February 11th-12th, 2000
6 Adar I, 5760
The great thinker and leader of 19th century German
Jewry, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, once wrote the following provocative words in an
"If I had the power, I would provisionally close
all synagogues for a hundred years.What would happen? Jews and Jewesses without
synagogues, desiring to remain such, would be forced to concentrate on a Jewish life and a
Now, of course, Hirsch lived in very different times
than ours: the nascent Reform movement, against which he fought strenuously, was--he
felt--elevating once-a-week attendance in synagogue to the center of Jewish practice,
while downplaying (if not destroying) the concept of one's whole life being shaped and
sanctified by Torah law.
The situation nowadays, with such staggeringly high
percentages of unaffiliated Jews, challenges us to do whatever we can to get people
back into the synagogues for a change! (Free kegs of beer at Shabbos kiddush, frequent
flier miles, special stock options, racquetball courts open Monday through Friday
.please forward me any other suggestions you have.)
Nonetheless, Hirsch's basic point is relevant to all times: Judaism is not meant to be
compartmentalized, such that our lives are split into "times of religious
observance" (Sabbath, the High holidays, milestones such as bar mitzvah, etc.)
on the one hand, and our "worldly pursuits" on the other. The service of G-d
(avodas Hashem) that is the highest goal of all mankind--and the special mission of the
Jewish people in the world--is meant to encompass every aspect of our existence, including
our business activities and our leisure time, our conduct at the dinner table and in the
bedroom.and, of course, in the synagogue as well. Just as G-d is One, so, too, our
whole life's purpose should be a unity: to sanctify the physical world (and our inner
lives) through the mitzvos of the Torah.
The synagogue certainly has an important role to play
in this great endeavor, even if it is NOT the sine qua non of Judaism, as Hirsch
meant to emphasize. And this week's parsha, in one beautiful verse, describes just
the proper relationship between our houses of worship and the rest of our lives.
The Torah records the commandment to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the portable
structure (a kind of traveling Holy Temple) which would accompany the Jewish people
throughout their wandering in the desert and be the site of the divine service-including
the bringing of korbanos (offerings)--until the time a more permanent Beis Hamikdash would
be built in Jerusalem. Each person contributed the terumah (portion) which his or
her heart prompted, from among the materials required for the construction of the Mishkan:
gold, silver, copper, precious stones, wool, etc. (See Exodus 25, 1-7)
After enumerating these materials, Hashem tells Moshe: "They shall make a
Sanctuary for Me-so that I may dwell in them." (25, 8)
Many commentaries point out that we would expect the
verse to say, "so that I may dwell within it," for though G-d's glory
fills the whole earth (of course), there was to be a special concentration of holiness in
this Sanctuary, or Mishkan; that was the physical site where Hashem would normally
communicate with Moshe, His voice emanating from between the two golden cherubim on the
cover of the Ark (as described later in this parsha). Isn't that the idea of a Holy
Temple (or, in our day, a synagogue): a place where we can encounter G-d in a uniquely
direct and intense way?
Well, yes, but the ultimate purpose of such a structure, the Torah is telling us, is
to enable G-d's presence to dwell among US--to inspire us to carry the ideals which the
Mishkan (or synagogue) represents into our hearts and our lives.so that G-d's presence is
with us even when we are not in its precincts. As Samson Raphael Hirsch writes
in many places, the avodah (service) in the Mishkan and the Holy Temple was meant, in
part, to be a symbolic representation of our own personal avodah, with the various
sacrifices instructing us in ".divesting ourselves of sensuality and of selfishness;
and consecrating to G-d our life, our sentiments and, indeed, our entire personality
by fulfilling the Torah." (Nineteen Letters, Letter #14; Feldheim)
In a sense, then, the true measure of a Mishkan is how we act when we're not there;
the true measure of the value of our thrice-daily prayer service in synagogue--which,
remember, the Sages instituted as a substitute in Exile for the service in the Temple--is
how much we are guided the rest of the day by its words. Hirsch again:
Thus the flower of all tefilah (prayer) is the
resolution which.unites all your powers to be a servant of G-d in life. Your
attitude to life, clarified new in prayer [or--my interjection-- clarified by a visit to
the Mishkan or Temple in earlier times] should help you towards this. (Horeb, p.
As the Malbim similarly puts it, "Everyone is to
build for Him a Sanctuary in the recesses of his own heart.that is to say, that [the Torah
is teaching that] you yourself are to be a House for Hashem."
Make of yourself a house for Hashem! This is the meaning of the verse,
"They shall make a Sanctuary for Me-so that I may dwell in them."
It's a major construction project, I grant you, but I'm sure we'll get help from Above if
we keep at it. You can at least start to break ground with regular visits to those
other houses of Hashem--synagogues--where (we hope) you'll gain inspiration for the task.
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director
of the the Savannah Kollel and the
Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP).
fax: 912-354-9923; e-mail: Yosef18@aol.com
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