Shabbat Shalom! A hearty yasher koach to our visiting performers tonight (that means, awesome job). As we see from their performance, literally ANY dwelling place can be a place to find God and God hears our prayers from anywhere we call out for Divine Presence.
Despite knowing that any place can be a dwelling place for the Divine Presence among us, in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, God starts telling the Israelites the very specific blueprints for how they should build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the Divine dwelling place on Earth. I had a teacher once who pointed out that throughout the ancient world, other than the Israelites, most other cultures were pantheistic, they had many gods. And different locales would have different patron gods. So even if a visitor primarily served another god, and even if they were to bring their personal idols with them on their visit, they would still make an offering to the patron god of the locality they were visiting. So when the Israelites were figuring out this whole monotheistic thing, they needed a patron God that was not only at every locality, but moved about with them, someplace they could make their offerings wherever they stopped to rest, as others would have made their offerings at the local altars.
In today’s world, as we no longer make physical offerings to God, and most people around us don’t make physical offerings to the Divine power they worship either, this model isn’t necessary anymore. These blueprints were used in constructing the Mishkan and First and Second Temple, but are likely to never be used again for any practical purpose. So for me, the instruction that really lingers is one that God gives about a quarter of the way into the parasha: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”.
Now, whether that sanctuary is a movable Tabernacle, a grand and Holy Temple, a modern day synagogue or church, or the belly of a giant fish, God is asking that we make space in our lives for the Divine Presence to dwell among us. That might mean making to pray, in a house of worship or in nature, together with others or alone. That might mean building more houses of worship or planting more forests to create the physical places that we can commune with God. It could mean reaching out to each other and finding the Holiness of community and friendship. Early 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber says that when two people connect to one another authentically, God is the electrical charge that surges between them. In that moment, that conversation is the Mishkan.
We can each create or even be the Divine dwelling place on Earth. All that means is to make some space for something other than ourselves. To connect with God or with other people or with nature or with some combination of the three, to appreciate this world and the abundance we have been graced with. In doing so, we create greater peace within ourselves and our communities, and enhance our care for the environment, and that peace is the Divine presence settling down among our earthly lives.
May we make ourselves a sanctuary, that we may find holiness dwelling among us. Amen, and Shabbat Shalom.