“We call this the Holy Ark,” she said, gesturing to the delicately sculptured structure at the top of the dais. “Here, the Torah is kept.”
Translucent doors, crisscrossed and girded with light steel frames depicting the Star of David, were lit with amber from the steady glow of a light that burned within. Above the doors hung a lantern with a softer but more visible light. The hanging lantern represented the eternal presence of God, she told us.
Sliding open the doors revealed the copies of the Torah treasured within. Encased within folds of rich fabric and hung with silver ornaments, each Torah was identical in content containing the Tanakh or complete Jewish Scripture, but each had a special significance and history. The light that had shown through the thin glass of the doors could now be identified, coming from a shining Star of David raised above copies of the Torah inside the ark. A Jew in the group quickly stretched out a hand to reverently touch and kiss the nearest of the bound scrolls.
I visited the synagogue of Congregation MickveIsrael, the third oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S., in Savannah, Georgia. Standing before the ark and looking at the copies of the Torah carefully swaddled and protected within, guarded by the eternal presence of God, I thought this must be the image Isaiah compared to God gathering His lambs and carrying them in His bosom (Isaiah 40:11).
As the guide described how a Torah is taken out and read during services, carefully using a silver hand fashioned as a pointer so as never to touch the page, I envisioned the day when Jesus stood before the synagogue, and read from a Torah, “The Lord has anointed me … to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1, ESV), and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21, ESV).
A Torah is created with meticulous care, using only methods and materials that are ritually clean. Any error in writing the name of God means that entire page must be cut out and replaced. When the long process has been satisfactorily completed, the Torah is concealed within the protection of the Holy Ark.
Fortunately, for us, His children, God does not require a completed, perfected work before He gathers us into the shelter of His bosom. He takes us and treasures us when we are vulnerable, weak, and messy. He takes our concerns, our hopes, our sorrows, into His hands and His heart and zealously guards them as His own. As the psalmist describes, we are like a feeble, fluttering sparrow, an insignificant and unvalued bird that finds shelter in the most hallowed and sacred of places.
“Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.” (Psalm 84: 3, NKJV)
Like copies of the Torah shielded by the protecting enclosure of the ark, the closest modern equivalent to the Jewish altar, we are nestled, ruffled feathers, messy sticks and twigs and all, in the place closest and dearest to God. Whatever burdens we carried with us, whatever hopes or fears swept us desperate and careening into violent winds, they are in His keeping now, and we can rest in the safety of His goodness.
No wonder the psalmist wrote as he did in Psalm 84, particularly in verses 2 and 10 (NKJV):
“My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. …
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”