Today is February 20, 2020 -
Many people will say that they do not need a synagogue to be a good Jew – they just need to be good people. They do not need a synagogue to feel in the presence of God – they just need to put themselves in the proper frame of mind (meditation, nature).
On one level, they are right. God is everywhere and “every-when.” Moses knew this – and God certainly knows this – so why did there need to be a Mishkan? Why does Torah devote so much attention to the construction, maintenance, and proper function of the Tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites through the Wilderness?
In Leviticus 9:6, we read:
(ויאמר משה זה הדבר אשר צוה יי תעשו וירא אליכם כבוד יי (ויקרא ט,ו
And Moses said this is the thing that God commanded, you shall do, and God’s glory shall appear to you.
The “seer” of Lublin said: Because Israel desired and yearned for the indwelling of the Shekhinah [God’s Presence] and waited and hoped and said: “when will the Tabernacle be set up and the Shekhinah dwell there?” Moses said to them: “Does He need a Tabernacle? Is it not His will and desire for His glory to dwell in you and your character, in the soul and heart of every Israelite! “This is the thing that God commanded –תעשו – do” the Torah and commandments, and by this itself “the glory of God will appear to you,” so that you will not need a Tabernacle at all, but each one of you will be a Tabernacle and chariot for His blessed Shekhinah.
Moses was saying that God doesn’t dwell in a place – God dwells in people. In us. Which further begs the question: so why do we spend so much time focusing on the sacred space if God is accessible everywhere? And, in contemporary terms, why do we need a synagogue at all?
Ultimately, we find that the synagogue is a place to search for God’s presence in our lives. Our challenge is in constructing and maintaining a sacred space – this synagogue – as a place where we can seek out God’s Presence in our lives.
That’s what we do: the klei kodesh and the lay leadership work in partnership to create and maintain a sacred space. Sanctity (a sense of closeness to God) is found in three places, all of which are embodied in the synagogue:
It isn’t that God lives here – this isn’t God’s Home. But it is through these three functions (prayer, study, and gathering as a community) that we are able to find the living God in our lives.
It is our task – mine and yours – to see to it that all of these functions are present in this place. It is our obligation to our community. It is also our obligation to those who will follow us, those who one day will take on this task for themselves. For more than a century, now, there has been a continuous corps of individuals who imagined, built, and maintained Congregation Temple Emanu-El. We are grateful to them for making our present task possible – and necessary.
But now the sacred task is ours.
May we all go from strength to strength in this most important work.
Rabbi Mark Fasman