to that standard of cleanliness, not so much.

On Sunday, Ginny and I spent time in DC. We didn’t have programming, the bus was locked up in the shop, and I wanted to walk all the way around the mall (which we did). Among the many perks of our nation’s capitol, including but not limited to free Smithsonians, open city skies, and the literally monolithic Washington Monument, is the majesty of the architecture, the elegant arches and commanding columns. No building better demonstrates the grandiose of DC than the Capitol building itself. Unfortunately, when we reached the mall and checked that, yes the Washington Monument is still there and to our right we have the Capitol Building…..under construction?!?!?!!? As Francis informed me when we returned home, “Oh yeah, they do that every couple of years.”

My first reaction was disappointment. Obviously. But my next thought was “ How incredible it must be to work on the Capitol.” If I came across a listing in the paper or list serve or wherever one might run across construction openings and saw a description for a Capitol Building construction position, I would perform embarrassingly bad cartwheels on national television if it meant I could work on the Capitol Building.

But I’m looking in from the outside. To a full-time construction worker perhaps the task feels like only an occasional joy. That first glimpse of the job site might bring a flutter to the heart, only to fade as the job wears on. Israelites from the rest of tribe might give arms and legs and brothers or sisters for the opportunity to sweep the ash on the Altar, while Levites might resent having the same assignment three days in a row.

At the shop, the bus must have inspired factions of mechanics lobbying for the opportunity to work on such an insane creation. Days of rioting and Olympic competition to settle the decision. There might be gratification in the completion of a work order. The bus must inspire people from even the reception of the task.

SOMEone needs to scrub the Altar every once in a while so the burnt offerings don’t build up a residue. Capitol Hill needs a makeover every once in a while or the dome will lose its shine. And our Mobile Holy Space (bus) has to go into the shop or we can’t blow minds along the tour.

This juxtaposition strikes me as the common Jewish spiritual struggle of keva (ritual) vs. kavana (intention). Most often applied to prayer, this dichotomy equally sets the tone of our work. The Levites get to eat the meat of the altar. While the rest of the Israelites might imagine the glory of eating holy meat, they couldn’t possibly understand the elbow grease put in to keep the Mishkan holy. They don’t get the same gratifying takeaway as those that understand the grind. Although I might jump at the opportunity to work on the Capitol Building, I come woefully unprepared for the task. And if I can’t effectively help, I can’t fully appreciate the finished product.

But I do get a glimpse of the end result of the Bus programs and chance encounters. I see eyes light up at our door, as people of all ages file onto the one and only Topsy Turvy Bus. I feel the stretch for understanding when they pepper us with questions of how we shower (rain, or showers at host homes or summer camps), where we go to the bathroom (bathrooms in rest stops or gas stations or at host homes and summer camps), what do we eat (food, either what we have on the shelf or meals at host homes or summer camps). Or my favorite: will it drive if it flips over (no). I have a hand in what goes into making the Topsy Turvy Bus Tour possible (keva) so I know the satisfaction that comes from offering people a chance to expand their mind (kavana).

Hopefully our mechanics are happy for the work and grateful with the payoff. I know I am with the bus. And I imagine the Levites in the desert were as well. The bus needs this keva maintenance we need to be back on the road fulfilling our kavana mission.

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