Image: Two birds sit on the edge of a birdbath. It looks as if they are communicating.
Many synagogues have words from Parashat Terumah somewhere in their structure:
“Let them build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) or, to incorporate the Hebrew more directly: “Let them build me a mikdash, so that I may use it as a mishkan.”
The Mishkan in Torah is a visible sign for the Israelites of the covenant between the People Israel and God. The structure is both a mikdash, a holy place, and a mishkan, a dwelling place. We read endless building specifications in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. That may seem mysterious until we consider that every detail is a commandment of God. One message we might take from it is that holiness is not easily achieved.
Judah Halevi takes the point a step further in the Kuzari, 3:23. He writes, “One cannot approach God except by God’s commands.” If we seek connection with the Holy One of Israel, then it is by the commandments that connection is possible.
The commandments matter in making a place that is truly holy. When we inhabit our synagogues, God will only be among us if it is truly a mikdash, a holy place. The same applies to our homes: they can be holy places, but only if we preserve them as such. When we allow things that do not belong there (racism, sexism, selfishness, xenophobia, baseless hatred, to name but a few) then it cannot be a holy place and God will not dwell among us.
Let us build our sanctuaries, so that God may dwell among us.
This d’var Torah appeared previously in the CCAR Newsletter.