- Weekly D'var Torah
How do you feel when you enter a beit knesset/shul/synagogue and go into the sanctuary?
I have been to many synagogues throughout the world. In each one I have had a different feeling. There is a certain feeling of awe that is hard to describe. I do not feel it anywhere else, only when I enter into the sanctuary. For me the whole atmosphere changes. I feel the intensity, and yes I feel God’s presence. In some synagogues’ sanctuaries there are no mezuzot on the doorposts. Perhaps, this is teaching us that the sanctuary is a place for prayer, for individual introspection, for community in-gathering, for singing songs of praise and celebration or for hearing a drasha (words of Torah) from the lay or religious leadership. The sanctuary for these synagogues are not for living in—sleeping, eating, frivolity, talking—but are mekomot kedoshim, holy places, where God’s presence can be found and felt by those who seek it.
In this week’s parsha of Terumah, God commands Moshe:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם
“Construct for Me a holy place (sanctuary) that I may dwell among them.”
God is aware of the human condition for a physical place to feel His presence among the people. The Mikdash was to be part of the Mishkan, Tabernacle. It was a place where the people would feel elevated by God’s presence. The word Shechina provides us with a sense of God also wanting to be near or among us. In Hebrew, a neighborhood is referred to as shechuna and our neighbor as a shachen, someone whom we feel especially close to because he/she lives beside us. It’s as if God wants to be our neighbor and for His presence to be felt in His dwelling place and in our lives.
Over the next few parshiot (Torah readings) God will instruct Moshe on how to construct His sanctuary, so that He may dwell (shochen) amongst His people. Moshe is going to ask the Israelites, who have many precious materials which they received from the Egyptians when they left Egypt, to donate them to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Israelites were only too willing to open their hearts and voluntarily contribute to its building.
The Jewish People, wherever they have lived, have also seen the importance of building a synagogue as being a priority when they establish a community. It is important to point out that the modern synagogue is not just a Beit Tefillah, house of prayer. It also functions as one of learning Torah, a place for social and charity events and for community building. This provides the individual with various ways to interact and engage with Judaism, Jewish identity and the Jewish community. Our new building has been constructed for our diverse Bernard Zell community. There is also a special place for our new Torah to be housed, prayers to be recited and songs to be sung as a community. The Makom Rina, for me, is our sanctuary which offers various opportunities to connect with each other on different levels. Every time I enter Makom Rina I feel the intensity, which I feel nowhere else. I also know I am in a special place. Ya’acov, when he was leaving Eretz Yisrael, arrived at a place for the night. He slept there on the ground and God appeared to him in a vision. When he woke Ya’acov was concerned that he had not been cognizant that he had slept at a holy site. He suddenly exclaims the famous words:
אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה’ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא יָדָעְתִּי
“Is it possible that God was in this place and I did not realize it?”
In Makom Rina (the place of heightened happiness) it is difficult not to realize you are in a large circular room that was built for both the community and individual. It hopefully helps to fulfill our spiritual, intellectual and social needs. Perhaps one who seeks can feel God’s presence, shechina. Hopefully, when you leave Makom Rina you feel elevated spiritually, intellectually and emotionally.
We have to thank all those generous people from both inside and outside our community who contributed to making our new beautiful building a reality. It is certainly a place where many of us surely feel elevated.
Finally, this week we brought in the new Hebrew month of Adar. According to our tradition Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’Simcha - when the month of Adar enters, joy increases. I am sure our Makom Rina will help us elevate our joy that we are blessed with a Jewish community that cares not only about the present but also about the future generations of Jews in this area and around the world. May they also have the ability to celebrate dynamic, diverse, Jewish life and Jewish experience which is an integral part of being part of the Bernard Zell mishpacha, family.