The Torah devotes 1 chapter to the creation of the Universe, 3 to the revelation on Mount Sinai and 13 to the particulars of building the Tabernacle, the portable tent-like sanctuary that the Israelites constructed and carried with them throughout their 40 years of desert wanderings. Seems a disproportionate allocation of scriptural space and sacred focus.
And the rabbis tell us that of all the commandments given to Moses, none perplexed him more than the one that leads off this week’s Torah portion, “Make me a mishkan, a sanctuary that I may come and dwell among you.”
The rabbis imagine Moses responding to God: “Lord of the Universe, I don’t get it. Not even the heavens or the highest heavens can contain Your glory, so why do You require a mishkan, a little room 10 x 30 cubits in dimension?” And God answered: “Moses, dear boy, it is not as you reason. The mishkan isn’t for Me. It’s for you. You make the gesture and - as it were – I will contract my Presence and come to abide among you.” That’s why the Tabernacle - and by extension the Temple and the synagogue that follow - hold such important places in Judaism.
But note the word ‘reason’ in the paragraph cited above. Moses and the people probably could have come up with any number of reasons why it was not important to devote time and resources to the mishkan. By the same token, you and I could probably come up with just as many reasons not to get involved in the synagogue. Competing commitments. Crowded calendars. Inconvenience. Family concerns and obligations. Quirky co-religionsists.
The excuses are legion and sometimes even valid. The reasons I don’t celebrate Shabbat, the reasons I don’t come to services, the reasons I don’t volunteer to help out when my community calls.
But like the mishkan, with respect to the synagogue I think God would say: “These things. These gatherings, these holidays, these study groups and meetings. They’re not for me. They’re for you. And putting aside the reasons why not, remember I’m not asking you to match the fullness of My all consuming commitment and concern. You just make the gesture, and – as it were - I will come to dwell among and within you.”
This week’s portion tells us that it took the whole Israelite community bringing their time, their talents, and their gifts to make the mishkan a reality. The same holds true for any and every Jewish community.
As individuals we need only make the gesture. And that is reason enough to do what each and every one of us can and ought to do. Because taken together, these gestures, collectively, ensure that the presence of God will dwell within and among us as well.