This week’s Torah portion P’kudei, literally means “to measure.” The Tabernacle, as opposed to the Temple created by King Solomon, was a portable “sanctuary,” or “tent of meeting.” It was meant to be taken anywhere, serving as a metaphor of God’s presence everywhere. It enabled the Israelites to find intention, and connect to God in worship no matter what land they happened to be in. All of the garments, which were to be worn by Aaron, his sons, and the High Priests, were completed as instructed by God through Moses. All of the work of the Tabernacle was complete, and the Israelites were finally able to present it, in all its glory, to Moses, who blessed them for all of their hard work, dedication, and willingness to do as God commanded.
God then instructed Moses to anoint it with anointing oil at the first of the month, and to bring Aaron, the High Priest, and his sons to it and dress them in the holy vestments so that they may serve God as Priests. After Moses obeyed God and made all of this happen, the spirit of God came over the Tabernacle, this impermanent place, in the form of a cloud, representing a permanent fixture within this temporary structure. The cloud was so strong and heavy that even Moses could not enter the Tabernacle. God commanded them to stay put with the Tabernacle until the cloud lifted. At that point, they would be free to journey onward, bringing their portable Tabernacle to another place.
By contrast, a permanent, sturdy temple like the one constructed by Solomon (which was ironically destroyed not once, but twice) requires the people to go to a specific location to connect with God. Becoming dependent upon a physical structure certainly gives us a specific place to connect with God, but it can also be a dangerous thing. It can give the false illusion that God’s presence only lies within one specific place, and that this is the only way/place/form to connect with God. It can also lead us to the mistaken conclusion that the presence of God is somehow confined to or dependent upon the building or space associated with it. Rabbi Sam Feinsmith of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality goes so far as to say that, “Such a mistake did in fact result in the sin of the Golden Calf, which was none other than a blurring of the distinction between the finite and the Absolute. Such a mistake could lead – and indeed did lead – to idolatry, eventually necessitating the destruction of the Temple.”
In our own modern-day language as Reform Jews, I liken this to a conversation had in a recent senior staff meeting. I find myself forever obsessing about attendance at Shabbat services. Does a low turnout mean that members are not connecting with the music we are bringing to worship? Does it mean that they are tiring of being Jewish? Maybe it means they do not like us…. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Many questions like this enter my mind. However, from what I am hearing from my colleagues, it seems that we have got it right according to this parasha! While we certainly have this beautiful building with lots of programming and worship going on here, we are not confining God’s presence to just these walls. Many of us, while affiliated, are connecting to God and Judaism through our very sacred work of repairing the world with acts of social justice and loving kindness. Many of us, while proudly affiliated with Temple Jeremiah, prefer to find God through the relationships we have with other members, friends, and activities outside. Perfect examples of this are the youth events my children and I attend, which are often outside of these walls. I was reminded just this past Sunday, at the Leonard Bernstein concert, of many people who connect with the Temple through music, and find it meaningful to attend certain events, rather than worship. How amazing it is to experience the energy and dedication of everyone packing lunches for Feed the Hungry on select Sundays. It is wonderful to see that God is present not just within the walls of our Sanctuary, or worship, or anywhere specific, but rather, that God’s presence engulfs each and every one of us, wherever we are, whenever we stop to look, feel, and listen for it, and in ways which are meaningful to us not only as Jews, but most definitely also as human beings.
Please enjoy my rendition of “O Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary.” May you be inspired to bring your own personal Tabernacle with you, and to construct it in the most meaningful way to you, to help you connect with the Divine.