Torah from around the world #106


Rabbi Steve Burnstein

, Director,

Anita Saltz IEC

, Jerusalem.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, we read in tremendous detail about the work of Bezalel, the renowned artist of the Jewish people, as he builds the mishkan or Tabernacle. “

He made the lampstand of pure gold… he made the poles of acacia wood overlain with gold… all the hangings around the enclosure were of fine twisted linen… they bordered the lazuli stones with frames of gold engraved with seal engravings

…” (Exodus 37).

Why does God need such a fancy place to live? In earlier stories of the Bible, God seemed to be perfectly content with more simple surroundings. When God first speaks with Abraham, Moses and others from our tradition, He is living a simple life, dwelling in a burning bush, tent, or cloud. Why now, after the Exodus from Egypt, after the Jewish people are freed from slavery, does God need a



We read a few weeks ago, in Exodus 25:8,

parshat Terumah

, that God told the Israelite people to build a sanctuary in order that God may dwell among them. But are we not taught from an early age that God’s presence fills the entire world – that God is everywhere?

Kadosh, kadosh kadosh, adonai tzevaot melo kol ha’aretz kvodo


קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְיָ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָֽרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.

The whole world is filled with God’s glory


Why, then, are the people instructed to invest so much of their material resources, time and energy in the building of these physical structures for a non-physical God?

Our tradition sheds some light on this in a


which presents human kings with beautiful palaces, great halls, rooms where the people come to demonstrate their loyalty and give gifts to their ruler. According to the


the Jewish people say to God: “Shouldn’t You have such a place?” God’s answer, according to the story, is “I have no need for such a place. But if you do, if it will help you experience me, then build me a sanctuary.” It’s not that God needs the palace, rather that


need a reminder of God’s holiness.

Modern Italian historian and scholar, Umberto Cassuto, teaches that the people of Israel desired to maintain the awesome connection to God that they experienced at Sinai. The


becomes a tangible symbol of God’s presence for them. It does not contain God or God’s holiness; rather, it is a symbolic reminder of God’s presence in their midst.

So how does the synagogue of today help us to continue experiencing Sinai and God’s presence? I don’t believe it is the size or elaborate décor of the sanctuary in our synagogues that enables us to experience the divine. Rather, it is the community we build and connect with – the creation of a holy community seeking to bring greater meaning to life through the words and rituals of Jewish tradition.

When we study and pray together we allow God to dwell among us. When we celebrate sacred time together we allow God to dwell among us.  When we perform acts of loving kindness; mitzvot; and work toward a more just society we allow God to dwell among us.  Wherever we do these things we create sacred space – we build a



Fifteenth century Spanish commentator, Isaac Abravanel, describes the


as representative of the human body. He teaches that every person is a sacred sanctuary. That each of us, created in the image of God, has a holy spark of the divine light which is our soul. When our actions reflect this inner holiness, our very being – our bodies – become holy vessels in which we allow God to dwell.

As the Jewish people continue their journey through the wilderness toward redemption, God’s presence regularly comes down to the

Ohel Moed

, the Tent of Meeting, and to the


. We learn in a


about another tent, Sarah’s tent.  Sarah and Abraham are known for their great hospitality toward strangers. They welcome people to their tent  – into their home and community  – with great honor and respect. In this act they recognize the Godliness in the stranger and enable God to dwell in and among them. May each of us, too, work toward building homes and communities that welcome the stranger and become holy, sacred space. May our bodies, homes, communities and congregations become places in which God dwells.

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