Ex. 25:1 – 27:19
Rabbi Baht Weiss
There’s a verse we read this week in Parshat Terumah that says,
“Ve’asu li mikdash veshachanti betocham,”
“Build for Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exod. 25:8)
This reminds me of the line “If you build it, they will come,” from the movie Field of Dreams when Ray, a farmer in Iowa listens to a mysterious voice telling him to build a baseball field in his backyard. Ray follows the instructions and lo and behold, baseball players from the past magically appear and play baseball games in this so -called Field of Dreams. To me, this film symbolizes that with a hopeful spirit, we can achieve things that seem beyond the realm of possibility.
If we make a sanctuary for God, will God appear, like the spirits of baseball players past?
It you pay careful attention to the biblical verse, it says I will dwell among “them,” meaning God may dwell among us–the people, rather than I will dwell within it–the Sanctuary. This is the idea that God isn’t contained within any particular physical space, but rather exists in the spaces between people and in the relationships, we have with each other. It is not just this physical space that is sacred but the fact that we join together each week to pray, connect with one another, and to build community that makes our space special. This is why we can find spirituality together on a hike in the woods or doing acts of community service.
It may seem strange to find the directions for building a sanctuary in the book of Exodus, which is our story of how we became a people. Details for the building of a sanctuary would seem more appropriate in the next book of the Bible, Leviticus which discusses the role of the priests and all the Temple worship. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggest a reason why it is placed here. He points out that “after the crossing of the sea, the Israelites continued to complain, first about the lack of water, then that the water was bitter, then regarding the lack of food, and then the lack of water again. Then, within weeks of the Revelation of Sinai—the only time in history God appeared to the entire nation—they made a Golden Calf.” Despite all these miracles displayed by God, the people are still not satisfied.
It was then that God said, “Let them build something together.” This simple command transformed the Israelites. During the entire construction of the Tabernacle there were no complaints! The people contributed gold or silver, or bronze and others brought their time and skill. They gave so much that Moses had to order them to stop. What do we learn from this? “It is not what God does for us that transforms us. It is what we do for God. So long as every crisis was dealt with by Moses and miracles, the Israelites remained in a state of dependency. Their default response was to complain. For them to grow to adulthood and responsibility they had to undergo a transition from passive recipients of God’s blessings to active creators.”
In another words-they had to be stakeholders—they needed to be invested in the construction. In the very beginning of the Torah portion, the people are instructed to bring gifts, terumot, as each person’s heart moves him. What I love about Beth Ami is that there are many different ways to be involved. One’s heart may move him or her to communal worship, to act in a cabaret or Purim spiel, to study Torah together on Shabbat, to cook with the culinary crew or to participate in acts of social justice. Beth Ami is a place where we build what our heart’s desire—a place of community and connection. I have learned through our programs, our Shabbat experiences, and through our schools-that if we build it, they will indeed come. I believe God appears in our acts of kindness and through holy relationships—so when we build our community, God does indeed, appear.