Vayakel-Pekudai: The House of Love

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A meth addict is redeemed

I sit on a plastic folding chair, looking at the flat concrete slab I’ve created. And I wonder whether she’ll ever come back again.

It had all started in an alley. I’d been like some cliché, literally sleeping in that alley. I’d been at the end of the line. I’d reached the bottom, but there was no bounce waiting for me. I wasn’t going back up.

I wasn’t some uneducated classless teenager who just fell into drugs because I had nothing else to do. I’d grown up in a solid family and although I wasn’t brilliant, I’d been an excellent student. I managed it by working harder than everybody around me. In the end, that had been what had undone me.

Somehow, I’d managed to get into John Hopkins Medical School after college. But that was where things began to go wrong. My first semester of Biochem had been the problem. I got a ‘B’ in the first exam. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I could feel the material slipping through my fingers.

I upped my effort. I began to drink more and more coffee. I switched to energy drinks. And then I graduated to caffeine pills. But, it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t keep up. I got a ‘C’ on my second test. I know where this was going. I knew myself. I wasn’t bright enough to catch up once I’d fallen behind. I would, inexorably, end up failing this course. I would drop out. And I would end up wasting everything I’d worked so hard to achieve.

I needed another level.

And so, I turned to meth.

The results were immediate. I could stay up longer and work harder. I got a remarkable amount done. I reversed my downward slide and passed the course. My grades weren’t perfect, I got a ‘B’. But my professor said he was tremendously surprised by the reversal. Plus, everybody said that first semester of Biochem was the hardest. I’d done it. Having passed that hurdle, I could just back off the meth, go back to my coffee and get back to my life.

But it wasn’t that easy. I had tremendous will power, I knew it. But I didn’t have time. I tried to come off the meth, cold turkey, but the impact was overwhelming. Everything went wrong. I found myself paranoid, panicked and literally hallucinating. My entire body ached and I was exhausted; I couldn’t stop sleeping. I was going to fail school and drop out – because I was coming off the meth. And so, I stayed on. I hoped a long break would give me the time I needed to quit. But the gaps between semesters were never long enough. And the almost sweet smell of meth seemed to speak to my soul – calling me back whenever I thought about trying to quit, again.

School, of course, got harder. The benefits of the drug retreated. And then, things got worse and worse. I found myself failing despite it all. I was falling apart, my body was aging. I flunked out of school. And I just kept falling. Eventually, I found myself sleeping in an alley and stumbling out in the day to look for some money and another hit. I knew I didn’t have long and I knew there was nothing I could do about it.

And then, she showed up. She was like an angel. Her face was radiant. She was stunningly beautiful. And she was coming into the lowliness of my world. At first, I’d been scared. Somebody like that, coming to me, promised some sort of sick abuse. But she didn’t push me. She just offered me a coffee and a smile. And she didn’t shrink from me, she was willing to talk to me. She was willing to listen. And she could understand me.

It must have been a week or two before she finally got me to come out of the alley with her. She brought me to a restaurant – not just a fast food place, but a real restaurant. A fancy restaurant. And we had a meal together. And she kept helping me. She got me a place in a detox facility. She paid for a whole row of implants to replace my broken teeth. She put more and more trust in me. She rented me a room at a nice hotel. She took care of me. And I rewarded her, in a way. I could still work. I could still put in effort. And so, I did. I got off the drugs and I stayed off the drugs. I began to step everything else up too. I wasn’t at risk of using again. That was a mistake I wouldn’t make a second time.

And then she gave me money. Not a few thousand dollars, but a few million. I don’t know where she got it. But, she brought me to the bank, helped me open an account and transferred the funds. And, just like that, I was a wealthy man. It was like, with the exception of my lack of a medical degree, everything in my life had gone perfectly. I could forget the pain of my fall.

That was the day I decided to buy us a gift. I went to the dealership and bought a car. Specifically, I bought a Lexus LC500, a beautiful, classy, two-door coupe. We could drive in it, together – wrapped in leather and luxury and style. I brought it to her, presented to her and waited for her response. She smiled appreciatively, but something was missing. It hadn’t been what she’d wanted.

Then she brought me to her house. Until that day, I hadn’t even realized I’d never been to her house. I knew nothing about her. But there it was, a perfectly proportioned little blue home, like a patch of the sky planted on the side of a suburban street. And she’d brought me in. And she’d showed me plans. They were blueprints for another house and the furniture that would go in it. As I looked them over, I realized the plans were for a house that celebrated our strange relationship. It was a tiny house. But every detail was covered. There was a coffee machine, an odd detail for house plans. There was a table, just like that at the fancy restaurant. There was a fireplace, tremendously unusual in a place so small, and there was a couch in front of it. It was a place where we could be together, basking in the warmth of our relationship. The house was like a little temple. There was a place outside the front door for shoes, like you’d find in Japan. And there was a small washbasin there as well, where influences of the outside world could be washed from our hands.

She asked me to build it. And I agreed.

I started work immediately. I couldn’t build the house right away, of course. I had to study. I studied laying a foundation. And then I bought a truck to haul supplies and rented a small tractor. And I started to smooth and flatten the earth below where the house would be. I felt myself accomplishing something for the first time since medical school. As I finished the grading and began to pour the concrete, a question began to form in my mind. I began to wonder how I could have deserved her.

