In this week’s Torah reading God commands: “let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” The wording is awkward: should it not state “that I may dwell in it!” But our early rabbinic sages point out that besides the physical sanctuary which the Israelites were to build, that each person was given the command to “build a sanctuary” in his/her heart.” In so doing would God dwell “among them” rather than “in it.”
It seems that we Jews face a great challenge today. All over the country, and in our own community, we have built beautiful synagogues. But in too many cases, they are all but empty as apathy and indifference are prevalent. Too many of us recall the synagogue as a setting of meaningless rituals, little human connection, and the rote recitation of prayers in a language we could not understand.
I believe that if a meaningful Judaism is to pass to the next generation, it will not be because we have built beautiful sanctuaries like our own. Rather, it will be because we have been able to impress upon the hearts of our children and their parents that the values and ideals that are Judaism can add richness and purpose to our own lives, even as they can bring healing and righteousness to our world.
God appeals to the Israelites: “Let them make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” An appeal that godliness might dwell first and foremost in our hearts and that our hearts might lead us to treat one another, and those beyond our walls, such that God’s presence will surely be felt in this place.
Rabbi David Greenberg