On a recent trip to Israel, my brother and I went to visit the Temple Institute in the Old City of Jerusalem. They have a well-organized exhibit of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary that served as Israel’s first house of worship, and a model for its successor, the Holy Temple.
Through pictures, facsimiles and a fascinating step-by-step tour, they showed what the Mishkan looked like and how it functioned. The account of the construction of this Sanctuary begins in this week’s Torah portion of Terumah.
The ultimate goal was to build a house in which the people of Israel would feel close to Hashem and would serve Him with their whole hearts, souls and beings. We read: “And they (the Israelites) shall make for Me (Hashem) a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).
Not a house for G-d, but a house in which we, the people, would be moved by the sanctity and the symbolism of the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the Altar and the other Divine appurtenances. We yearn for G-d to dwell in our hearts. Everything about the Mishkan served to advance that purpose.
Today, our synagogues are called Beit Knesset, a “house of gathering.” They are holy places because they are places where we gather as a group and act as one. They are places where men and women come together, are inspired by the Divine wisdom of the Torah and the Prophets and envision a better world and work toward it.
May our synagogues always be “miniature Temples” where we can sense G-d dwelling in our midst, and may we live up to the lofty ideals of that sacred space.
Rabbi Eli Seidman is director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.