Next, I studied framing, woodworking, electrical wiring, plumbing and more. I worked hard. And I learned. I was still bright. I was still capable.  I was still hard working. And as I progressed, my question changed. Instead of wondering why she’d chosen me, I wondered how I had earned her.

And as I bought supplies, my question began to turn into an answer. I had earned her. It was my dedication, my hard work, my character. It was my mind. I had been the key. The idea grew in me.

And, before long, I was certain that I had earned her and that she, somehow, been only the tool of my redemption.

It was fate, my fate, which had brought her to me.

And so, I added to the design of the house. Just one thing. I painted a portrait, a small portrait, of myself.

It was then that she began to withdraw from my life.

At first, she just grew colder. But then, day by day, I saw less and less of her. The money remained. But she didn’t. And by the time the foundation had cured, the relationship the house was to celebrate was gone.

Now, as I look at the empty slab of concrete, I find myself shattered by her absence. There is no fire anymore. None of what I have seems to matter. I’m not on meth, but I have no reason to stay clean. I have everything, but I am completely without purpose or hope.

As I sit there, lost, I suddenly realize the key to my questions. She was beautiful, and smart and wealthy. Any man, any successful man, couldn’t help but somehow think that they’d earned her. They couldn’t help but be proud, tremendously proud, of the woman they had acquired. And, before long, they would have grown convinced she had chosen them because of how remarkable they were. To think otherwise would be to acknowledge their own tremendous limitations. Their thoughts, their attitudes, would poison the relationship she was seeking. Their need for self would undermine everything.

That’s why she’d chosen me. I’d been nothing. Rising from that alley, there was no way I could possibly think I’d earned anything. And, yet, I had. I’d gone so far as to even paint a portrait of myself. I’d celebrated me in preference to her.

And so, she’d left.

I take the truck, buy some bricks, and begin to assemble the fireplace she had planned. And then I set a fire in it, in the center of this non-existent building. And then I begin to work around it, building everything to plan. I work deliberately, slowly, with love. I single-handedly put up the walls and paint them. I work with the wood I’d carefully sourced to create the table she had specified. Bit by bit, the house comes together. And constantly, that fire burns. It is a constant reminder of why I am building the house. Now, the house more than represents our relationship. Instead, every effort, every beam, every action speaks of my dedication to that relationship.

I imagine her watching me, from far away. But I never see her. I just keep working, hoping she’ll appear. And, constantly, that fire burns.

And then, finally, I take the portrait I’d commissioned and I throw it into the fire. Minutes later, I collect the ashes and cast them into glass bowls; glass basins in which I can wash my hands when I come into this house. I will cleanse my hands with my regret.

And then the house is done. A small, perfect house. A house I have poured my heart into.

But it is a house that is still missing what it needs most.

It is a house that is still missing her.

And then I see her. She is walking towards me. She is like an angel. Her face is radiant. She is stunningly beautiful. And she is coming into the lowliness of my world.

We sit before the fire. And I know why I have been chosen. I know why she’d left. And I know, somehow, that she’ll always come back again.

The first description of the Mishkan comes in the shadow of the people’s inappropriate shared sacrifice of bulls and building of pillars. It restricts us to an appropriate form of worship.

The second description comes after the sin of the calf. It comes after Moshe reminds us that we cannot have fire in our homes on Shabbat. Fire represents spiritual energy. Without the Mishkan, we are missing the flame of Hashem that should be yielded by our investment in our divine relationship.

The second description captures the emotional process of relighting the flame of our relationship. We can see this emphasis in the details.

In the first description, the incense altar comes well after the copper altar. Incense, smell, speaks to emotion while the copper altar represents the practical process of investing in the divine relationship. In the first telling, emotion comes well after investment. But with the second telling, the order is reversed. The golden altar comes first; emotion leads to investment.

In the second telling, we build the walls, representing our desire to embrace G-d, before the articles – which represent His revelations to us.

In the second telling, we see eager, noble, hearts and an excess of giving throughout the process. The people are emotionally investing in rebuilding their relationship with G-d.

And, in the second telling, we see how the gold in the Kohen Gadol’s garment is beaten flat and then cut into threads. The Kohan Gadol is restricted and cut back in his representation of G-d. He is humbled because of the mistake he made. Also, the regular sash has its materials defined, showing how the regular Kohanim are wrapped and restricted by the attributes of Hashem.

But the most revealing change is that of the washbasins. In the first telling, the washbasins were described contiguously to the anonymous donations of the half-shekel (Ex. 30:17). It seems the priests are to cleanse themselves of any individual influences. But in the second telling, those washbasins are made from women’s mirrors (Ex. 38:8). The women are described as a multitude – recalling the masses of the people who worshipped the calf. The tools of vanity that led to self-worship are sacrificed to prepare the Kohanim for their proximity to G-d. The Kohanim wash their hands in our regret.

In the second telling, we are never commanded to build the Mishkan. We do it because we miss G-d’s fire. We build, precisely, to G-d’s design – to show our regret at our rebellion and to show our desire for reunification. Through changes in priority, everything is recast.

It is only after everything is complete, at the end of the book of Shemot, that the fire of the Lord comes and dwells within the people (Ex. 40:34).

With that, the repair is complete and the absence of G-d is corrected. Once again, we can enjoy the presence of G-d’s fire on Shabbat.

 

Pictures: By https://kazan.vperemen.com/ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Joseph Cox Author

Joseph Cox is the author of City on the Heights (www.CityontheHeights.com), a thriller about creating hope from war.

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