One of my confirmation students asked me this question recently. I took her question seriously. I wanted to give her not merely a quick answer, but a good one. I then replied, “More than I’m concerned with my doubts about God, I’m concerned with God’s doubts about me.”
But I’ve given her question further consideration, and now I realize that my best answer is, “Much more than I’m concerned with my doubts about God, and even more than I’m concerned with God’s doubts about me, I’m concerned with God’s doubts about us, with God’s doubts about humankind altogether.”
Look at the world. How much faith should God have in us? As in the days leading up to the flood story in the Torah, our world blazes with Hamas, “Violence,” running the gamut from verbal violence to bloodshed. The only way that the world could be saved from violence in the Torah was for Noah to build an ark. So it is in our world. To alleviate human suffering and evil, to traverse the torrents of violence churning our world, we too have something to build.
Asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham, are the central words of our Torah portion Teruma: “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” As Noah had to build an ark for salvation, and as the people of Israel had to build the mishkan for God’s presence to journey with them from Mt. Sinai, we have to make sanctuaries for God to dwell in our midst, not merely physical sanctuaries, but sanctuaries of morality, menschlichkeit and certainly for the Jewish people, Yiddishkeit.
From every vantage, seemingly small as well as the enormously obvious stated above, how much faith should God have in us? The Shabbat after my confirmation student asked me this question, I attended the morning service at a congregation in another city. I relish my rare opportunities to attend other synagogues, and on this particular Shabbat, I enjoyed the comments and quips by the rabbi and the sweet singing of the cantor. Yet otherwise, my view from the pews was disconcerting. Few people prayed. Some people did not even open the prayer book. There was great praise of the bar mitzva boy. There was little praise to God, or for the gifts of keeping Shabbat and studying Torah. Hundreds of people were seated in that sanctuary, yet few people were making it a sanctuary for God to dwell in.
For generations now, the story has been told of the student who asked his rabbi, “Where can I find God?” The rabbi replied, “Wherever you let God in.” This parable reiterates the central lesson of Teruma, when God commands Moses at Mt. Sinai, “Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.” For God to dwell in our midst, we must build sanctuaries of study and observance, morality and ritual, menschlichkeit, Yiddishkeit and community. With every mitzva we keep, we can cement another block in the foundation, hammer another plank, secure another beam, or nail another shingle in building God’s sanctuary in our midst. If we build it, God will come. And if we don’t, how can God come, let alone why should God come? If we don’t, God won’t.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)