There’s A Place For Us
It happens on a regular basis. Someone who rarely if ever sets foot in our shul will come by to show me, or email me pictures of a synagogue they visited overseas. Whether in the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, or even Asia, they are excited to show me pictures of a synagogue in a faraway city. I tell them the pictures are lovely, but we have a beautiful synagogue right here at home.
I understand. An important part of being Jewish is finding the places which Jewish people call home. We all know that Jewish people can hold worship services anywhere, in a restaurant, a hotel, or even a private home. But the presence of a building with a Jewish star takes on a great importance, even in places where such synagogues are surrounded by numerous security guards. We Jewish people, like our Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, and Hindu neighbors, want to feel that “there’s a place for us.” We want a physical building.
The beginning of the concept of a Jewish building is in this week’s portion. As the people prepare to leave Mt. Sinai, G-d tells Moses to build a portable sanctuary. At the center would be the Holy of Holies, which would contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments. (It would contain both the complete tablets and the broken tablets.) It also contains an altar, a seven-branched menorah, and walls made of curtains. The key idea is that it was a portable sanctuary, which the Israelites carried as they wandered through the desert. The Torah teaches that the Israelites should build the tabernacle and G-d would dwell among them. Note that it does not say G-d will dwell “in it” but that G-d will dwell “among them;” when we do G-d’s work G-d dwells among us.
The portable tabernacle became the model for the great Temple that King Solomon would build in Jerusalem. It became the holy center of Jewish life. Like the portable tabernacle, it contained the Holy of Holies in the center that housed the Ten Commandments. (What became of this holy ark? This is the theme of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark). The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., rebuilt, and then destroyed again by the Romans in 70 C.E. Some Jewish people pray for the Temple to be rebuilt.
Other Jewish people believe that we do not need a Temple anymore because the synagogue is called a mikdash meat, a “small temple.” Built all over the world, synagogues
are built around a holy ark. The ark contains the scrolls of the Torah. The synagogue is the place throughout the world that Jewish people call home.
Whether the ancient tabernacle carried through the desert, the great Temple in Jerusalem, or synagogues both modest and lofty built in cities throughout the world,
we Jewish people need a place.
Building a synagogue gives a powerful message that we are part of the community. There’s a place for us.